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  • September 28, 2014
  • 1971

  • by Eric Steinberg

sonnenuhr_kabinett_1971_jj_pruemNineteen-seventy-one was an extremely significant year for German wine for two reasons. First, a new law governing the production and marketing of wine was approved in July of that year to take effect with the forthcoming harvest. Second, Germany was blessed with a superb vintage, certainly the best since 1959 and one that in certain regions was compared to 1949 and 1953. Nineteen-seventy-one has a special significance for me as well, as it is the year I was introduced to German wine. The 1971 vintage also was the first in which I bought German wines fairly extensively upon their release in the American market and had the luxury of tasting them at various stages of their maturity, that is, over a span of more than two decades. In this article, I summarize and comment on the wine law, which in a slightly revised form is still in effect, and discuss my own experience with the wines of 1971.

The passage of the German Wine Law of 1971 was the culmination of a process that began years before, in the 1950s. The process was often contentious, pitting not only owners of small German wine estates against cooperatives and shippers in Germany but also German wine interests against those of other members of the European Economic Community (ECC), especially France and Italy. According to Hallgarten,¹ the catalyst for a 1969 German wine law that resolved the competing interests within Germany was the publication in 1968 of a “supra-national” law for all EEC members that, in his view, would have destroyed the existing German wine industry. Yet, the 1969 law never took effect because some of its parts were invalidated (or to use Ian Jamieson’s word, “overtaken”) by two EEC regulations in 1970. The revised German wine law that resulted in 1971 bound the country’s wine industry to EEC laws, such as minimum alcohol levels for quality wines, while at the same time recognizing its special circumstances and concerns, for instance, retaining the distinction between natural and sugared (verbesserte) wines. In effect, it was a compromise that required changes for German wines without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Some of the major changes required by the new law included: (1) a new classification system based on the amount of sugar in grapes or wine must, (2) a new wine registry or reorganization of vineyards, and (3) a prohibition on numerous items that previously had been commonplace on wine labels in many German wine-producing regions. The classification system divided German wines into three parts, each of which required the attainment of a specific minimal must weight. In ascending order, they are Tafelwein (table wine), Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA), quality wine from a designated region), and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), quality wine with a special attribute).² The last category was subdivided into five parts; in order of increasing minimal must weight they are: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). Although wines could not be marketed under a particular rubric unless their musts attained the specific minimum level, the law recognized that some regions, for instance, the Mosel, were cooler than others, and some grapes, for instance, Riesling, ripen more slowly than others. Thus, the required levels often varied from region to region and among different grape species within a region. Levels of grape sugar are measured on the Oechsle scale, which compares the specific gravity of wine must with the specific gravity of water (1.0 in the Oechsle scale), and is based on the principle that the higher the sugar content, the higher the specific gravity of the wine must. For example, the law stipulated that for a Mosel Riesling to be bottled as a Kabinett, its must would have to attain a specific gravity of at least 1.070, that is, an Oechsle reading of 70. The minimum specific gravity of a Mosel Riesling Spätlese was set at 1.076 or 76 Oechsle. In other words, the Oechsle reading represents the last three digits after the decimal point of its specific gravity.

In addition to specifying minimum grape sugar levels, the law mandated a couple other important distinctions. Tafelwein and QbA wines were permitted to have sugar added to their must to, for example, boost the alcoholic level, while this was prohibited for any Prädikatswein. Marketing a wine in either of the two Qualitätswein categories required the approval of an examination committee or panel that analyzes and tastes the wine. Only then can it be assigned an Amtliche Prüfungsnummer (AP Nr.), the test or certification number that appears on the wine’s label.

Four of the five QmP categories utilized designations that generally were well entrenched in the wine-producing regions. This was certainly true of the Mosel. It was not the case with “Kabinett,” however. Prior to 1971, the term (often spelled “Cabinet’’) was being used in various ways in some regions, particularly in the Rheingau (but almost never in the Mosel).³ For example, the Eltville State Domain (Hessische Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach) used it for any wine that exceeded a certain price. Schloss Johannisberg employed the term for wines that were marketed through different channels from its other wines. In neither case was there any suggestion that its use was confined to the lowest level of unsugared or natur wine. In the case of Schloss Vollrads, the term previously had been used for its Spätlesen. About the time the new wine law went into effect, I enjoyed a quite rich 1966 Schloss Vollrads Kabinett. The 1971 Kabinett was a much different wine, lighter and less intense. Besides the five QmP designations indicated above, the 1971 law sanctioned the use of the term “Eiswein” but not as a separate category then. Instead, it had to be used in conjunction with one of the five QmP designations.

