Jewish heritage in German wine culture

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

By their Christian names, they could not be distinguished from their colleagues in Prussia or elsewhere in Germany. But by their family names, many of the late-19th-century champions of the wine trade in Germany could be easily identified as Jewish: the sons of Hermann sichel, who spread from the old Rhenish wine capital Mainz throughout Europe and conquered the New World; Leo Levitta, who was raised in Rüdesheim on the Rhine; Julius Langenbach, a citizen of Worms, the town that centuries ago hosted one of the largest Jewish communities north of the Alps; and Sigmund Loeb, who had deserted the windy Hunsrück only to become one of the most renowned wine merchants of Trier and president of the Moselle Trade Association. In the last quarter of the 19th century, some excellent vintages, peace in notoriously war-torn Europe, and the free-trade spirit during the first wave of globalization helped propel Jews to the forefront of the German wine trade. Their centuries-old mercantile skills helped, as did the European aristocracy and nouveau-riche bourgeoisie’s desire to acquire what were then regarded as the world’s finest wines, as well as a thirst among emigrant communities throughout the Americas for wine from their German homeland.