Overall German sales are down by around 8% in the off-trade but certain varietals are thriving, with German Pinot Noir growing at 169% (Nielsen, year to January 2016).
That comes on the back of major listings in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Oddbins and Laithwaite’s.
German Pinot Blanc has increased by 1,160% and Pinot Gris by 18%, from a small base, as British consumers begin to discover the qualities of these wines.
Germany is now the world’s largest producer of Pinot Blanc, the second largest producer of Pinot Gris and the third largest producer of Pinot Noir after increased plantings in recent years.
Steffen Schindler, marketing director at the German Wine Institute, told OLN: “The UK wine trade loves German Riesling and our campaign activities have always championed the Queen of German grapes.
“In 2011, we also started to push Pinot Noir [often called Spatburgunder] and since then we have witnessed it playing a key role in capturing the trade’s attention, competing for space on UK wine lists and making it onto supermarket shelves.
“We see now as the perfect time to showcase other grapes in our export markets, offering something new and interesting and reinforcing the fact that Germany produces top quality wines in a range of styles.
“It may take time to expand these volumes but we are seeing an enormous amount of dynamism and diversification in Germany, especially from the young growers who are producing a range of contemporary, drier wine styles that have great potential to succeed in the British market.”
Some regions that make a wonderful array of wines are not particularly set up for exports. Baden-Wurttemburg, for instance, is full of affluent people that work at the Mercedes factory and other leading centres of industry, and many of the local producers create a wide range of wines – reds, whites and rosés, from light to heavy, plus sparklers – to cater to the various tastes of their local clientele, and sell them through co-operatives that have no need to target neighbouring regions, let alone foreign countries, such is the strong local demand.
That is why you are unlikely to see any Trollinger – which isn’t a knock off Bollinger, but is actually a wonderfully versatile grape that is used to make a wide range of whites and rosés and even a sparkler called Trollisecco – kicking around in the UK.
That could all change as producers in the region ramp up their focus on the UK and other markets, but on a recent trip OLN found producers in Rheinhessen a lot more focused on exports.
One such producer is Thörle, which makes 25 different wines – half the production is Riesling – and exports 45% of its wine.
In the UK it is stocked at Caviste, which wholesales to various customers including Michelin starred restaurants through its Carte Blanche operation, along with Field & Fawcett and Dorset Wine among others. Sixty per cent of its exports are Riesling and the other 40% comes from Pinot Noir.
Co-owner Christophe Thörle, a rising star in the German wine trade, told OLN: “Countries like Benelux, that are close to Germany, are used to the varietals like Silvaner, but when it comes to countries that are further away they mainly want Riesling because when people think of German wines they think of Riesling. A lot of people don’t know there are some great Pinot Noirs as well.
“In the UK, all the world’s major regions export there. You can choose between more than 500 wines. Why do you need more? It has to be really exceptional. It has started to be possible with Pinot Noir in recent years. There was a lot of work needed but people know Pinot Noir.”
Stefan Winter, owner of Winter, exports 35% of his wines but has a relatively small production and only sells around 2,000 bottles in the UK, at the Oxford Wine Co among others. They are distributed by Swig.
“Ninety-nine per cent of our exports are Riesling,” he said. “We have the perfect climate for Riesling. In the UK we only really have a chance with Riesling and maybe Pinot.
“Riesling is the benchmark [the launchpad, a foot in the door at retailers] and then maybe we can add other things like Silvaner on. Robin at Swig is selling our rosé Pinot Noir too.
“We have to work hard so that people know what Germany is doing. It’s not well known that we produce other wines than Liebfraumilch and Black Tower.
“The UK is a very interesting market but it’s not easy. It’s a country that is so close to us and I would like UK customers to understand more about the philosophy of what we are doing in Germany.”