Since one purpose of the new law supposedly was truth and clarity in labeling, it prohibited terms like feine (fine) and feinste (finest) that were widely employed on wine labels by estates in some regions, such as the Mosel, for qualitative distinctions among Spätlesen and Auslesen. It also banned the use of cask numbers (listed as Fass or Fuder No.) and terms indicating picking dates, for instance, St. Nikolauswein (December 6), on wine labels. In fact, as some wine writers have noted, one of the law’s principles was that anything that is not explicitly permitted is prohibited.

Although before 1971 many wine writers tended to equate the best German wines with those from late-harvested or selectively picked grapes, the new wine law established a connection between increased must weight and better quality.4 By using the expression “mit Prädikat” (with a special attribute) for the third category of wines, the system implies that collectively these are the best wines. Since the wine law permits wine to be marketed at a “lower” category than its must weight would warrant, but not at a “higher” category, the system also gives the impression that as must weight increases with each QmP level, so does quality, with the crème de la crème being TBA. This impression is reinforced by the price structure of the wines. A Kabinett wine from a particular estate, vineyard, and vintage invariably sells for less than the comparable Spätlese, which sells for less than the comparable Auslese, and so on and so forth. There might have been some justification for this arrangement when the law was instituted, since in many vintages in the 1970s and 1980s Auslesen and even Spätlesen were not plentiful, and perhaps involved greater risks and labor for the grower. However, with increasingly hot growing seasons, the situation has changed substantially in the last 25 years. In many regions, Spätlesen and Auslesen are now achievable nearly every year. In any case, the connection between must weight and quality is questionable. Individual wines with high must weights are frequently less interesting than their less weighty or lighter counterparts. Some vintages with the highest average must weights, e.g., 1976, 1999, and 2003, have not necessarily been the most outstanding or uniformly excellent vintages for German wine. Some recent vintages have shown that even grapes with high levels of sugar are not necessarily fully mature or possessed of qualities that will make the resulting wines pleasant or harmonious. It is worth noting that one recent change in the marketing of wine challenges the connection between quality and classification category. This is the increasingly common practice of offering fine wines, usually dry or off-dry, without any “predicate.” Even though by must weight they are entitled to be marketed as QmP (now called Prädikatswein) wines, they are sold instead as Qualitätswein.

Another major change initiated by the 1971 Wine Law concerns vineyards. Whereas prior to the institution of the new law, wine villages might have had a dozen or more individual vineyards or Einzellagen, with the new law the numbers were reduced greatly. The law required that vineyards be at least five hectares in size, although a good number of exceptions were approved. Some of the individual sites whose names were eliminated were consolidated with sites whose names were retained, while others became part of vineyards with new names. In theory, the new scheme seemed to make understanding labels and purchasing wine simpler for consumers. But simplicity came with a price. Some critics noted that because distinguished sites such as Scharzhofberger or Wehlener Sonnenuhr were expanded, their distinctive qualities were not necessarily found throughout the new sites. In a few cases, the opposite may have been true; fine sites whose names were eliminated with the new law may actually have enhanced their new homes.

Even if one concedes that reducing the number of individual vineyard names made things clearer for consumers, there can be little doubt that another feature of the new law, establishing a set of Grosslagen (greater or collective vineyards), made things much more confusing for them. Grosslagen almost always include not merely a group of Einzellagen from one village but instead those from many villages. To make things even worse, the Grosslage can take the name of any village within its scope. Understandably, vintners bottling wine from a Grosslage will select the name of the best-known village. The upshot is consumers will find bottles of, for example, Piesporter Michelsberg, without realizing that, unlike Piesporter Goldtröpchen, the wine is not from a single vineyard and maybe not even from Piesport.5

Within the first decade of its implementation, two official changes that affected the production and marketing of German wine were made in the wine law. The first was the creation of a separate classification category for Eiswein, which, as we noted, hitherto had to be marketed as Eiswein Auslese, Eiswein BA, and so on. The creation of the new category was accompanied by a requirement that Eiswein be made from grapes of at least BA must weight. The second change, approval of the terms “trocken” (dry) and “halbtrocken” (half-dry) was much more far-reaching, particularly in light of the increased interest in dry wines in the German market. Beginning in the early 1980s, estates routinely offered many wines ranging from QbA to Auslese in one or both types in successful vintages, along with the fruity and nobly sweet style that became more common in the post-war years.

