Who’s Who in Germany – the Essential Guide

Would-be wine exporters have always focused their attention on the long-established UK and excitingly dynamic US markets, but, as Felix Bodmann reveals, Germany deserves to be taken very seriously – provided you know who to talk to.

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A German speciality: Wine Ambassadors (Photo: Deutsches Weininstitut)
A German speciality: Wine Ambassadors (Photo: Deutsches Weininstitut)

Germany is a top 10 wine producing country. But it is also the fourth largest consumer market for wine. The domestic production of 800m litres has to be set against total consumption of around 2bn. In addition, Germany is home to major sparkling wine producers, distilleries and bottlers who process imported wine in a wide range of ways. With 370m litres being exported every year, this results in a around 1.5bn litres being imported. This makes Germany the largest wine importer in the world.

However, this leading position only refers to volume. When it comes to value, it slips to third place behind the US and UK with a total of just €2.8bn. The explanation for the average price of under €2 euros per imported litre is the high share of bulk wine imports for the processing companies. For that reason, this overview of the German wine market begins with the most important players in this sector.

Bulk Wine Buyers

Three of the largest sparkling wine producers in the world are based in Germany. These companies’ best-known brands are simple sparkling wines without any indication of origin. The two biggest include their most important brands in their corporate names:  Henkell-Freixenet (which was simply Henkell until its acquisition of the Spanish company in 2018) and Rotkäppchen-Mumm.

Freixenet’s Cava is produced in Catalonia, but the other three are put togethe in Germany from base wines sourced from all over Europe. If you want to become a supplier here, you need to know Marcel Szopa, who heads German production at Henkell-Freixenet.

At Rotkäppchen-Mumm, management board-member, Dr Mike Eberle is responsible for production. 'Faber' and 'Feist' are important brands belonging to Schloss Wachenheim AG in Trier. The company, managed by Oliver Gloden, can be contacted via weineinkauf@schloss-wachenheim.de.

Other important bulk buyers include Chantré & Cie. GmbH in Eltville and Asbach GmbH in Rüdesheim, both of which produce large quantities of brandy. The largest bottler in the country is Peter Mertes KG, which is managed by Michael Willkomm and his son Matthias. Marc Felten is responsible for the international wine purchase, only bulk wines are bought. More than 400 employees help to generate revenues of around €330m.

Retail – Dominated by Discounters

A growing number of other countries has become increasingly used to the phenomenon of Aldi and Lidl, Germany’s family-owned discounters, but few of them have yet come close to witnessing the retail power of these companies. According to Mintel, they enjoy 99% market penetration. Almost everyone shops there at least occasionally. It is important to know that while German consumers are happy to pay a premium price for high quality products, they love to find a great deal. Keen bargain hunters are known as ‘Schnäppchenjäger’, while, in the eary 2000s the acceptability of looking for the best value for money led an eletrical goods retailer to coin the slogan,’Geiz ist geil!’ — being stingy is sexy — which became part of pop culture. Unlike in the UK, however, German shoppers do not appreciate artificial bargains based on cyclical promotional discounts. They prefer the EDLP – Every Day Low Price - model

While the discounters offer attractive prices for their own-label products through skilled buying and low margins, this is not to say that they do not take quality and consistency seriously. They can also buy quite adventurously, knowing that their customers trust them.

Aldi is Germany's biggest wine retailer, but that is literally half the truth, because this company is split into two independently operating companies. Originall founded by two brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht in 1946, it was divided into Aldi Nord, based in Essen, and Aldi Süd, in Mülhein, in 1960. The Aldi stores in the US belong to Aldi Sud, while Trader Joe’s is part of Aldi Nord. Both companies operate in a wide range of countries and do some central buying.

Producers wanting to get a listing in Aldi Nord should contact Felix Neudorf. At Aldi Süd, his counterpart is Patrick Donath. Those looking to be sold by Lidl, need to complete a lengthy form (https://kundenservice.lidl.de/SelfServiceDE/s/suppliercontactsupport).

