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  • October 17, 2019
  • The Haart Case of 1899: A Strict Interpretation of the Auction Rules

  • by Per Linder

On the left: the Catholic Civic Society. The lower house next to the St. Antonius Church is the Bavaria Auction Hall.

While searching in the National Library of Luxembourg’s database at eluxemburgensia.lu, I came across this article in the Luxemburger Wort from April 13, 1899. I showed it to Lars, and he suggested that I translate it for an article on his site. Stefan Schwickerath gave some valuable input on the legal terms.

In the 1890s, Josef Haart and Geschwister Haart from Piesport both participated in the Trier spring auctions. In some years, they auctioned their Fuder of Piesporter at the secondary auctions in the Bavariahalle but in other years at the main auctions in the grand hall of the Catholic Civic Society (Katholischer Bürgerverein). Both venues were located at the Viehmarkt. Josef Haart and Geschwister Haart were scheduled for the auction at the Catholic Civic Society in 1899, but Josef ran into some problems with his fellow estate owners participating at the auction, which is the story of this article.

Luxemburger Wort, April 13, 1899

The District Court of Trier recently delivered a ruling in a case whose outcome had kept wine producers and merchants in suspense. The Trier wine auctions, which take place in the spring every year at the premises of the Catholic Civic Association, have to thank their world-wide reputation, along with the increasing popularity of Saar and Mosel wines, to the fact that the best possible guarantee for absolute natural purity of the wines is that they are sold there. Over time, the wine producers have organized themselves into syndicates, which bring the wines of its members to the auctions. The members are obligated under high contractual penalties to bring only their own absolutely natural wines to the auctions. Added sugar and other additives are prohibited; purchased wine and wine made from purchased grapes are also not permitted. A strict principle of the syndicates is that only wine producers, and not wine merchants, are allowed to sell at the auctions.

The wine estate owner in Piesport Josef Haart was a member in one of these syndicates and had registered four Fuder of Piesporter for this year’s auction. After he had been scheduled a day to auction his wine, the general manager of the auctions found that Haart also had bought and pressed grapes along with his own produce. This wine had not been registered to the auction, though.

The syndicate, however, saw this as a breach of its statutes and decided to exclude Haart from the auction by 18 votes to 2. Haart then brought an action to the District Court seeking an order to annul this decision and gain admission to this year’s wine auction.

The case had to be determined on how the syndicate was to be qualified under civil law. [In other words, could the syndicate be considered as a legal person who could be challenged in a court of law at all?] The counsel of the defendants put forward that the Commercial Code should not apply to the situation, since it involved the members’ own products. Furthermore, the syndicate could not be seen as a company under the terms of the Civil Code since the conditions that each partner makes a contribution and that a common profit must be achieved, were not fulfilled. On those grounds, proceedings could not be brought against the syndicate.

The plaintiff’s counsel countered these arguments by stating that the syndicate was founded on a partnership agreement. The common profit consists of achieving higher prices and cost savings.

The plaintiff had indeed bought grapes, but had pressed them separately from his own and kept the wine from purchased grapes in a separate cellar. He would accept a contractual penalty of 10,000 marks [which corresponded roughly to what his four Fuder probably would have been sold for], if evidence could be shown that he had not been in full compliance with the statutes when he registered his own wines for the auction.

The court adopted the defendant’s arguments and dismissed the action with costs.

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Jean Zeimet commented in the Weinmarkt:

The Haart case sufficiently shows how anxiously the various syndicates exercise scrutiny over its members, so that only estate wines and no wine from purchased grapes are allowed at the auctions.

The Geschwister Haart went along without their relatives and participated in the auction as planned the day after the publication of this article. Their two Fuder of 1897 Piesporter fetched 5,250 marks. ♦

Photo: Viehmarkt, 1898. Stadtarchivs Trier.

Per Linder works in asset management; he lives with his wife, Pernilla, in Luxembourg.

  • Thanks to Per for this fascinating account and for translating it.

    The fountain pictured in the middle of the Viehmarkt was built in 1829 and sadly removed in 1898. Per chose this photo. Both auction venues were located at the Viehmarkt. The VDP would have been wise to keep its auctions at the Europahalle, which is where the Katholischer Bürgerverein was located and is close to different bars, cafés, and restaurants. Supposedly, the toilets at the Europahalle stunk too much of chlorine, but these could have been fixed if they were an issue. Since leaving the Europahalle, the VDP has held the auctions at various locations over the past decade but has now settled on the FourSide Plaza Hotel, which is far from the city center.

    Per’s article highlights how important Naturweine—unchaptalized wines from an estate’s own holdings—were to the members of the syndicate. These “own growths” from slate slopes were sold by the cask and labeled by the village or site name, and were often dry wines. The exceptions were some of the Auslesen, which were often affected by botrytis and probably tasted more like today’s feinherb wines.

  • I should add that estate-bottled versus purchased grapes remains an issue, especially in the VDP (a topic I discussed in my piece titled “The Real Mosel Winegrowers” from earlier this year).

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