Even before the enactment of the 1971 Wine Law, some critics believed that the minimum must weight requirements were set too low. Stuart Pigott has noted that the German Winegrowers Association persuaded the authorities to lower the originally planned minimal levels for wines in the “upper categories.”6 In 1994, some of these requirements were raised. In the case of Mosel Riesling, the levels for Kabinett, Spätlese, and Auslese were increased by a few degrees Oechsle to 73, 80, and 88 degrees, respectively. These were hardly monumental changes, especially since they occurred at a time when Germany had begun to experience very warm summers. As this trend has continued for much of the last two decades, the problem for many growers has not been one of attaining the new minimal levels for Spätlese or Auslese but rather one of attaining nothing but these levels for an entire harvest. It is instructive in this regard to compare Hallgarten’s comment in 1976 about lieblich wines (presumably including the category of Kabinett) having 25 to 35 grams of residual sugar with a recent decision by the Mosel branch of the VDP, Grosser Ring; for its members to designate any wine as a Kabinett it must have 18 to 65 grams of residual sugar. By this new standard many an Auslese of the 1970s might qualify today as a VDP Kabinett.

If, as claimed, one aim of the wine law was to make the presentation of wine “true and clear,” this could provide a rationale for the prohibition on wine labels of language that is vague at best. I have noted elsewhere (in the article “Codes of Mosel Auslesen” on this website) that from the inception of the 1971 Wine Law, some growers in the Mosel eliminated proscribed terms from their wine labels, in accordance with the law, but made changes in capsules (and other measures) as substitutes for some of these terms. In the last two decades, challenges to this aspect of the law have mushroomed into an open revolt. One example is the use of the term feinherb that is now commonly employed to refer to off-dry wines. The term has never been officially sanctioned; nor is it used in only one way. Many estates use it for wines that used to be designated “halbtrocken,” but others use it for wines that exceed the upper limit of that term. Another example concerns the appearance on labels of historical names of former sites and parcels (and, in at least one case, that of a pre-1971 vineyard), as appendages to the names of approved vineyards. Approximately a decade ago, the VDP, including the Grosser Ring, began to consider the issue of vineyard classification, something that goes beyond the parameters of the wine law. However, various actions that have resulted from this process, such as the use on labels of the “GG” (Grosses Gewächs) symbol to designate the best dry wines from its members’ top vineyards, the symbol for the top vineyards, themselves, and the use of their names without mention of their villages, also conflict with the underlying principle of the law that whatever is not explicitly permitted is prohibited. It was recently reported that the state of Rheinland-Pfalz will be accepting applications to reinstate vineyard names within its purview that were abolished with the implementation of the 1971 Wine Law. Thus, two major changes instituted by the 1971 Wine Law are either being challenged or rolled back. One can only wonder about the fate of the wine law, itself.

1971 (Continued) >>

¹German Wines, p. 55
²A fourth category, Landwein, with more rigorous requirements than for Tafelwein, was added in 1982.
³For a detailed and thorough discussion of “Kabinett” see Lars Carlberg’s two-part article “Unlocking the Kabinett.”
4Two examples are Schoonmaker, The Wines of Germany, 1969 edition, p. 13 and Simon and Hallgarten, The Great Wines of Germany, p.37.
5The precursor of Grosslagen appears to be what Schoonmaker (Ibid, pp.145-7) called Gattungslagen, generic vineyards that were endorsed by officials prior to the adoption of the new law. According to Schoonmaker, some, for instance, Wiltinger Scharzberg, actually bore the same name as an Einzellage. The only way in which the two could be distinguished was by knowing whether or not the wine was estate-bottled. At least the new law did not use the same names for an Einzellage and a Grosslage.
6In A Century of Wine, edited by Stephen Brook, p.134.

Image courtesy of Eric Steinberg.

Eric Steinberg is a former professor of philosophy and administrator at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He wrote an e-book titled Understanding Mosel Wines and has continually enjoyed fine Mosel wines since 1971.

  • Thanks for your excellent “1971” article explaining a little of the history of the infamous 1971 German Wine Law, Eric. I just edited and published it, as well as the second part. It’s after midnight, and I need to hit the hay, but I’d like to add that Frank Schoonmaker is correct: there was a precursor of Grosslage, which, in my glossary, I mention that the terms “Lagename” (site name) and “Sammellage” (collective site) already existed before 1971. I, however, didn’t know that Wiltinger Scharzberg had been used to designate both the real site and a pre-1971 Gattungslage, or “generic site” (see footnote 5).

