Germany's wine industry is most famous for world class Riesling produced along the Rhein and its tributary the Mosel. There is wide agreement that the white wines from the best sites and the most reputable producers are some of the greatest in the world.
However the country's winemakers are proving convincingly that they can make great wine from other varieties, helped in part by climate change. For example, fine German Sp?tburgunder (Pinot Noir) is now emerging from various regions, particularly Baden, Pfalz and even the tiny Ahr Valley.
As of 2017 the country boasted around 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres) of vineyards. This placed Germany 14th in the world.
For more information regarding the various German wine regions, please refer to the menu on the left side of this page.
Key German grape varieties
White grape varieties account for around 66 percent of vineyard area. Unsurprisingly, Riesling leads the way with 23 percent of the total. Its area has grown slightly since 1995.
That year, Müller-Thurgau just pipped Riesling as the most planted variety. However surface area has almost halved and in 2017 it accounted for 12 percent of vineyards - much declined but still at that point Germany's number two variety by area.
With around 6,400ha (15,800 acres), Germany has a significant amount of Pinot Gris (known as Grauburgunder). Its plantings of Weissburgunder - aka Pinot Blanc - exceed 5,300ha and actually lead the world.
Silvaner had around 4,850ha in 2017 but is declining steadily while Kerner covered 2,500ha but is disappearing even faster. Other declining varieties such as Bacchus, Scheurebe and Gutedel (Chasselas) still account for hundreds of hectares.
Chardonnay, in contrast, is on the rise and has passed 2,000ha (4,950 acres). Sauvignon Blanc was not recorded in the country in 1995, but by 2017 was planted in over 1,100ha of vineyard.
Sp?tburgunder already covered over 7,000ha in 1995, but this figure has now approached 12,000ha. As of 2020 it is likely to have taken over second place among all varieties by planted area. Dornfelder has grown even faster, quadrupling in area since 1995 and now nearing 8,000ha.
Portugieser, Trollinger (Schiava) and Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier) are all on the downslide but each covered at least 2,000ha in 2017. Lemberger (Blaufrankisch), Regent, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are all on the rise.
History of German wine production
Overlooking a period of decidedly lesser glory – during the 1970s and 1980s – Germany has a long and illustrious history of winemaking. The Romans established the country's first vineyards along the banks of the Mosel, near what is now the town on Trier. By the third century AD plantings had spread to various neighboring valleys, mostly those of the Mosel's 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. Two of the most famous names in German wine – the Rheingau wineries Schloss Johannisberg and Kloster Eberbach – were established as monasteries, and have been producing wine for almost 900 years.
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, forming the VDP association (see German Wine Labels). The VDP's members are bound by the membership to focus their efforts on the quality rather than quantity.
German Beer and other Products
Beer is a key part of German culture, the brewing industry leads the world in many respects. In total there are around 1,300 brewries and 5,000 brands. Almost half of these breweries are found in the state of Bavaria.
Though Beck's of Bremen is the best known producer, its output is is only half that of Oettinger (of Oettingen). Kromacher (Kreuztal) and Bitburger are also larger.
Along with the Kingdom of Bohemia (approximately the modern-day Czech Republic) the various German states were at the forefront of the rise of modern lager beer. "Lager" comes from the German word for storeroom or warehouse. Beers would be brewed in ice-cooled cellars using bottom-fermenting yeasts. Year-round production was made possible by the development of refridgeration.
Germany has given the world many beer styles, including lager variants such as Bock (heavy lager) and Munich's malty M?rz, and top-fermented beers such as K?lsch (from K?ln/Cologne) and various wheat beers.
Furthermore, the country's beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot) sets the standard for beer prouction around the world. This permits only water, hops and malt as ingredients. Beers not made from barley malt - such as wheat beers - must be top-fermented.