In addition to the discounters, other retail chains also move large quantities of wine. Edeka has its own bottling company called Rheinberg Kellerei, under the management of Jens Strassner. Nicolas Torini is in charge of purchasing at the head office. At the other large supermarket chain, Rewe, Markus Prockl buys the wine, while his colleague René van Hall does the same for the 2000 Penny stores belonging to the group.

Edeka and Rewe are an exception among the retail chains in effectively acting as cooperatives of independent merchants. Some of these only buy a basic set of wines from the company range and keep their own, very individual assortment on top of that. The 14 Rewe stores of the Rahmati family in Cologne and the surrounding area, for example, have an excellent assortment under the management of Yann Koebel. In the Edeka stores run by the Ueltzhöfer family in Heilbronn, highly sought-after natural wines from Emidio Pepe in Abruzzo stand next to Viña Tondonia on the shelves, along with grower Champagnes and big names from Burgundy. Thomas Krause is in charge.

Groups, Chains, Franchise

There are only two franchise chains in the German wine industry. ‚Vom Fass' has 133 shops but focuses on oils and vinegars tapped from the barrel or demijohn. Wine plays a secondary role.

The market leader among specialised wine stores is Jacques Weindepot, run by Kathy Féron, with over 300 franchised shops nationwide. This heavyweight whose individual stores enjoy extraordinary loyalty in their immediate vicinity, is part of a far larger business called Hawesko-Holding. This group of companies headed by Thorsten Hermelink generates a turnover of €681m. Its most important pillars are an import and distribution group called Wein Wolf as well as various B2C trading companies such as Jacques (bricks and mortar), Hawesko and Tesdorpf (both online).

The ranges are strongly fed by Wein Wolf’s five business units that include Weinland Ariane Abayan, Volume Spirits, Deutschwein Classics and most importantly, one also called Wein Wolf, headed by Khalid Ait Hamou and Maximilian Scheid, and Grand Cru Select, managed by Oliver Thieme and Thomas Hänle. The Wein Wolf group itself is led by Jan-Philipp Reher, Heike Discher and Philipp Gericke.

They have a huge influence in German wine imports. But the B2C subsidiaries also make additional purchases. In particular, Vinos, covering Iberian Wines, and Enoteca Enzo, which focuses on Italy, are relevant for wine producers in these countries.

Wine Import

The majority of Germany’s wine stores only imports a tiny part of its foreign assortment directly. Most non-German wines come from the portfolios of the major importers.

In addition to the Hawesko subsidiaries already mentioned, the Eggers & Franke Group also plays a major role. While the company led by Jens Gardthausen and belonging to Rotkäppchen-Mumm (see above) distributes global brands such as Yellowtail or Frescobaldi's entry level wines to supermarkets, various subsidiaries are active in the fine wine market. 

Reidemeister und Ulrichs sells big names like Chapoutier or Frescobaldi, but also niche wineries like Elena Walch, while its sister company Eggersohn has Biondi-Santi in its portfolio, among others.

With Ludwig von Kapff (10 shops plus online) and Club of Wine (online only), two B2C companies also belong to the group. Schlumberger – not to be confused with the global market leader in off-shore oil drilling – is structured quite similarly.

Part of the Austrian holding company, based around the sparkling wine producer of the same name, the company, headed by Rudolf Knickenberg, imports famous brands such as Ornellaia and Yquem). Subsidiaries for the specialised trade (Segnitz) and B2C (Bremer Weinkolleg) cover additional suppliers. 

Family-owned Mack & Schühle, on the other hand, with more than 200 employees, is the third largest importer. Unlike its competitors, this firm does not split import and distribution into subsidiary companies. Supermarkets, specialist retailers and Horeca  are all handled by one company which moves 120m bottles of wine a year. Owner and managing director Christoph Mack is also president of Bundesverband Wein und Spirituosen International‘ (BWI), Germany’s national importers’ association.

