Germany: Fifty Years at the VDP Mainzer Weinbörse

What began as the Rheinhessen Riesling Show has now become the most important benchmark for German wine. A guest article by journalist and wine historian Daniel Deckers.

Reading time: 6m 30s

The Mainz Wine Exchange through the ages, from its beginnings 50 years ago to today.
The Mainz Wine Exchange through the ages, from its beginnings 50 years ago to today.

Peter von Weymarn was not a name you needed to know in the German wine world of the early 1970s. He neither came from the Rheingau wine nobility nor was he at home on the wine-rich Moselle, let alone in the fun-loving Palatinate, of which Friedrich Engels knew in 1849 that the establishment of freedom of taverns was the first revolutionary act of the Palatine people. Weymarn was born in the Baltic States, had abandoned a career as an astrophysicist, and had been living since the mid-1960s at the Heyl zu Herrnsheim estate in Nierstein, which had come into his wife's possession through inheritance. From there, he observed how the world around him was changing. And not for the better.

The ‘natural wines’ that had once established the global reputation of German wine had long since become a shadow of their former selves. Even in the top vineyards on the Rhine and Moselle in the post-war period, the Rieslings rarely turned out in such a way that they could be sold as ‘naturally pure’, let alone made palatable.

The triumph of mass-market-friendly Spätlesen (‘late harvest wines’), on the other hand, seemed unstoppable. The fact that many illustrious names had become mere echoes, and that behind the omnipresent sweetness lurked all sorts of more or less legal shenanigans in the cellar, was no cause for concern for the general public. Nor was the lament of the district judge and wine law commentator Hans-Jörg Koch about the "moral low point of many legal colleagues." In Weymarn's conviction, the Wine Law of 1971 would not change anything substantial. He would be proven right.

Laying the foundation

However, in 1971, something significant changed for the ‘Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer’ (Association of German Natural Wine Auctioneers), founded in 1910. Why persist with this association when the auctions, from which it derived its name, had become meaningless in many places, and the identity-forming term ‘Naturwein,’ which had always been a thorn in the side of representatives from cooperatives and wineries, was now legally banned? Were the often tradition-bound estates not preserving a past without a future, which in its own way was just as hollow as the new ‘quality-in-the-glass’ wine world, where potato fields turned into vineyards, bizarre new varieties mingled in prime locations, and Auslese wines were made from Müller-Thurgau grapes?

The dissolution of the VDNV was a done deal when Weymarn rallied against the defeatism of the last remnants of what had once been the most powerful organization in German viticulture with a resounding speech. Six months later, they elected him as the president of the newly renamed Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, VDP.

Not wanting to die, however, did not necessarily mean being able to live. Weymarn, the owner of one of the most renowned estates on the Roter Hang, devised a plan. He proposed that the eleven members of the 'Association of Rheinhessen Riesling Estates' could emulate the success of the five largest estates in the Rheingau. These estates had managed to attract merchants and brokers to their Kloster Eberbach wine sales fair by presenting wines from the new vintage and offering favorable purchasing conditions to a professional audience.

...the passage of decades can only be recognized by the fashion.
...the passage of decades can only be recognized by the fashion.

All aboard

However, it would still take another 20 years before all West German wine-growing regions were represented in Mainz. Following wineries from the Mosel, Saar, and Ruwer, more and more renowned estates from the Pfalz soon made their appearance. From the mid-1980s, individual estates from the traditionally marginalized regions of Franken, Baden, and Württemberg dared to exhibit their wines alongside the real or perceived giants of the world.

To participate in Mainz, a VDP regional association was even established in the Mittelrhein. Later, the Ahr, and long after the turn of the century, the East German wine-growing regions of Saale-Unstrut and Saxony followed suit.

Confusions and complications

Because membership in the ‘Erzeugergemeinschaft Mainzer Weinbörse’ required affiliation with a regional association of the VDP, the 'Weinbörse" rose and fell with the confusions and complications of the association. While the many wine scandals of the 1980s, from ‘liquid sugar’ to ‘Germanization’ to ‘glycol,’ did not directly affect either the VDP or the 'Weinbörse', the schemes of the cellars and the maneuvering of the German Winegrowers' Association were toxic to the reputation of German premium wines.

