Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

German wine exports

Prize essay for the Reh-Kendermann prize for MW students, March 2014

How should German wine exporting companies best take advantage of current wine trends?  Discuss with reference to specific examples in one or more countries of your choice. 

This essay clearly turns on what is understood by ‘current wine trends’.  Among the range of  possibilities I will examine briefly the continuing popularity of red wine and the trend for rosé; the market imperative for value; the opportunity of selling to a ‘sweet-tooth’ generation; the desire for ‘authenticity’; the minor trend for low alcohol wines; and ‘Brand Germany’ including labelling.  I will pay particular attention to the UK market. 

German wine exporting companies have the secure base of strong home demand, reflecting Germany’s relative economic success.  The most trumpeted success of the last twenty years has been the Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) revolution, giving Germany a world-class red wine to go alongside its unique Rieslings at the top end of the market, but in total terms the area is small. Pinot Noir has doubled from being 5% to 10% of the German vineyard. Most of this wine has been drunk in Germany, so it is difficult to base export success on it (there is just not enough of it), though it is a great success story to change the image of German wine, at least in the minds of the cognoscenti.  (Interestingly, the only German Pinot Noir available in the medium sized Hampshire town in which I live is in our independent: Villa Wolf’s PN from the Pfalz.)  All in all, the home market gives a strong base for the exporter.

In the UK the recent story has been of consolidation of export by value figures. This masks the drop in the export of really inexpensive wine  as high production costs in Germany for unbranded ‘white wine’ or Liebfraumilch mean that it can’t compete at the bottom of the market anymore. However, the value figures have been maintained by stronger sales of £7+ wines, which is very promising for the future and the recovery of reasonable margins. 

Perhaps Germany’s biggest issue is this lack of volume of red wine. The longterm trend shows the world moving from white wine to red and rosé, and Germany is a very larger importer of the latter categories.  The solutions for German exporters here will have to lie in yet more expansion in the warmer southern parts of Germany for Pinot Noir and perhaps a second top red (Dornfelder?) or a courageous decision to focus on whites as a complement to a world increasingly drinking red wine – see more on ‘Brand Germany’ below. 

Germany is well placed to produce value wines (quality wine in the mid and top segments of the market) in an age of economic austerity. Its wines are not expensive as has been seen with the  continuing success of Black Tower and Blue Nun in mid-price points of the UK market and top end Riesling is great value too. (See picture below)  As noted Germany is losing the market for ultra cheap wines (less than €2/L) but that has nearly been compensated for by better quality mid priced wines.

Germany’s biggest advantage is having an expertise and reputation for producing off-dry and sweet wines. While trocken continues to grow at home, a whole generation of young wine drinkers is grown up in the UK and the USA with a very sweet tooth, among them women with increased economic power, who would naturally take to these

styles, just like in the States they have taken to Moscato.  Similarly it is well placed to supply the low alcohol segment – at lower price points with alcohol-reduced wines (Black Tower at 5%) and at the top end of the market with naturally low Riesling from the Mosel (Loosen’s Urziger Würzgarten, 7.5%), both illustrated in the pictures below.

German wine exportsThe German wine sector is also well placed to respond to the desire for ‘authentic’ wines, whether these are minimal intervention conventional wines, organic, biodynamic or ‘natural’ because of its long tradition of low intervention wine making (e.g., little new oak), very highly trained work force (the Geisenheim effect) who have the technical ability to make good low alcohol or low sulphur dioxide wines, and its own commitment to high ethical and production standards.  There is a great deal here which could be marketed better.   

The biggest area of debate is what ‘Brand Germany’ should stand for.  The British wine trade is in love with traditional Riesling (though it finds it very difficult to sell) and so tends to the view that Germany should focus on what it does uniquely, off-dry and sweet Riesling, especially from the Mosel.  By contrast the home market has seen a big growth in dry white wines, in Pinot Noir as discussed, and in experimentation with Grauburgunder, Silvaner, etc, in other words a portfolio of different, elegant, mostly white, styles along with world-class Riesling.  This would require a double pronged approach: rebrand wines with residual sugar (which can be softer, less acidic, blends) for the mid market to appeal to Generation Y and its sweet tooth while at the same time promoting a range of dry German styles to complement Riesling to the elite markets of the world.  The former need to be labeled in simple, mood-led, ways; the latter to make use of the emerging regional and local identities (as done successfully by the VDP).  The much bemoaned complexity of German labelling can thus be bypassed for inexpensive and medium priced wines and celebrated for the top wines.

As we have seen, with the exception of large volume red wines, Germany is well placed to respond to the wine trends of today if it focuses on well-made, mid to high value, authentic wines with low or lower alcohol content.  Brand Germany needs to diversity its image to sell the range of its wines to the world.

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