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Where Now for German Wine?

As German vintners announce an above average 2002 harvest, the German wine lobby is working to improve the beverage's image abroad.

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Germans know how good their wine is - the rest of us apparently don't

There is no getting away from it. Next to the ‘ABC’ (‘Anything But Chardonnay’) rule, bringing a bottle of Liebfraumilch or Blue Nun to a dinner party is the equivalent of committing social suicid -- German wine has a bad reputation.

But now plans are afoot to change all this.

The “DeutschWeinVision 2020” is an attempt by the German wine industry to develop an all-encompassing long-term strategy to improve prices for wine growers at home and better the image of German wines abroad.

Although it is still a work in progress, the first results and recommendations are expected by the end of the year. Small vintners can’t cover costs

The strategy has been necessitated by severe problems currently facing traditional wine growers in Germany. Many, mostly smaller, vintners who make wine in traditional wooden barrels are not able to demand prices for their product which enables them to cover production costs.

As a result, larger, more commercially viable producers are overtaking the smaller wine makers. Rudolph Nickenig, spokesperson for the German Wine Association (VDW) told DW-WORLD the problem of low prices was “threatening the very existence of small wine growers who produce top quality German wines.”

Indeed, the number of smaller vintners has fallen dramatically over the past 30 years. According to a government report published this month, Germany had 50,000 producers in 1979. By 1999, the figure had fallen to 34,440.

German wine - “It used to be more”

“Germans used to drink a higher percentage of domestically-produced wine, of course,” Nickenig told DW-WORLD. Although Germans now drink more wine than beer – downing a whopping 24 litres per head each year - only 45% of this is German wine. The remaining 55% hails from the vineyards of Italy, Spain, France and Chile among others.

“German wine drinkers tend to be quite adventurous – they’re very curious of what’s happening in New World wines for example. That’s why there is such a market at the moment for foreign wines," he said. German wines have long faced a bad rap abroad, often regarded as overly sweet. The German wine Black Tower was recently re-launched in the UK to great irony in the British press; they found the attempt to re-brand the wine nothing if not rather amusing.

Nickenig wants a chance to change this image of the 2.4 million litres of German wine exported each year.

“Of course some German wines are sweet, but many are very dry as well. Due to the climate, our grapes produce wines which have very fruity aromas in the main,” he said.

Good year for German wine, a "good-value"

The warm spring in Germany this year as well as a summer which lasted right into the end of September has meant vines have had longer than usual to ripen. The harvest has been better than the average annual yield of 10 million hectare litres according to wine experts.

“I’m always very sceptical about it when producers start talking about ‘good years’,” Nickenig told DW-WORLD, “but the good weather has meant the grapes have a high sugar content and that basically means they’ll make good wine.”

A good year for wine and better lobbying for producers might well be the mix that will save Germany’s wine growers from extinction, although changing clichés about certain German wines might well prove more of a challenge.

On that subject Joachim Basler wanted to make one thing clear. “Black Tower and Liebfraumilch really aren’t that bad, you know,” he said. “And I wouldn’t call them cheap; more good-value."

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