In addition to the big three generalists, there are numerous niche suppliers, some of which have grown to considerable size. Riegel Wein, the specialist for organic wines founded by Peter Riegel in 1985, now sells nearly 20 million bottles and is Europe's largest distributor of organic wine. With Felix Riegel as managing director, the next generation is now in charge. 

Vinaturel, founded in 1995 by Jürgen Franke and still managed by him, also focuses on organic, but more on the ultra-premium segment and biodynamics. 

Ardau Weinimport, run by Björn Gerhard, the second generation of the family, focuses on the Iberian Peninsula, but has also added French wines to its portfolio in recent years. Completely focused on France is Sebastian Visentin with his two companies Vin sur Vin (B2B) and Passion Vin (B2C) in Berlin.

Specialist Trade

All specialist wine stores with more than 10 branches in Germany, such as the aforementioned Ludwig von Kapff and Jacques Weindepot, have now been acquired by large companies from the sector. The last of these transactions was the takeover of Rindchen's Weinkontor with 17 branches in northern Germany, Berlin, Leipzig and Munich, by Schloss Wachenheim in 2017. Gerd Rindchen, who with various new projects certainly still belongs on every top listing of German wine personalities, left the company in 2019. Since then the route to a listing in the Kontor range of shops is via chief buyer Vitus Steinhorst.

Online retail is also playing an increasingly important role in Germany. This is particularly noticeable in the premium segment, where it is responsible for the fastest growth among the principal players. The mid-range segment and everyday wines are distributed among many outlets. The biggest online retailer with a focus on wines up to €15 is probably Belvini.de, which is currently run by Henkell-Freixenet's management after a takeover.

The ultra-premium segment is dominated by retailers that were all founded when e-commerce was still called mail order. The largest is Lobenbergs Gute Weine in Bremen. Here, founder Heiner Lobenberg shares responsibility with his son. Since Luca Lobenberg joined the company 2018, sales have leapt from €15 to €40 million euros in 2021.

The Saarwellingen-based retailer Pinard de Picard, where co-founder Ralf Zimmermann works with Marcus Budai to shape the range, is some distance behind. 

Thanks to an impressive hand-picked range, former European champion sommelier Bernd Kreis has also enjoyed long-term success with his Weinhandlung Kreis: he has built up two shops, a wine bar and a well-stocked online store since founding the company as a sideline to a restaurant job in 1996. With his son Kilian, the next generation is already actively involved here as well.

Fourth in line of the premium retailers is K&U Weinhalle founded in 1982 by Martin Kössler and Dunja Ulbricht. Most of the other online start-ups in the segment have either dropped out in recent years or have been taken over by larger companies already listed.

In addition to these, however, the Swedish Viva Wine Group acquired three major players: Wine in Black, Vinexus and Vicampo. Owner-managed and relevant in terms of size are the Italy specialist Superiore.de under the leadership of Lutz Heimrich and Vipino by Michael Liebert, which was only founded in 2013 and is one of the fastest growing companies in online retail.


Trade Fairs

ProWein in Düsseldorf (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann)
ProWein in Düsseldorf (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann)

The market leader here is Vincenz Weber, who organises events in 16 German cities with his company Weber-Messe. Of course, the best B2B contacts are still made at ProWein, while an overview of the state of beverage technology is provided by drinktec, which takes place every four years in Munich.


Mundus Vini (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann)
Mundus Vini (Photo: Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann)

PR Agencies and Consultants

As in some other markets, big advertising and PR groups have not penetrated wine as one might have expected. 

The field in Germany is almost entirely left to small owner-managed companies. Even in the German market there are mainly small companies that deal with PR for wine producers.