    I’m also glad that you pointed out the amendment to the 1971 Wine Law to allow the terms “trocken” and “halbtrocken” on wine labels. When did the authorities make this “second change” to the 1971 Wine Law? Was it in 1973 or so? In the second part of my Kabinett piece, I interviewed Willi Schaefer and Ulli Stein, who both talked about using the terms in the seventies.

    Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Mosel wine was in a “sweet wave.” Today, the VDP is seeking to keep these predicate designations only for residually sweet wines in order to have a specific taste profile, but yet 18 to 65 grams per liter residual sugar for Kabinett is a broad range and it ignores those light-bodied, single-vineyard wines that fall under 18 grams. One could argue that these light, dryish wines made the Mosel fashionable in the latter part of the 19th century.

    In addition, the new VDP-designation Grosse Lage (“great site”) will only add additional confusion, as many consumers, especially non-German speakers, won’t know the difference between a Grosse Lage and Grosslage.

    As I pointed out in my two-part Kabinett piece, the newfangled term “Kabinett” began with the 1971 vintage, though J.J. Prüm bottled a 1970 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett. Prior to the 1971 Wine Law, as you mentioned above, Kabinett did not exist as a descriptor in this sense, much less on labels of Mosel wine, unlike the other designations that became better known according to the new wine law as “predicates” (Prädikate).

    Nineteen-seventy-one is my birth year. In my interview for the blog Terroirist, I mention how I’ll never forget sitting in the study at the Scharzhof and tasting a 1971 Scharzhofberger Kabinett with the late Egon Müller III. I don’t remember the year now, but it was in the mid-nineties on my birthday, December 13.

    • Eric Steinberg says:

      Thanks for your comments, Lars. I’m a bit perplexed about Schoonmaker’s comments about gattungslagen and the inclusion of Oberemmeler Scharzberg and Wiltinger Scharzberg in his list of such sites. In his evaluation of each village’s individual sites, he implies that they are marketed as Scharzberg, without mention of the name of the village. If this is true, is there another way besides being estate-bottled to distinguish wine from the individual site rather than the generic site? Of course, at the time Schoonmaker was writing, it’s not unlikely that most, if not all of the wine labeled “Scharzberg” was bottled at the estate.

      I don’t know the exact year that the authorities approved the use of “trocken” and “halbtrocken” but it has to be sometime before the 1979 vintage. In the 1981 edition of “German Wines,” Hallgarten refers (p. 380) to two of his favorite dry wines, both of which are trocken wines from the 1979 vintage. I would also think that the introduction of the terms was after 1976, the year in which Hans Ambrosi published his book “Where the Great German Wines Grow.” The book includes a rather extensive dictionary that does not include either term.

  • David Schildknecht says:

    Thanks for this article, Eric!

    I don’t know nearly as much as I should about the history of ‘Cabinet’ as used to describe German Riesling and in fact I only realized during the past year – after Lars made me aware of this – how often, even before 1971, the word “Kabinet” (i.e. the spelling with a ‘K’) was used to refer to wine. Still, I think it’s possible that your account is slightly misleading. First off, the spelling utilized traditionally at the Rheingau Staatsdomaine was with “C” and to my knowledge not merely “often” but rather in the overwhelming majority of pre-1971 cases, wines labeled with this descriptor spell it with “C.”

    As you allude to, Schloss Johannisberg utilized the term for wines marketed in a certain way. Specifically (as detailed in the estate’s official history authored by Staab, Seliger and Schleicher for its 900th anniversary*) it was used for those bottled at and sold directly by the winery. But it’s clear from the context as elaborated in the aforementioned book that this specialized usage of “Cabinet” by no means precluded an approbative intention. In fact, the implication is almost certainly of superior wines or at least a guarantee of quality. (Metternich, 1830: “Reasons of great importance prompt me to decree that from now on no Schloß Johannisberer Kabinets-Weine [note the “K”!] will be released [ausgegeben] in bottle whose labels are not signed in their own hand by the director and cellarmaster.” I’m pretty sure that in this matter Schoonmaker – in his coverage of Schloß Johannisberg in various editions of German Wines – was merely speculating when he wrote that bottlings with the “Cabinet” imprimatur weren’t necessarily better than others, and perhaps he was encouraged for commercial reasons to so-speculate.)

