Who’s Who in Germany

Germany has one of the world’s most stable economies, and is a key player and important influencer in the wine industry. Wolfgang Fassbender reports.

Monika Reule, Peer F. Holm, Stéphane Gass, Melanie Wagner, Gerhard Retter, Ilka Lindemann
Monika Reule, Peer F. Holm, Stéphane Gass, Melanie Wagner, Gerhard Retter, Ilka Lindemann

To understand the history of the German wine trade you need to look to the country’s north. Eggers & Franke was founded in Bremen in 1804, Reidemeister & Ulrichs started in the same place in 1831, and another Bremen-based firm, Ludwig von Kapff, traces its history back to the year 1692, making it, alongside Carl Tesdorpf, one of the two oldest wine trading companies in Germany. For a long time, ships carrying barrels docked in the north of the country and their cargo was then distributed further inland. Despite the various mergers that have happened since, all these brands still exist today.  

The legendary Bremer Ratskeller (the city’s council-owned wine cellar) continues to be a dominant force in Germany: not only does it serve wine in its own restaurant but it also deals in wine and has a collection of rare wines in barrels from the 1653 and 1727 vintages. These historic wines are not for sale but the Bremen Senate occasionally presents some of the few bottles filled from these barrels as a very special civic gift. The mother cask is then topped up with a young wine.


Importers and dealers

The Eggers & Franke Group, which in 2005 acquired Reidemeister & Ulrichs and its mail-order arm Ludwig von Kapff, was taken over itself by Rotkäppchen-Mumm in 2018. This new giant of the German wine industry is involved in production as well as import and retail, with a turnover of €945m ($1bn) in 2017. 

Another important company is the Hawesko Group, whose name is short for Hanseatisches Wein- und Sekt-Kontor. The company, founded in 1964, grew rapidly in the following decades and has been listed on the Hamburg stock exchange since 1998. It achieved provisional group sales of €525m in the 2018 financial year, a sum which included for the first time the contribution of the Austrian market leader Wein & Co (excluding Wein & Co, group sales amounted to €511m, 0.7% higher than the previous year). The Hawesko Group includes brands such as Spanish specialist Wein & Vinos and Jacques’ Wein-Depot, with its strong focus on French wines. The latter made its mark in the ’80s and ’90s by introducing German consumers to French wines and the art of savouring good wine. 

When it comes to family-run companies, Mack & Schühle (turnover €261.5m in 2017) deserves a mention: it has earned a reputation for supplying wines from all the important producer nations and offering a full service for its partners.  



Online retailer Vinos has already been mentioned as part of the Hawesko Group. But among German wine retailers, it is not just the big names and their subsidiaries that dominate, but also specialists like Pinard de Picard. With a turnover of €7.34m (to end 2018) and a 92% share of the specialist retail business (57% share of internet orders), the company has made a name for itself in the field of premium wines from France and elsewhere. 

For market participants like these it has always been important that customers are able to rely on the people behind the company name; Tino Seiwert, the face of Pinard de Picard for many years, ensured he kept in touch with customers by means of detailed newsletters and comprehensive catalogues. Similarly, Heiner Lobenberg of dealer Lobenbergs Gute Weine does not simply send out a catalogue but rather a vast compendium, which reflects the enthusiasm of the boss himself. 

Belvini, which started as a small company in Dresden, has developed into one of the most important internet wine dealers in Germany, and has been voted Germany’s best wine retailer on a number of occasions. Although this specialist is often associated with Italy, its range is far more international and spans countries from Argentina to Hungary. Last year, Dr. Oetker announced that it was going to acquire a majority interest in this company. Underlining investor interest in the German market, online wine retailer Wine in Black was in January acquired by the Scandinavian Viva Group.