It wasn't until the end of the 1990s that the tightening of internal quality controls within the association, and the subsequent renewal of almost all regional associations, began to impact Mainz. The producer group was dissolved, and the doors of the light-filled Rheingoldhalle were opened to every VDP winery. Many who first displayed their wines in Mainz back then are now indispensable in the global wine scene. Without this platform, their ascent would have been more challenging.

Over five decades, the 'Mainzer Weinbörse' reflects the German wine miracle. Conflict-free times were few and far between, neither among the regions, whose creativity in interpreting the common regulations seems inexhaustible, nor between the VDP and other players in the German wine industry. Yet the presidents of the Prädikatsweingüter, from Peter von Weymarn to Erwein Graf Matuschka-Greiffenclau, Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm, and Steffen Christmann, were (and are) in a relatively comfortable position: year after year, they appeared at the opening of the Mainz Wine Exchange before the assembled trade world as the Davids who taught the Goliaths of the German wine world proverbial fear. If the VDP had not been able to present its viticultural policy concerns repeatedly to an internationally diverse audience, who knows how the state of viticulture in Germany would be today.

Focus on quality

Of course, all presidents knew that there was plenty to improve within their own ranks. The 'Weinbörse' would not have become a sounding board for German premium wine if its own standards had not been supported by a continuous improvement in the quality of the wines. Another aspect of the Weinbörse's reflection is the profiling of an increasingly diverse range of classic grape varieties: Initially, Riesling wines dominated the field almost without exception. Gradually, the white Burgundy varieties were added, and now even Silvaner is no longer the stepchild among the Cru from Germany.

More red...

Even more spectacular was the development of red wines. What could be tasted from button-shaped glasses in Mainz in the 1970s could only be interpreted legally as the result of the pressing of red grapes. However, by the 1990s, increasingly international trade visitors could see that the learning curve in many VDP estates was indeed steep.

As early as 1950, the French-English wine writer André Simon referred to German wines as the "perchance best still white wines of the world." Nowadays, Pinots and Lemberger (Blaufränkisch) are also among the world's top wines, alongside Riesling, Weissburgunder, and others. This development is another facet of the German wine miracle, observable nowhere better than in the history of the 'Weinbörse'.

At first, numerous Prädikatsweine were featured….
At first, numerous Prädikatsweine were featured….
…but over recent years, there has been a rise in the inclusion of Silvaner and Burgundy varieties.
…but over recent years, there has been a rise in the inclusion of Silvaner and Burgundy varieties.

...less sweet...

And this, too, is part of it: While the selection of red wines has multiplied since the late 1990s, the initially most significant category of wines has almost completely disappeared 50 years after the founding of the 'Weinbörse': in the early 1970s, almost all wines were bottled with more or less residual sugar. In the 1980s and 1990s, the 'Weinbörse' became a benchmark for assessing the extent to which German producers were capable of producing an increasing proportion of their wines in dry styles.

Once unironically referred to as ‘diabetic wines’ fifty years ago, German wines with up to nine grams of residual sugar are now indispensable on the best wine lists in the world. And while the new vintages of the VDP's Grand Crus have been presented to the public only in September, five months after the 'Weinbörse', for many years, the people behind them are personally present in Mainz. They embody this transformation.

...and organic

This also applies to the fourth and final facet of the German wine miracle: the spread of ideas for sustainable wine production. While the first organic vineyards were initially ridiculed, if not laughed at, they demonstrated with their collections to initially skeptical colleagues and customers that high quality and a high sensitivity to ecological issues not only do not exclude each other but rather complement each other. This mentality shift can also be traced in the mirror of the wine market since the days of Peter von Weymarn.

Whether he, as a pioneer of ecological viticulture, foresaw such a development, cannot be said. At that time, the VDP was too divided, and envy among the regions and top wineries too great. Already in 1978, Weymarn resigned from the presidency in frustration, and in the 1990s, he had to sell his winery. He passed away in October 2023.

Similarly, we do not know if he could ever have imagined that ‘his’ wine market would one day become so important for the international wine world. But that's how it turned out: If you want to get an overview of the new vintage of German top wines, a visit to Mainz is a must.


German consumers are still drinking plenty of wine — but their preferences are changing. Felix Bodmann looks at the trends.

Reading time: 6m 15s



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