Online Tastings: “Die Güter” get ProWein right

100 mL wine sample bottles for ProWein at Home

Is this the future for wine tastings? It certainly is the present.

In these days of pandemic restrictions, there are very few public tasting events going on. Tastings, generally, are only possible – if at all – with a few people on-site at the producer. Trade Shows and large events are cancelled – already for the second year, for some of the major shows.

To fill the void left by missing in-person tastings, many producers have been offering online tastings using interactive video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, or as pre-recorded events on YouTube and the like.

I started participating in these kinds of events, held by early-adopters, already just a few weeks after the first lockdown in March 2020. Normally, wines are pre-ordered and then tasted at home while representatives from the producer talk participants through the wines via computer or smartphone screen. Some producers boarded the digital train early, while many others have gotten on a bit later in the game – but, still very, very many producers remain standing at the station, unwilling – or unable – to take the trip.

But the difficulties of small-scale tasting events or private tastings at the producer are one thing. Trade Shows are a different animal.

ProWein

The world’s most important wine industry trade show is unquestionably ProWein, held in Düsseldorf, Germany, annually in March. The last edition, in 2019, had over 5500 exhibitors from nearly all of the world’s wine-producing countries, and hosted more than 60,000 industry attendees from around the globe. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 edition had to be cancelled. At the time, Messe Düsseldorf announced that it had been postponed to 2021. Since December 2020, we have known that also the 2021 Edition would not take place.

Though costly for exhibitors and attendees alike, trade shows like ProWein represent the single best opportunity for a wine producer to meet international importers and to welcome customers old and new. I attend ProWein each year, mostly using the opportunity to visit producers from parts of the world that are difficult for me to visit. The loss of such a trade show is a significant blow to thousands of producers, buyers, and journalists worldwide, but particularly to those based in Germany, for whom the fair is practically local.

Normally at this time of year, buyers and journalists would be receiving – and, sometimes, ignoring – dozens or even hundreds of emails from producers known and unknown communicating Hall and Booth numbers, trying to tempt the receiver into making an appointment for a tasting and a sales pitch. For the average ProWein attendee, every day brings masterclasses, tastings and meetings – some planned, others spontaneous – with perhaps dozens of different producers in different contexts. Personally, I try to visit at least 40 producers and taste between 300 and 350 wines over the course of the 3-day show.

Without a fair to go to, consider the prospect of hundreds of individuals, each trying to take part in online tastings with dozens of individual producers over a short period of time. Not only is it unattractive, it is a time-management impossibility, as well as being logistically unfeasible (or absurd) with regard to the number of bottles that would need to be sent around the world. There is neither the time, nor the will to undertake such a thing.

The Power of Association

Enter the forward-thinking association.

For smaller wine producers, there are a number of advantages in banding together. Marketing budgets go further, contacts can be shared, experience and best-practices likewise. More space at trade shows can be occupied, with better placement for all.

In the case of an online tasting, there is the considerable added benefit of being able to present wines from multiple wineries at a single event, with the associated savings on packaging and so forth when the wines are sent from a central location instead of from each estate separately.

Being able to taste wines from several producers at one event is a blessing to buyers and journalists, for whom time is always at a premium. Such associations are even more useful when the producers are from one nation or region, and share a similar philosophy and level of quality.

And those are precisely some of the advantages offered by Die Güter.

Die Güter

Die Güter (literally “The Estates”) is an association of nine family-run, generally smaller estates from nine of Germany’s winemaking regions. Founded in 1992, at a very challenging time for German wine, they are now looking back on nearly thirty years of innovation domestically. Things now look very different at home and abroad, and even more so with the pandemic taking its toll. Most of these estates have histories going back centuries, and each of them are significant both for their region and for Germany. A complete list of the members of the association and the wines that were presented can be found at the end of this article.

Normally, these estates would be found together at ProWein, looking after their customers and each other, pouring wines from a large communal stand. Since that isn’t possible this year, they have turned to the online format.

Discussions among the estates were held on how to go about it. Some of the member estates, such as Prinz Salm, were early-adopters of the online tasting format, and so there was already a solid background of experience to draw on. Nevertheless, this was the first time all the estates would be presenting their wines together online.

Private invitations were sent out to many of their existing customers as well as to a few members of the press to take part in online wine tastings to show their new vintage. I registered immediately after getting mine by email.

By the time my three wine packages arrived ten days ago, over 400 participants had registered to take part in their ProWein tastings; over 1200 12-wine packages had been mailed out.

There are many ways to run an online tasting poorly, and buyers and journalists can be a demanding audience. I’m happy to say that Die Güter got almost everything right, right out of the gate.

An excellent first event…

Private invitations meant that the association was proactive; they knew who was being targeted and how many people would be attending.

With a lead time of several weeks, there was ample notice for attendees to put the events in their calendar – and plenty of time to get the tasting samples ready.

