close up of wine barrel bunghole with a fermentation bung next to it.

German Wine System

Making wine is incredible in so many ways – every year is different, every wine is different, and not everyone likes every wine, but that’s how it’s supposed to be! 

If you think about a recipe and ten chefs are preparing it, you will end up with ten different dishes. This is similar to winemaking. The European wine law and the national wine law are defining how wine can be made in general, regulate additives, control yield, assess quality systems, divides regions into different wine-growing zones, and are a guide to consumers as well. 

Just by looking at the label and knowing the wine law of the country of origin, you can get a pretty good understanding of how the wine is made.

I have written a short overview of German wine law and labeling regulations to help you understand this seemingly complicated system. Each of the wineries that are imported by LTW follows different labeling and winemaking laws based on their different regions and zones. The story section for each winery tells more detail about what sets their wine apart and what their specific labels mean about German wine law.

German wine is based on two main categories. The quality system and the level of ripeness. The quality system categorizes wine into Deutscher Wein (German Wine), Landwein (Country Wine), Qualitätswein (Quality Wine) or Prädikatswein (Wine with Predicate/title). By law, every producer has to declare to which category the wine belongs. Every category comes with certain standards and requirements. 

Deutscher Wein (German Wine)

  • Deutscher Wein is the general table wine category. 
  • Grapes must be grown exclusively in Germany
  • Including vintage year is optional 
  • Alcohol content has a minimum of 8.5%Vol and a maximum of 15%Vol
  • Acidity must meet a minimum of 3.5 grams per liter

Landwein (Country Wine)

  • This wine has a protected geographical indication. 
  • 85% or more of the grapes must be from the region it states on the label
  • Oftentimes wine is trocken or halbtrocken (dry or off-dry)

Qualitätswein & Prädikatswein (Quality Wine & Wine with Predicate)

  • This wine has a protected designation of origin. 
  • Grapes must originate 100% from one district within the 13 different wine-growing regions of Germany 
  • Region must be declared on the label
  • Grapes must be legally recognized 
  • Every region has specific alcohol level regulations based on the variety and ripeness level

Prädikatswein (Wine with Predicate/Title)

  • In addition to the Qualitätswein regulations,  the use of oak chips are not allowed, nor is dealcoholizing the wine or any chaptalization (adding sugar to grape juice)
  • Chaptalization is prohibited because a Prädikat indicates the ripeness of the grapes during harvest which means how much naturally occurring sugar is measured in the grapes/juice before fermentation. By adding sugar the quality of wine will automatically be declassified to Qualitätswein. 

Within the predicate quality system, wines are categorized based on the ripeness of the grapes. Predicate wines are categorized in Kabinett, Spätlese (Late Harvest), Auslese (Selection), Beerenauslese, Trockenbeereauslese, Eiswein (Icewine).

Looking at the wines in my portfolio you will also find the quality system labels indicating Gutswein, Ortswein and Erste Lage.

Wines from a specific and protected wine-growing, area (Qualitätswein und Prädikatswein) are divided into four categories (Law update 2021). It is based on the idea that the smaller the area the grapes are grown, the higher the quality level. 

A few more terms to help you understand the names of the wineries:

 Weingut – Winery or Estate

… usually refers to a winery that has its vineyards as well.

 Weinhaus – a winery that is contracting the fruit from growers.

…  typical practice in the US, but not in Germany.

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