Exhibitions and events

ProWein, held each year in Düsseldorf, is the largest wine trade fair in the German-speaking world, attracting more than 6,800 exhibitors from 64 countries and acting as a meeting place for international buyers, restaurateurs and specialist journalists. The modern incarnation of ProWein, which now has offshoots in other parts of the world, no longer bears any resemblance to the relatively pedestrian ProVins event held in 1994. Many visitors to the trade fair naturally visit the stands of the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates (VDP), which currently has 195 members. This elite association, formed in 1910 as the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer, has a strong presence both in Germany and at many other events. The road shows run by the VDP in Germany attract a wide audience, and the preview show of the year’s new vintages, staged at the end of August in Wiesbaden for an exclusive trade audience, is one of the most important wine events on the German calendar. The VDP is also active overseas and plays a major role in spreading the fame of Riesling and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), as well as other grape varieties. The same can be said of the German Wine Institute (DWI) in Mainz, whose annual budget for its global activities is between €10m and €11m. The institute has now opened its 14th international office (in Russia) and is promoting German wines in general – not just those from well-known wine estates but also those made by cooperatives and young winemakers. 

Among the most important wine-related events in Germany are the Mundus Vini Grand International Wine Awards, which were held for the first time in 2001, and the Best of Riesling Awards. The regional wine awards, such as those in the states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg, and the national wine awards organised by the German Agricultural Society, have lost some of their importance in recent years. For many of the top wine estates, the medals and prizes awarded there are only of minor importance, and some do not take part. In contrast, the German Red Wine Awards, which have been held since 1987, are still viewed as prestigious.


Influencers and sommeliers

The Sommelier Union Deutschland e.V., formed in 1976, is one of the most significant organisations on the German wine scene. Over its 40 years the organisation, led today by Peer F. Holm, has attracted more than 1,000 members. Its educational events have helped the Sommelier Union develop into a key player but individual personalities are also a highly visible presence on the national and international stage. 

Numerous sommeliers have become influential personalities within the industry. Stéphane Gass (Traube Tonbach, Baiersbronn) is one of these, due to his many years of experience, as are Melanie Wagner (Schwarzer Adler in Vogtsburg-Oberbergen) and Gerhard Retter (Fischerklause/Cordo), who is also a panel member on a popular TV show. Other influencers include former sommeliers such as Hendrik Thoma, who is now involved in the wine trade, or people who have earned the title Master of Wine and are often working not just as journalists but also public speakers, such as Caro Maurer MW. Then there are the many wine bloggers and people active on Instagram. Although the quality of their contributions varies along with the professionalism of their approach, they too help to spread the reputation of German wines. Since not many representatives of the industry in this sphere communicate in English, however, their influence outside Germany is negligible.


PR and media

PR and marketing agencies that specialise in wine continue to be few and far between, though not just in Germany. Hamburg-based ff.k Public Relations is one notable exception, representing a wide range of gastronomy and wine clients, targeting Germany and Switzerland. The Karlsruhe-based company Organize, which also has an office in Switzerland, is another. Sopexa, which is based in France but has operated an office in Düsseldorf for many years, looks after clients in the wine and agricultural sectors. While Sopexa used to be focused entirely on France, this has changed. Anyone wishing to read the latest news from the German wine industry will naturally come across the publications of Meininger Verlag, owner of Meininger’s Wine Business International, Weinwelt, Weinwirtschaft and Sommelier magazines. The German editions from Swiss (Vinum) or Austrian (Falstaff) publishing companies are also worth a mention. Among wine guides which rate the products of German winemakers on an annual basis, Gault&Millau is the best known, followed closely by the Eichelmann guide. While the former is the licensed product of the French brand Gault&Millau, the latter was founded by the wine journalist Gerhard Eichelmann; the author of this article has been a taster for this guide for many years.


Germany at a glance

With a gross domestic product of about €3.388 trillion ($3.867trn), the Federal Republic of Germany is ranked fourth in the world behind the USA, China and Japan. It is well ahead of the other strong national economies in Europe, followed at quite some distance by the UK and France. However, even in Germany all good things come to an end. In 2018, the economy grew by a comparatively modest 1.5%, less than in 2017 when it grew by 2.2%, and for 2019 the Federal Government is now expecting an increase in GDP of just 1%. Growth is therefore slowing, though it has maintained a positive trend for a decade. Wine consumption in Germany has also stabilised at a substantial level. According to the OIV, the total amount drunk in 2017 was 28.2l per head for those aged 15 and above. This is not as much as in Portugal, France, Italy or Switzerland, but still more than in Spain. Who would have thought that a few years ago? 



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