The eagle - particularly on emblems shaped into straight lines and angular form - has to be the quintessential German bird. If you have ever bought a premier German wine abroad there is a good chance you will have seen an eagle on the label and/or capsule. The eagle is the logo of VDP, the world's oldest association of wine estates. It was founded in Germany in 1910 as an association of wine estates selling "natural" (i.e. non-chaptalised) wine via auctions. A major player in the (German) wine world, VDP counts many of Germany's most respected wineries amongst its members.
What you see in front of you is the cover of the register of members of VdP, a booklet you can buy from VDP directly for €9.50. We got a free press copy, for which I asked for two reasons. First of all I wanted a copy for myself. Having background information and figures on many of Germany's top wineries at hand is useful when writing a wine blog. Secondly, the booklet is both in German and English, so it has potential value for our English speaking readers.
VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, which translates to Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates. "Prädikat" is the top range of the German wine classification system with levels such as "Kabinett" and "Auslese". In the name of VdP "Prädikat" stands for the ambition to produce excellent wines from top quality vineyards. The Association sets quality standards for its members, including a focus on low yields, organic production and manual harvesting, and is also working on further developing the German wine classification system. There is an honest desire here to improve the quality and reputation of German wine, but this obviously combines with an interest to benefit the members, so it is also a lobby group with its own agenda that not everyone agrees with (issues such as mandating minimum price levels for members come to mind).
Most importantly in the context of the members' register it is a group comprising many internationally well known and highly respected German wineries, and many a favourite of the Wine Rambler too. The number fluctuates as new members are admitted and others leave and is currently close to 200. Membership is determined by regional chapters, some of which appear to be stricter than others. Looking at numbers will also tell you how the market perceives the quality of VDP wines: VDP estates cultivate about 5% of German vineyard area, their harvest is about 2% of the total German crop, but they account for over 8% of wine turnover. Just to drop a few names, members include: Dr. Loosen, Egon Müller-Scharzhof, Keller, JJ Prüm, Wittmann, Josef Leitz, Fritz Haag, Friedrich Becker, Reichsrat von Buhl, Knipser, Reinhold Haart and Van Volxem.
But now about the booklet. On 256 pages it gives an overview of the members of VDP and, helpful for non-native speakers, briefly explains German wine terminology - in particular the types of soil. Did you know that "Tonschiefer" translates to "shale"?
One page each is dedicated to the member estates, giving contact details, a short description of history and philosophy of the winery and a statistical overview including the grape varieties grown, annual production, soil types of the vineyards and acreage. There is also a wine label each and a black and white photo of at least one of the owners/managers. Flicking through the pages reminded me that (like wine writing) winemaking remains a male dominated business: the number of women is quite low - I counted 40, most of whom are depicted alongside their husbands.
Is it worth buying the booklet? The answer depends on what you want. Unfortunately, many German wineries, even some prominent VDP members, do seem unwilling to invest in decent websites. The VDP does provide information on its members, but only in German, so this is where the booklet comes in handy. If you read German or are happy with browsing the basic facts online you may not see much incentive to buy it, unless you are a dedicated fan of the VDP or a lover of the printed word. In the latter case you could also consider one of the German wine guides; Gault Millau, for instance, offers wine reviews and an overview of 900 German wineries (for about three times the price).
Is it worth looking for the eagle on a wine bottle? That question is much easier to answer. There are excellent winemakers who are not members of VDP and we have tasted a few VDP wines that were a little underwhelming, but especially for those who are curious yet not knowledgeable about German wine the eagle is a reliable guide to wines of quality.