    Briefly researching “Cabinet” and “Kabinet” via GoogleBooks, I found that outside of wine these terms were not used often, but when they were, then sometimes in the form “Cabinetstück” or “Kabinetstück” as referring to a work or art or artifact deemed worthy to place on display (literally, in a cabinet). And in contrasting the early use of “Cabinet” by Schloß Johannisberg with the use of that term in the 18th and early 19th centuries at Kloster Eberbach and Schloß Vollrads, the authors of the aforementioned book (and numerous other writers on German Riesling history, too) assert that there really were at Kloster Eberbach and Schloß Vollrads cabinets or at least special places in the cellar where wines so-designated were kept. Twentieth-century usage at the Staatsdomaine explicitly referred to wines deemed worthy of archiving (in part) in that estate’s “Cabinetkeller.”

    As far as I am aware, a very simple and universally-applicable account can thus be given of the traditional meaning of “Cabinet” when applied to German wine: It was a term of approbation applied to Riesling wines over a wide range of styles. The use of stars today (whose motivations and special connections with Auslese you have recently explained) is similar. There are a few estates where stars have specific winery-internal significance (chez Prinz for auctioned bottlings from the Ur-Jungfer rather than the 1971-expanded Jungfer; or chez Molitor where stars refer to minimum must weights) but for the most part they are simply a form of approbation.

    Since one doesn’t often see references to wines of Schloß Vollrads that append “Kabinet” or “Cabinet” to “Spätlese,” “Auslese” etc., it’s possible that one might want to speak of a specialized estate-internal meaning there, though if so then how would you characterize it? Do you have more information in this estate’s usage? Pending that, I’d still tend toward saying that “Kabinet” was here, too, merely a term of approbation for an allegedly superior Naturwein and that this estate – unlike most in the Rheingau – simply didn’t choose to apply that term (or not often) to Spätlesen etc.

    + + +

    On use of the term “Prädikat,” despite this having been traditionally translated as “distinction,” its more usual usage in German is simply like the use of “predicate” in English as referring to a grammatical category. In that sense, to say that a Qualitätswein has Prädikat is simply to refer to some additional attribution. If one considers the 1971 Wine Law in this light, it can be seen as having established certain categories based on minimum must weight rather than as having establishing a pecking order or – as is so often claimed – defined wine quality in terms of must weight.

    Arguably, the law in question doesn’t define quality at all. I’d argue that the notion of wines mit Prädikat as superior and of must weight as a measure of wine quality were imported into the 1971 Wine Law from the well-known German phobia and abhorrence of chaptalization, which tends toward a belief that boosting grape sugar is a form of debasement or even of fraud (as evidenced in Kevin Goldberg’s recent account here of Gall; although nearly any post-Gall writing on wine in the popular German media would also illustrate this). Given such a background, is it any wonder the collective Prädikat wines were popularly thought of as superior to mere Qualitätsweine? To be sure, the 1971 Wine Law was fixated on Oechsle (I have termed it an instance of “Oechslemania”), but the notion of Oechsle as definitive of quality arguably also arises from the aforementioned prejudice against chaptalization.** After all, that process is nothing more than the adding of sugar to the must. So if this is such a terrible thing, then by implication virtue resides in one’s fruit having naturally reached a level of sugar where such compensatory or remedial action is not deemed necessary, regardless of what other chemical properties one’s fruit might possess.

    There is, to be sure, plenty for which the 1971 Wine Law can be criticized, but to make it responsible for what is really a result of long-standing prejudice that German consumers and self-styled wine authorities brought to it, is unfair.

    * Woschek Verlag – no date

    ** Calling this a prejudice is not inconsistent with my having leveled criticism at the VDP for allowing Grosse Gewächse to be chaptalized. That criticism instead has two aspects. First, it seems disingenuous for an organization with “Prädikatswein” in its title to have as its icon a category of wine it permits to be chaptalized. Secondly, given the must weights incumbent on Grosse Gewächse not to mention their frequently displaying deleteriously high levels of alcohol, what possible good gustatory reason could there be for chaptalizing them?

    • Thanks for your very good points, David.

      There are also old references with the spelling “Kabinett” (with a “K” and two “t’s”) for this reserve or superior wine from the Rheingau. Below are two comments that I posted under my two-part article on Mosel Kabinett:

      In Karl Heinrich Koch’s Rheingauer Rheinfahrt (von Zabern, 1908), he says “Rheingau is the home of Kabinett wines.” In the past, Koch explains, a Kabinett wine was “usually the outstanding Auslesen.” Yet no one knew what qualified as Kabinett. In the “modern era,” the Prussian domains started to label auctioned wines “Kabinett” that reached a certain price and were bottled in their cellar. (Koch, who lived in Mainz, was a wine broker and wrote also about Mosel wine.)

