Many consumers won’t even remember the days when cheap, sweet, bulk-produced German wines dominated the marketplace.
Today German wine sales in the off-trade are dominated by sleek brands with innovative marketing campaigns designed to draw non- wine drinkers into the category.
But do consumers even know these wines are German? And does the country have a coherent image in this market nowadays?
Black Tower is Germany’s biggest wine brand, accounting for one in three bottles of German wine sold in the UK. Its sales are nearly 50% greater than Liebfraumilch and Hock combined, according to Nielsen figures to January 3, and its 5.5% abv spin-off B by Black Tower is the second-biggest brand in the lower- alcohol category.
Richard Jones, managing director of Reh Kendermann UK, says: “At the value end of the market Germany is chasing the same customers as California – people who enjoy the fruity, off-dry wines that both countries produce.
“At the lower price end of the branded market there is some confusion in consumers’ eyes as to whether a wine comes from, say, California or Australia, but we believe Black Tower drinkers have an awareness that it is German from its long history of being sold in the UK.
“However, the consumer will be as likely to enjoy wines from another country, such as the US, as another German wine. At this level brand assurance, consistency of style and quality are important.”
Hans Kohl, international marketing director for Blue Nun brand owner FW Langguth, says: “Blue Nun is a historic brand and was originally definitely seen as a German wine. Relaunched in 2011 with the new diamond design and further design innovations in 2014, we position Blue Nun Riesling as a true German varietal wine. However, other parts of the range are less constrained by strict German heritage.”
The company is pursuing lower- abv brand extensions, wine-based cocktails, sparklers and alcohol- free wines targeted at women who are more interested in drinking occasions than in the provenance of the wines they are drinking.
Nevertheless, producers and agents are confident drinkers will move on from brands such as Black Tower and Blue Nun to try German wines that are more interesting and more premium.
Jones says: “Longer term the UK wine drinker will begin to tire of Sauvignon Blanc in a similar way to the decline in Chardonnay’s appeal, and this leaves a great opportunity for Riesling – and especially drier styles – to grow. The trade has been talking this up for many years but we are seeing the wine-engaged opinion formers beginning to seek out high- end German wines.”
The decline in German wine sales has slowed and they have grown at over £7, according to the latest Nielsen data from Wines of Germany UK.
In the year to October, £7-£8 wines were up 90% and £9-£10 wines up 138%. Oddbins has doubled its German wine listings, and Marks & Spencer reported more than 100% growth for German wine in November last year, driven by brands over £8.
Wines of Germany UK managing director Nicky Forrest says: “Over the past few years, we have seen the German wine consumer changing as the younger generation tastes, and gets behind, German wines. Black Tower and Blue Nun have a strong position in the market, but many younger consumers are coming anew to the German category and starting with Pinot Noir and smaller brands.
“Riesling and, increasingly, Pinot Noir are our top varieties in international markets and for both we are among the top growing countries of the world with a strong market position: number one for Riesling and number three for Pinot Noir, behind France and the US.”
James Booth, managing director of New Generation Wines, agrees that Riesling is key. He says: “There are great opportunities among the younger generation of wine enthusiasts who are eager to learn and were not tainted by the dodgy Rieslings of the seventies and eighties.
“This generation sees Riesling as one of the most interesting grapes, with a fascinating diversity of styles, and considers Germany to be the home of the finest examples.”
For Nik Darlington, of Red Squirrel Wine, innovation from a younger generation of winemakers, particularly from the Pfalz, who are making wines from alternative grape varieties in contemporary packaging, could be the way to break down the last of the UK’s preconceptions about German wine.
He says: “I can see German wine becoming one of the more creative categories on the Old World shelves. There is historic baggage, and the only way wineries are going to shake that off is by being truly creative. Do that, and consumers will pick their bottles off the shelf.”