With around 20 employees, FrersFierenzKoch (ff.k) is one of the heavyweights in the industry, working primarily for several southern European AOP Consejos and Consorzios. Organize Communications, run by Barbara Wanner and Oliver Frank, is also one of the busiest in the industry. Anyone looking for a very hands-on approach should consider Sommelier.Consult.  The agency, run by Christian Frens, is an association of sommeliers and other experts, including the well-known Master of Wine Caro Maurer and Billy Wagner, owner of the Nobelhart & Schmutzig restaurant in Berlin which came 17th in the list of the world's 50 best restaurants.

Media and Influencers

In Germany, too, media consumption is undergoing a strong shift towards digital offerings. The world of books and printed magazines is on the retreat. One person who has successfully shaped the transformation is Jens Priewe.

Still writing books with good sales, the 74-year-old is also a successful online publisher with his platform Weinkenner.de. Print is not dead yet: The long-established wine magazine brand Vinum was even able to launch a new guide book to German wines a few years ago. Both are led by editor-in-chief Harald Scholl.

When it comes to showcasing high-quality wine brands, the wine magazine Fine is very relevant. Publisher Ralf Frenzel and his Tre Torri Verlag also regularly produce spectacular coffee table books on the subject of wine.

Meininger Verlag is the market leader in the B2B segment, which also includes Meininger’s Wine Business International. Weinwirtschaft is the name of the most important trade journal under the direction of Alexandra Wrann and Clemens Gerke. Direct access to important multipliers is provided by Sommelier Magazin, managed by Sascha Speicher. Events, publications and awards round off the family-owned company’s portfolio. A second successful B2B offer but operating online only is wein.plus, founded by Utz Graafmann.

Influencers from Germany often post in English, which makes it difficult to estimate the actual reach in German-speaking countries. The three most successful German-speaking Instagram accounts all reach around 27.5 thousand followers: Daniel Bayer (@wein_verstehen), Toni Askitis (@asktoni.de) and Louisa Maria Schmidt (@bringflavorhome).

The most successful YouTube channel is Webweinschule (11,000 subscribers) by the author of this article, the blog with the widest reach is Christoph Raffelt's originalverkorkt.de, which also includes a successful podcast. Another important podcast is Terroir & Adiletten by the Austrian sommelier Willi Schlögl, who runs the famous wine bar 'Freundschaft' in Berlin.

13 wine-growing regions (Photo: Deutsches Weininstitut)
13 wine-growing regions (Photo: Deutsches Weininstitut)

Germany as a Producer

All these contacts are vital to selling wine in Germany. But who does one need to know when looking to find out about German wine?

Germany's wine producers are active in 13 wine-growing regions. Each of these areas has an administrative body responsible for promotion. Member of the press, buyers or sommeliers who would like to tour Germany, should know people like Ansgar Schmitz from Moselwein e.V. or Andreas Göpfert from Haus des Frankenweins. Those wanting a crash course on German wine, possibly in their own home country, would be well advised to contact the German Wine Institute (DWI). 

Frank R. Schulz is the man whose job it is to present the institute to the outside world. A German peculiarity that is ridiculed buy some in Germany but has been very effective in generating interest in German wines is some overseas markets is the annual election of a German 'Wine Ambassador‘. Each of the wine-growing regions has its own regional queen, who is automatically qualified to compete for the title of Deutsche Weinkönigin. The competition is even broadcast on television.

The winner, supported by two princesses, represents German wine for a year, and the calibre of the women concerned is confirmed by the fact that one, Julia Kloeckner, went on to be a successful politician, agriculture minister and deputy chairwoman of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.


Finally, while Germany does not have the US inconvenience of states operating independently when it comes to distribution and the big players all operate across the country, there are still cultural differences between different regions. Wines that sell well in the north may find less favour closer to the Italian frontier for example and smaller companies can have a good understanding of how to introduce new wines to the customers in their area. This helps to explain why some exporters to Germany are happy with the results they get working with regional wholesalers rather than large national ones.




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