      In the Trier library, I came across an article on Cabinet. It’s in the July 27, 1895, issue of Weinbau und Weinhandel. Cabinetswein goes as far back as the 18th century in the Rheingau. In Dr. Conrad Schmitt’s Die Weine des Herzoglich Nassauischen Cabinets-Kellers, he analyzes a number of Cabinetsweine, including Hochheimer from the vintages 1706, 1779, 1783, and 1806; Steinberger from the vintages 1811, 1822, and 1834; and Markobrunner from 1822 and so on. He also mentions the Cabinets cellar and wines of Schloss Johannisberg, such as an 1846r Cabinetswein. In the same article, Dr. Dünkelberg’s brochure “Der Nassauische Weinbau” from 1867 lists ten other cellars for Rheingau “Cabinetsweine,” not including the “Cabinetskellern” from Eberbach and Schloss Johannisberg. In addition, it is a very old practice in the Rheingau to designate the better Auslese wines as Cabinetwein.

      See thread for more details on this topic.

    • Eric Steinberg says:

      Thanks for your comments, David. Although my acquaintance with pre-1971 wines from Schloss Vollrads is limited to vintages from the 1960s and 1970, it seems to confirm Schoonmaker’s view that “Kabinett” was used as a synonym for “Spatlese” by the estate and not merely as a general term of approbation. As I recall, the very complicated system of estate bottlings started with the “Original-Abfullung” series, usually with green capsules, followed by the Schlossabzug series, usually with red capsules. Both of these were naturwein. The Kabinett wines were Spatlesen and had blue capsules. They were followed by Auslesen with pink capsules. None of the Auslesen included the word “Kabinett” on the label, as might have been the case with comparable wines from Schloss Johannisberg or the Eltville State Domain.

  • David Schildknecht says:

    I can’t recall ever having seen an old bottle from the State (formerly Prussian) domains labeled “Kabinet” much less “Kabinett.” As far as I am aware, the designation used there always featured the (if you will, effected) spelling “Cabinet” and the place where such bottles resided at the domaine was always known with but one “k” as the “Cabinetkeller.”

    Incidentally – in case anyone were to bring this up – I am reminded just now, Lars (and you probably put this into an article here somewhere) of our having learned rather recently from Katharina Prüm that the reason they sold a 1970 “Kabinett” was that late-bottlings from that vintage qualified for the new labeling laws. (Mind you, Joh. Jos. Prüm might for all I know have been the only estate that was both in a position to and chose to avail themselves of this option.)

  • For those who might be wondering why the social-media stats are so low on Eric’s article (probably no one), I corrected the URL, which, in turn, set everything back to zero. I didn’t realize this. Most of the articles on my site are behind the paywall and therefore don’t get any (re)tweets or Facebook “Likes.”

    Twitter also did away with the tweet count, not that it matters.

  • David Schildknecht says:

    Fascinating (and surprising) detail about Vollrads that somehow I missed. I wonder – assuming it’s a fact – what were the roots of their long avoiding the term “Spätlese,” one every bit as much associated with Rheingau wine history as was “Cabinet.”

  • Andrew Bair says:

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks you for the great article.

    A couple of years ago, I found Fritz Hallgarten’s “A Guide to the Vineyards Estates and Wines of Germany” at a local used bookstore – it’s a fascinating “history book”. One of the major purposes of this guide was to explain the 1971 wine law to clients who might be confused with the changes in terminology (Kabinett, etc.) and vineyard boundaries.

    The concept of Grosslagen may not have existed before the 1971 law, but names like Piesporter Michelsberg, Zeller Schwartz Katz, and Krover Nacktarsch were already in use as “brand” names. In this book, Hallgarten states that due to the 1971 law, the collective vineyard area whose wines could be labeled as Krover Nacktarsch has been decreased. To quote, “Kroever (sic) Nacktarsch covers only the 6 single sites of Kroev (sic), not enough to supply the demand for the “naughty” label. I believe the trade will have to do without this wine and will easily replace it, my suggestion: Schwarzlay.” (p. 20)

    In a similar vein, Hallgarten mentions several pre-1971 generic names that were effectively abolished by the 1971 law. Piesporter Taubengarten was the only such name from the Mosel, Saar, or Ruwer; the others were from the Rheinhessen and the Rheingau. Meanwhile, Wehlener Muenzlay (sic) is notes as one of the generic names that became the name of a Grosslage in 1971.

