Erste Lage

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Erste Lage, literally ‘first [class] site’, is an expression that has entered German and Austrian wine discourse in recent years with several distinctive meanings best explained in historical context. While Germany’s vdp growers’ association professed an ongoing interest in vineyard classification from the 1980s, this was always in the context of delimiting a luxury or premium class of dry wines, for which the name erstes gewächs was long entertained. Following the rheingau growers’ 1999 success in gaining legal recognition by the state of Hessen for the designation Erstes Gewächs, the VDP nationally adopted the name grosses gewächs for an almost identically conceived category, applying it by implication to those vineyard sites classified as worthy of generating a wine so-designated. In 2003, the Mosel regional VDP, most of whose members placed emphasis on residually sweet Riesling, adopted ‘Erste Lage’ for wines from top-ranked sites that failed the test of legal dryness imposed on Grosse Gewächse. In 2006, the VDP adopted ‘Erste Lage’ as ‘the unifying overarching concept in all regions for wines of the uppermost category’, thus making Grosses Gewächs a name for legally dry (trocken) wine from an Erste Lage. Inspired in part by the VDP’s classification efforts, Austria’s traditionsweingüter österreich unveiled in 2010 their own classification in which the top vineyard category was also referred to as ‘Erste Lage’ and signified on labels by a logo intentionally patterned after that utilized by the VDP, featuring a prominent Arabic number 1. (Neither ‘Grosses Gewächs’ nor ‘Erste Lage’ were or are recognized by German or Austrian wine law, and neither name is permitted on labels.)