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Friday read: Maxime's push to simplify German wine classification

Published:  20 September, 2019

In anticipation of the biggest reforms to German wine law in almost 50 years, Rheinhessen vintners are calling for a simpler approach to Germany’s baffling wine classification systems.

In 2017 the Maxime association,(its formal name is Maxime Herkunft Rheinhessen –MHR) of premium wine producers adopted its own comprehensible three-tiered quality pyramid (estate, village and single-vineyard tiers) inspired by the high-end VDP classification system.

With a focus on provenance and strict rules on yields, Maxime has made it easier for consumers and the wine trade to understand German wines.

Maxime now wants the German government to ditch what it said were “dishonest” aspects of Germany’s wine legislation.

According to the Deutsches Weininstitut (DWI), the German government is contemplating a move to transform the standard and VDP wine classification systems into a single system that would iron out conflicting quality designations.

Legal reforms, which the German government could announce by this Christmas, will take on board the impact climate change has had on the ripeness levels of grapes. This is expected to affect the role of the Oechsle scale, which is used to measure sugar levels in grapes as a way of establishing quality designations.  


Germany’s biggest overhaul of wine legislation since 1971, could also lead to a new quality pyramid uniquely for dry, German wines.

However, the DWI said conflicts of interests had emerged during talks between Germany’s 13 wine regions, wine associations and its retailers, cooperatives and big wine brands and the agriculture ministry over reforms to the wine law.

Maxime’s chairman, Johannes Geil-Bierschenk, urged the German government to put an end to confusing classification nomenclature, calling it “dishonest”.

“The Grosslage we want to disappear is the one of the standard classification, for example Oppenheimer Krötenbrunnen. These names were created to indicate an origin the wines didn´t have and you can easily mix up them with real Lagen (origin),” he said.

“The top Grosse Lage and Erste Lage tiers of the VDP system is not a problem, but it is difficult to understand. Therefore Maxime is using the simpler three-tiered pyramid,” he explained.

Reforms to the German wine law, comes as Rheinhessen producers are increasingly looking to export wines away from Germany’s saturated wine market.

Rheinhessen’s annual exports to the UK rose by 10.6% in 2018 to 28, 717 hl.

In a €10million three-year deal funded mainly by the EU, Germany has for the first time this year teamed-up with Bordeaux to jointly promote exports to six US states.

Exports provide greater value for German producers who, at home, have to compete with cheaper imported wine, in a country where 80% of wine is sold in supermarkets.

Rheinhessen is best known for its dry white wines, but its young, dynamic vintners are combining tradition and innovation to make exciting, singular low-intervention orange, pinot noir wines and sparkling Sekt and Secco – wines made increasingly from organic and biodynamic viticulture.

The average age of vintners is between 35 and 40 years of age.

Maxime has grown to 90 members from 70 in 2017 - many are VDP members.

It represents a small percentage of vintners in Rheinhessen, but it is forging a new profile for the region. It wants to implement its quality system across the region.

As well projecting a stronger regional approach to the German wines, it has been lobbying the German government over its legal reforms.

It’s rise to prominence has come about from a new generation of vintners who are committed to strict quality standards: single-estate wines have a maximum yield of 55hl per hectare.

Once best known for its towns, and bulk wine produce, Rheinhessen is now increasingly becoming known for its villages and vineyards sites beyond its famous Red Slope, the Roter Hang.

“We’ve come along way over the past two decades, but we want to develop our profile – we want people to know what to expect when they buy Rheinhessen wines,” said Geil-Bierschenk.

Maxime’s next move will be to establish a classification system for vineyards.