    The illustrations in this book make is clear that Hallgarten sold many generics and Grosslage wines under his own private label, ranging from Piesporter Michelsberg and Zeller Schwartz Katz to Moselblumchen, various Bereich wines, and the Kellercup – an attempt to reproduce and mass-market a traditionally homemade blend of German white wine and strawberries. In some ways, the Kellercup parallels today’s industrial bottled Sangrias.

    Although it may seem silly to write a long response about Grosslagen, it’s also probably impossible to attempt a history of wine in California without mentioning semi-generics and jug wines, even though nobody is ever going to confuse Gallo Hearty Burgundy with Harlan Estate.

    On an unrelated note, the 1971 law certainly caused more harm than good. I’d still argue, though, that the creation/definition of the Kabinett pradikat has been beneficial to Mosel producers and aficionados. Perhaps the authorities should have come up with a different name out of respect to the longstanding Rheingau estates, but we can all acknowledge that there have been many great Kabinetts made since 1971. (Although climate change has made it far more difficult to make “traditional” Kabinett in the Mosel, Saar, and Ruwer, those from 2008 and 2012 come close.) It’s a shame that the VDP has been hesitant to acknowledge this thus far.

    • Andrew, I appreciate your reply to Eric, with the details from Hallgarten’s book on German wines. I wrote an article about Zeller Schwarze Katz, which became an important brand in the 1920s. By the way, there’s now a “Kröver Nacktarsch” sign on the steep slope above Kröv. I believe the sign is in the single vineyard of Kröver Letterlay. I never heard of Piesporter Taubengarten or Kellercup before.

      I think David S. would agree with you that Kabinett is an important term, even if the authorities should have used a different name for a basic Naturwein. The Grosser Ring – VDP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer backs the Kabinett category, but only for the residually sweet style—i.e., the Kabinett trocken and halbtrocken/feinherb wines can no longer have this predicate. Eric says in an earlier comment that “trocken” and “halbtrocken” were approved sometime before 1979.

    • Eric Steinberg says:

      Thanks for your very interesting comments, Andrew. You’ve certainly filled in gaps about my knowledge of the origins of grosslagen.

  • David Schildknecht says:

    Thanks for your qualifications re Grosslagen, Andrew.

    I think there are two senses in which one can say that there were Grosslagen before 1971.

    The first, as you mention, is in connection with branded identities. But it’s important to emphasize something Hallgarten acknowledges, namely that many times the use of brand names that had been associated with specific sites turned into outright abuse. That especially applies to names of the form {Village+site} that became so popular they were soon being applied so widely as to constitute outright fraud. A while back, while researching the site names in Zeltingen and in particular the surface area picked-out by the name “Zeltinger Schlossberg,” Lars and I found many late 19th and early 20th century accounts of how this name was widely abused. Ironically, the “Schloss” in question was that whose ruin today sits in the midst of the Einzellage Zeltinger Sonnenuhr – by most accounts, among the sweetest of this village’s many sweet spots for Riesling – so that the identification of “Schlossberg” with those slopes that today officially bear that name represents in itself an instance of wanting to trade on existing brand equity while running roughshod over history and geography. So among the many precursors of today’s Grosslagen were names applied with similar intention to deceive.

    But there is another, arguably more benign, sense in which Grosslagen existed before 1971. I won’t claim that this is an entirely distinct sense though – it is perhaps a question of degree. Sometimes, a vineyard name that had acquired caché came to be used for a wider range of sites than had formerly been the case, but where those sites were immediately adjacent and significantly related by ownership, geology, exposure or other factors. Joachim Krieger once suggested to me the example of Uhlen, that famous steep site shared by Winningen and Kobern, just upstream from Koblenz. As the Uhlen’s fame rose in the late 19th century, the name “Uhlen” started getting utilized to market wines from immediately adjacent sites whose names weren’t well-known. Growers and merchants argued that you can only establish so many names in the consumer’s mind, and the same growers were farming these adjacent sites or blending wines across them. Certainly these various sites were geologically distinctive, but the Ur-Uhlen is itself geologically diverse. Notoriously – and with good reason, given how distinctive their wines taste as vinified by him – Reinhard Löwenstein struggled (and succeeded) in returning their separate identity to some of the sites that had long been (and officially still are) lumped-together as Uhlen. But here’s the thing to bear in mind: no one degree of specificity is sacrosanct. The base line for all vineyard designations is arguably formed by the Gewannnamen or cadaster-registered names and assigned surface areas, simply because these are the smallest official units. But not only (as Lars has emphasized) were these often not the names generally utilized by growers before 1971, many of them might well never have been used to refer to a vineyard by name; and certainly many a vineyard will have been commonly referred to by a name that picked-out only a subset of an official cadaster Liegenschaft. It would be foolish to attempt to argue that one particular scale or set of names is correct and any other deceptive. Grouping smaller units under an umbrella name is not in and of itself objectionable. And in the better instances (as Terry Theise has been wont to emphasize in discussing these issues), the creation of the 1971 Einzellagen represents this sort of benign extension of surface area to which a given name is applied, where formerly only a portion or core of that surface area was so-named. Problems arise not in principle but rather where the nuts and bolts of terroir dictate that the extended acreage of an Einzellage hasn’t anywhere near the potential or at least not the distinctiveness of the eponymous core vineyard; or where (as in the case of Ayler Kupp) the Einzellage represents a clear case of gerrymander or at the very least of stretching the application of an alledged site name to apply to utterly disparate and distinctive places for the sole sake of expediency.