Sample sizes, at 100 mL, were exactly right for an event of this nature, permitting a couple of good pours – enough wine for the tasters to check them again later in the day or to taste with a colleague. Since 2020 is the most recent vintage, many of the prepared samples were, in fact, barrel or tank samples – just as would have been the case at ProWein. The sample sizes are larger than might be poured for one taster at an in-person tasting – but far smaller and cheaper to mail than standard bottles.

Presenting all nine estates at one time would be too much, so the producers created three subgroups of three estates each who presented their wines together. The individual tastings had many options for start times and were efficiently organised with regard to use of the allotted time, with a half-hour dedicated to each producer, including time for questions at the end.

Participants were not obliged to taste wines from all three subgroups; only one tasting was required – but attending two or all three was, obviously, recommended.

Support materials (price lists, conditions, etc.) were supplied digitally in advance and paper schedules were delivered with the wines. Slide show presentations including high quality images of vineyards, cellars and so forth were prepared by producers for and of their estates, and these were ready to go during the tastings themselves.

…with a few compromises…

Of course, at ProWein the producers would have had most, if not all, of their wines with them. With producers making dozens of different wines, it would be completely unrealistic to offer all of them for an online tasting with pre-ordered wines. So each estate chose four wines from primarily the 2020 vintage to show.

No sparkling wines could be shown, as this would have been impossible to manage with the sample bottles and filling process used.

Due to the logistical constraints of mailing these samples out as expeditiously and in as timely a fashion as possible, only attendees located in Germany were present. Obviously, at ProWein it would have been a very international public.

…and one big sacrifice.

The biggest problem regarding the wines is the lack of control over the tasting experience.

At a fair, the producers can check their wines, decant them if necessary, serve them at appropriate temperatures and in advantageous glassware, allow reductive aromas to blow off, and more. They have much more direct control over the tasting experience. This is obviously impossible with an online tasting. Once those little bottles hit the mail, all that can be done is hope that the tasters at home are following the recommendations provided.

A selection of opened 100 mL sample bottles with the ProWein Tasting logo

ProWein 2021 – at home.

The Samples

I’ve mentioned a few of these points already, but they bear repeating here.

Each of the estates chose four still wines to present – primarily from the 2020 vintage, though several other vintages were also represented – and many of the wines were even barrel/tank samples, just as would have been the case at ProWein. No sparkling wines were provided, as the format used simply wasn’t transferable to wines under pressure.

Each producer filled their own wines, by hand, into 100 mL bottles for the tasting, and each sub-group sent their 12 samples in a box together from a single estate. Wines that were already bottled had to be refilled into the smaller bottles. Most of the samples came directly from barrels or tanks, however. Barrel/tank samples were minimally filtered or sulphured, if at all. Hence, the reason for the recommendation to cool the samples immediately after having received them: stability.

With such conditions, timing is of the essence. Hand-filling and barrel samples mean that many of the wines won’t hold up for too long. Indeed, the materials accompanying the wines include the advice “Best Before March 12”, which was just two days after the final tasting day. The whole process needed to take place quickly and as closely to the days of the tastings as possible, while still leaving room for error and delivery troubles.

In most cases, the wines were filled at the estates on the Monday, collected, and then sent out to the participants on the subsequent Wednesday or Thursday, destined for tastings taking place the following Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. No wonder that only people in Germany were present at the tastings. The Deutsche Post (German Mail) and most couriers generally deliver within 48 hours, and that was certainly the case for all but one or two of the unluckiest participants.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There is one huge advantage to an online tasting versus a tasting at a trade show: you have a captive audience, sitting comfortably, hopefully, at home, and you have the ability to provide a lot of information in an unhurried, quiet setting to, potentially, quite a few people. There is no clamouring for glasses or wines, and far fewer distractions – as long as the internet connections are working.

The main disadvantage (beyond the sacrifice I mentioned above) is the lack of direct personal contact. This is irreplaceable, and everybody – producers and customers alike – is looking forward to being able to taste in person again. It is also unavoidable, given the current situation with regard to the pandemic.

Overall, the members of Die Güter were very satisfied with this first event. The wines, they felt, were representative and did what they needed to do. Organisation and execution went well, and the feedback was good.

So, there will be another event in April.

Next up: Lagenweine and Aged Wines

Because this tasting of the young vintage and “smaller” wines was such a success, the association has decided to present wines from single-vineyard sites (Lagen) and wines with some age. I expect the format will be the same, but I am looking forward to finding out!

At the end of the next event I will publish detailed tasting notes for all of the wines from all of the producers – and from both tasting events.

My Assessment                

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: Die Güter got nearly everything right the first time. I would love to see more online tastings involving multiple producers like this being held – particularly since there can be no large in-person tasting events.

The tasting was well-organised and well-presented. The samples were generous, representative, and as close to what would be poured at a trade show or tasting event as can reasonably be expected. They were well-packed and delivered in a timely fashion. Time was well-used and time limits were respected. It was a very good opportunity to taste good wines from nine producers over a short time.

