Germany has a long and illustrious history of winemaking, a fact that is often overlooked due to a period of decidedly lesser glory during the 1970s and 1980s.
The Romans first established vineyards around Trier on the Mosel river, and by the third century AD plantings had spread to the Mosel and its tributaries. During the Middle Ages the Christian church, particularly the Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries, was very influential in the development of wine growing and in the production of quality wine in Germany. Some of the most famous names in German wine today, such as Schloss Johannisberg and Kloster Eberbach, were established as monasteries and producing wines nearly 900 years ago.
Germany’s greatest variety, Riesling, is first documented in the Rheingau in 1435, and found its way to the Mosel shortly thereafter. In 1720, Schloss Johannisberg became the first major vineyard to be planted exclusively to this superior variety. The mid to late 18th century saw the development of botrytized wines, and by the 19th century Rhine wines were selling for prices above those of the first-growth Bordeaux.
The German wine industry lost its way in quality terms during the 20th century, expanding plantings onto less-favorable sites and increasing yields to levels at which quality was severely compromised. However, the greatest German producers, sites and wines were never completely lost, and since the late 20th century considerable efforts have been made to re-establish Germany’s former glory. Yields are now constrained by law and many top producers have joined forces under the VDP (the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates), to focus their efforts on the best varieties, vineyard sites and practices.
In terms of volume, Germany is among the top ten countries in the world for annual wine production. A little over 60% of the wine produced is white, and there is wide agreement that the white wines from the best sites and the most reputable producers in Germany are some of the greatest in the world. Germany's red wines too are gaining in popularity and quality, especially those from Spätburgunder, the local name for Pinot Noir. The next most popular red-wine variety (in terms of acres planted, at least) is Dornfelder.