    The two sorts of problematic Einzellage-formation I just identified represent precisely the two sorts of cases where Florian Lauer has argued that the new Rheinland-Pfalz statute can come to the rescue of many growers. In the former instance, the core vineyard can be identified either accompanied or unaccompanied by mention of the official Einzellage. Granted, the result might look a bit odd, but sheer accident of grammar and ancient habits of naming mean that usually the 1971 Einzellage name represented a one word simplification of the Gewannname from which it was derived. Thus, for instance, Helmut Dönnhoff has been able to register and will doubtless utilize “Am Kahlenberg” for wine from the core of the Einzellage Kahlenberg and “Auf dem Krötenpfuhl” for wine from the core of what became Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl. In cases where the extension of a name as Einzellage borders on the ludicrous in total surface area and diversity of sites that are incorporates – and there are certainly many such instances (Oestricher Lennchen being, as I already metioned, another)- the solution in an ideal world would be (as Spreitzers recently accomplished in Oestrich) the redrawing of and creation of new Einzellagen. But in practice that remedy was only likely to be achievable for a small number of fortunately-placed growers. Growers can in such instances now avail themsleves of the Gewannamen instead, and given how easy it is to register, it’s hard to imagine many a grower in Rheinland-Pfalz would seek the establishment of a new Einzellage. Indeed, as I have already predicted, given how the new statute has been written, if it continues to stand in that form then the entire notion of official Einzellagen will become largely an anachronism, retained by those growers who find it a useful marketing devise and disgarded by those who don’t. Or perhaps my prediction would be better put this way: the notion of a particular vineyard name and the attendant degree of specificity under the 1971 Wine Law being “official” will become an anachronism, and there will instead simply be those instances where vineyard of origin on a German wine label is indicated by using the name of an Einzellage; those where it is indicated by use of a Gewanname alone; and those where it is indicated by both.

    • David, I appreciate your taking the time to write about larger site names and analyzing this in more depth, with all its nuances and subtleties.

      In the first example, I would include Zeller Schwarze Katz, which was a brand, but it initially designated the top vineyards in Zell from 1863 till the 1920s or so. It should be noted, too, that most Mosel wines in the 19th century were just named after the village. Zeltinger Schlossberg was an exception. And, as you point out, the ur-Schlossberg is the area around the castle ruin, much like the Berg Schlossberg in Rüdesheim.

      As for your second example, I wrote about “Der Uhlen” in more detail. Reinhard Löwenstein isolated three different types of “terroir,” but, as far as I know, Laubach was never a site name, unlike Blaufüßerlay. You bring up a good point in regard to Ayler Kupp, which was extended well beyond the original hillside to include other slate slopes in the commune of Ayl. But there are many other examples of this, even if it’s less blatant, such as Pündericher Marienburg.

      As you know, I broker the wines of Hofgut Falkenstein and one of the family Weber’s best vineyards is Niedermenniger Herrenberg, which post-1971 Wine Law spans from their cellar at Falkensteiner Hof to Niedermenniger Sonnenberg. Yet the original Herrenberg is just one small area of the slope(s). Moreover, it is located next to the once famous Zuckerberg, which is considered the core section of today’s Niedermenniger Herrenberg. Yet the Webers, who own a few parcels in Zuckerberg, have no intention to register the Gewannname “Im Zuckerberg,” where von Kesselstatt owns the most vineyard land, to label a more site-specific wine.

    • Andrew Bair says:


      Thank you for your additions and clarifications to my post. Very informative and much appreciated.

      Also I was not aware yet about Dönnhoff and the pre-1971 core names for the Kreuznach sites – thanks for that info as well.

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