Along the Rhein and its offshoot, the Mosel, the German wine industry produces some of the world’s finest Riesling. We can all agree that the best white wines in the world come from the most prestigious vineyards and wineries.

With the help of the changing climate, German winemakers have demonstrated that they can make excellent wine from varieties other than their traditional ones. Fine German Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) is, for instance, making its way to the forefront from a number of hitherto unheralded locations, including Baden, Pfalz, and the teeny-tiny Ahr Valley.

Geisenheim University, located in Germany, is a world-renowned centre for viticultural teaching and research.

Around 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres) were planted with grapevines in the country as of 2017. As a result, Germany ranked fourteenth worldwide.

Climate

Germany’s sunny summers and mellow to cool winters make for ideal winegrowing conditions. The northwest of the country has a mild coastal climate whereas the more arid southeast has a continental climate with greater temperature swings. The sunny summer months provide for enough of sunshine and warmth to ripen the grapes, while the moderate to cool winter temperatures preserve the plants from harm.

Germany’s premier wine-producing areas can be found along the Rhine and its tributaries, which form the “Deutsche Weinstrasse,” the country’s official wine route. These areas are ideal for growing grapes because of their high sunshine and warmth levels and their pleasant microclimate. The Rheingau is the most recognised of these areas because of the exceptional Rieslings it produces.

Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Spätburgunder are just some of the grape types that thrive in the diverse weather, soils, and terrain of Germany’s wine-growing regions (Pinot Noir).

Grapes

More than two-thirds of vineyards are dedicated to growing white grapes. It’s no surprise that Riesling accounts for 23% of all wine produced. In terms of landmass, it has expanded somewhat since 1995.

In that year, Müller-Thurgau was the most widely planted grape, just edging out Riesling. In spite of this trend, in 2017 it was still the most planted grape in Germany, accounting for 12% of vines.

There is a sizable amount of Pinot Gris in Germany, with about 6,400ha (15,800 acres) (known as Grauburgunder). It has more than 5,300 hectares dedicated to growing Weissburgunder, also known as Pinot Blanc.

Both Silvaner and Kerner have seen significant declines from their 2017 highs of over 4,850 ha each. Hundreds of hectares are still devoted to dwindling cultivars including Bacchus, Scheurebe, and Gutedel (Chasselas).

In contrast, Chardonnay is on the upswing and has surpassed 2,000ha in size (4,950 acres). In 1995, Sauvignon Blanc was not even on the radar in this country, but by 2017, it was being grown on more than 1,100 hectares of vineyard.

Since 1995, when Spätburgunder coverage was over 7,000 hectares, it has nearly doubled to about 12,000. By 2020, it’s expected to have overtaken the No. 2 spot in planted area among all types. Dornfelder has expanded even more quickly, quadrupling in size since 1995 and reaching an area of over 8,000ha today.

While production of Portugieser, Trollinger (Schiava), and Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier) is declining, at least 2,000 ha were planted in each variety in 2017. Several grape varieties are on the upswing, including Lemberger (Blaufrankisch), Regent, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

History

Germany has a long and storied history of winemaking, despite a period of significantly lesser glory in the 1970s and 1980s. On the banks of the Mosel, not far from the modern city of Trier, the Romans planted the first grapes in the country. Various surrounding valleys, primarily those of the Mosel’s tributaries, had plantings by the third century AD.

Church leaders, especially those at Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries, had a significant role in fostering the growth of the wine industry and the creation of high-quality wines in Germany throughout the Middle Ages. The Rheingau wineries Schloss Johannisberg and Kloster Eberbach, two of the best-known in Germany, both got their starts as monasteries and have been making wine for nearly a thousand years.

The Rheingau is where Riesling was first recorded in 1435; it then spread to the Mosel and became Germany’s most famous grape. It was not until 1720 that this “better” type was planted solely at a big vineyard, and that vineyard was located at Schloss Johannisberg. Botrytized wines emerged in the middle to late 18th century, and by the early 19th century, Rhine wines were fetching prices that rivalled those of first-growth Bordeaux.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the German wine industry lost its way in terms of quality, expanding plantings into less ideal locations and raising yields to levels that significantly impacted quality. Germany’s greatest winemakers, vineyards, and vintages were never fully lost, and since the late 20th century, a great deal of work has been done to restore the country’s past prestige.

The law now regulates yields, and leading farmers have banded together to form the VDP (see German Wine Labels). Members of the VDP have agreed to prioritise high quality over quantity in all their work.