Honestly, I wonder why more associations are not doing this as well – particularly at this time of year. Where are the large international associations like BioDyn, or national ones like Vignerons Indépendants de France? Regional associations or consortiums? What about Importers organising something similar to showcase a selection of their producers? It seems to me like there could be an opportunity here.

And, with all of the major European wine fairs having been cancelled, there is no time like the present to take advantage of it.

Nine 100 mL bottles of wine samples

One wine from each of the member estates

The Member Estates

In the order that I tasted, the members (and their wines) are:

Georg Breuer (Rheingau) – a Riesling specialist and up-and-comer currently headed up by Theresa Breuer, who also filled the role of Moderator and Facilitator for the tasting where her wines were found.

  • 2020 GB Sauvage – Rheingau Riesling trocken
  • 2019 “Estate” Rüdesheim Riesling trocken
  • 2019 “Estate” Lorch Riesling trocken
  • Terra Montosa Rheingau Riesling trocken

Castell (Franken) – The homeland of German Silvaner, member of the VDP and a leading estate in Franken with a history going back 800 years. The current General Manager, Peter Geil, and a marketing representative from the estate presented the wines.

  • 2020 Schloss Castell Silvaner trocken / VDP Gutswein
  • 2020 Schloss Castell Scheurebe trocken / VDP Gutswein
  • 2019 Casteller Kugelspiel Silvaner trocken / VDP Erste Lage
  • 2019 Casteller Kirchberg Weißburgunder trocken / VDP Erste Lage

Graf Neipperg (Württemberg) – Philipp Erbgraf von Neipperg and Sven Masson presented the wines from this VDP estate, located in one of Germany’s most important regions for red wines. It is very likely that we have the Neipperg family and the estate to thank that Germany became home to Lemberger, due to the family’s long-standing connection to Austria.

  • 2020 Muskateller trocken / VDP Gutswein
  • 2020 Neipperg Sauvignon Blanc trocken / VDP Ortswein
  • 2018 Spätburgunder trocken / VDP Gutswein
  • 2017 Schqaigern Lemberger trocken / VDP Ortswein

Maximin Grünhaus (Ruwer) – the newest member of the association and highly-respected producer of Riesling from one of Germany’s smallest wine regions, the Ruwer. Maximin von Schubert, the 6th generation of his family to run the wine estate, also acted as Moderator and Facilitator of the tasting round in which his wines were found.

  • 2020 Schloss Riesling trocken
  • 2020 Grünhäuser Riesling trocken
  • 2020 Maximin Riesling
  • 2020 Maximin Grünhaus Herrenberg Kabinett

Prinz Salm (Nahe) – an historic estate, member of the VDP and, with Grünschiefer, a Riesling specialist with a rare form of slate. Prinz Felix Salm presented the wines from his estate, which has been in his family’s hands for 800 years.

  • 2020 Prinz Salm Weissburgunder trocken
  • 2020 Prinz Salm Grünschiefer Riesling trocken
  • 2020 Prinz Salm Vom Roten Schiefer Riesling trocken
  • 2020 Prinz Salm TWO PRINCES Riesling

Nelles (Ahr) – the smallest estate in the association and, like nearly all producers from the tiny Ahr region, a Spätburgunder specialist – also a member of the VDP. Philip Nelles presented his wines.

  • 2020 Blanc de Noir Spätburgunder trocken
  • 2018 RUBER Spätburgunder trocken
  • 2018 F&M Frühburgunder & Merlot trocken
  • 2018 1 AHR Spätburgunder trocken

Freiherr von Gleichenstein (Baden) – like so many estates in Baden’s Kaisterstuhl, this producer specialises in Pinot. Johannes von Gleichenstein, the 11th generation running this family estate, presented his wines.

  • 2020 Grauer Burgunder trocken / Gutswein
  • 2020 Weißer Burgunder trocken / Gutswein
  • 2020 Pinot Rosé trocken / Gutswein
  • 2020 Weißer Burgunder & Chardonnay trocken

Dr. Bürklin-Wolf (Pfalz) – perhaps one of the best-known of the association’s members, internationally. This VDP estate is also biodynamic and offers a broad range of wines, yet with a focus on Riesling. Thomas Dörr, the estate’s sales manager, facilitated the tasting round and presented the wines for this producer.

  • 2020 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf ROSÉ trocken
  • 2020 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf BLANC trocken
  • 2020 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Weissburgunder trocken
  • 2020 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Riesling trocken

Kühling-Gillot (Rheinhessen) – also a member of the VDP, this biodynamic estate has a firm focus on Riesling and Spätburgunder. The wines were presented by Frank Schuber.

  • 2020 QVINTERRA Scheurebe trocken
  • 2020 QVINTERRA Riesling trocken
  • 2020 OPPENHEIM Riesling trocken
  • 2019 Grauer Burgunder “R” trocken

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