Germany Pre-Auctions Report: Trier and Bad Kreuznach


There are two key dates each September for lovers and collectors of German wine: the Trier and Bad Kreuznach auctions, to be held on the 15th and 17th of September 2023, respectively. Both are organized by the regional chapters of the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter), and offer wine lovers the opportunity to purchase rare wines that the member estates only sell through this channel, i.e., Auktionsweine, or auction wines. These special and limited bottlings are not available anywhere else, not even directly from the estates themselves. While both auctions are niche events in the wine world, coveted wines from star names such as Egon Müller, Joh. Jos Prüm, Keller or Wittmann set new price records every year. This report combines notes from two preliminary tastings of auction wines in late June and early July.

The Clemens Busch estate farms the craggy and varied slope of the Pündericher Marienburg vineyard.

Trier vs. Bad Kreuznach

The Trier auction is organized by the Grosser Ring, the VDP chapter representing Mosel, Saar and Ruwer estates. The 2023 auction will be the 136th annual auction of Prädikatsweine, i.e., Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. In the past, the auction was restricted to these wines, but for a number of years now, Grosse Gewächse, the dry wines from single vineyards classified as Grosse Lage have also been permitted. Two thousand and twenty-three will be the fifth auction where GGs are permitted. For the Trier auction, the member estates have a preliminary tasting, the so-called Taxprobe in summer, in which the estates meet with the auction commissionaires (the only people allowed to bid at the auction) to determine the price at which bidding will start based on tasting the wines. Some member estates bring just one wine; others bring more to determine which they will put up for auction.

The Bad Kreuznach auction is organized by the regional chapter of the VDP Nahe, but the auction is open to VDP members from Nahe, Rheinhessen, Ahr and Pfalz. These members also meet with the commissionaires for a pre-auction tasting, but here, prices are determined by the estates themselves, not in consultation with the commissionaires.

These pre-auction tastings are open to selected members of the press. I attended the Taxprobe in Trier on 30 June 2023 and the pre-tasting of the VDP Nahe in Monzingen on 4 July 2023. I tasted some auction wines a second time before and after these dates during estate visits.

Note that these wines were not available to taste:

· 2011 Riesling Ayler Schonfels Trockenbeerenauslese, Weingut Peter Lauer, Saar

· 2017 Riesling La Borne Alte Reben, Weingut Wittmann, Rheinhessen

· 2022 Riesling Ockfener Geisberg Kabinett Goldkapsel, Weingut Van Volxem

Erni and Bernie - the dream team. Erni Loosen (right) of Weingut Dr. Loosen with his stalwart cellar master, Bernie Schug (left).

What Is Being Auctioned?

In the Trier auction, Prädikatsweine clearly dominates. The GGs take the lead in the Bad Kreuznach auction, which means that Riesling, Pinot Noir and Sekt (sparkling wine) come up for auction. While the auctions focus on the most recently released vintage, i.e., 2022 for Riesling and 2021 for Pinot Noir, some estates release older vintages held back for this purpose. Some estates make a different auction wine each year. Others have dedicated parcels or wines that are auctioned yearly; this goes for current and library releases. Among these are the EMT Riesling from a special parcel in the Siefersheimer Heerkretz by Weingut Wagner-Stempel, the FINAL Riesling from a special parcel within the Bockenauer Felseneck by Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich, the Westhofener Kirchspiel Grande Réserve Riesling from Weingut K.F. Groebe or the La Borne Alte Reben Riesling by Weingut Wittmann. For instance, some estates, like Klaus Peter Keller, choose to auction packages containing more than one wine. Most auction wines are sold by the bottle (750mL), but the same wine may also be offered in a half bottle (375ml), magnum (1.5L), double magnum (3L) and even larger formats. These are split into different lots. Both auctions also contain a charitable element: there is a Benefizbox in Trier and a Charity-Kiste in Bad Kreuznach of wines donated by the member estates. At Bad Kreuznach, a dinner for six people hosted by Weingut Keller and Schlossgut Diel is also up for auction. At Bad Kreuznach, 36 lots from 17 estates will go under the hammer. In Trier, there are 75 lots from 18 estates.

A Word on the Wines

Most of the 2022 wines in Trier are Kabinette and Spätlesen since 2022 was not a year that favored the botrytis development. The different bottling or AP numbers are stated to avoid confusion where estates have made more than one wine of the same Prädikat from the same site. Only four estates offer Auslesen from the 2022 vintage. Nonetheless, there are two Beerenauslesen, notably from 1993 (Forstmeister Geltz-Zilliken) and 2015 (Egon Müller), one Trockenbeerenauslese from 2011 (Peter Lauer) and an Eiswein from 2021 (Maximin Grünhaus). In Bad Kreuznach, there is a Beerenauslese (Dr. Crusius) and an Eiswein (Bassermann-Jordan), both from 2021. The choice of putting up library releases of Prädikatsweine is part tradition, part prestige. There was some talk of the 2023 auctions not living up to previous years simply because 2022 was not a year that produced high Prädikate, but since stellar Kabinette and Spätlesen are on offer, this notion can be dismissed. Kabinett wines are enjoying a huge renaissance in Germany, so much so that it is cool to drink “Kabi.” It has become a point of honor to make thrilling Kabinette and Spatlesen, watching grapes in certain parcels to capture them with as much thrilling acidity as possible at the very moment the flavors are full enough. The wines are then vinified in a way that drives this acid/fruit intersection to its most expressive point. A similar game is played with Spatlese at a later junction in ripeness. Both styles are disciplines that are rarely mastered with as much skill as they are in Mosel, Saar, Ruwer and Nahe. Two thousand and twenty-two’s lack of botrytis also means that these wines have crystalline clarity, unclouded by botrytis flavors. While this may be heresy to some, to me, these wines are among the purest and most captivating expressions of Riesling, not least since they are absolutely age-worthy and have a firm place at the table. As Katharina Prüm told me at the pre-tasting in Trier when I spoke to her about the relative restraint of sweetness in her auction Spätlese: “We make Prädikatsweine, sweetness should never be in the foreground. Off-dry is an important word in Spätlese. It is not a sweet wine but a gastronomic wine.”

Each auction, however, is an opportunity for an estate to trump with an older treasure kept for this purpose. Some quantities offered are tiny, but achieving a certain auction price garners prestige – at least within that small realm of Riesling collectors. For collectors, of course, it is the chance to get their hands on rare and collectible wines that have absolute aging potential – one of Riesling’s abiding advantages.

Rebecca Crusius, of Dr. Crusius in Traisen, happily reported on the estate's eight new hectares of vineyards.

How to Bid and Live Stream

Only the official commissionaires can bid at either auction. Private collectors can place their bids through them or a wine merchant who commissions the official commissionaires to bid on their behalf. Various international fine merchants attend these auctions. Private collectors usually submit their favored lots and a maximum price to their merchants. This system makes it possible for private collectors to buy single bottles as well as cases of wine. The commissionaires are listed on the dedicated auction web pages and will share details of international merchants for international bidders. A tasting of the auction wines precedes both auctions. Due to limited space, the Grosser Ring auction in Trier can only be attended by invitation. For Bad Kreuznach, tickets for the tasting and auction can be bought online. Both auctions are called Nassversteigerungen, or “wet auctions”, as the audience can sip wine during the auction.

Both auctions will be streamed live on the internet. As of September 2022, the Trier auction has been held in English. The Bad Kreuznach auction is held in German with translation into English.

A Bit of History

These auctions come with considerable history – after all, the VDP was initially founded as the VDNV, the Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer, i.e., the association of German natural wine auctioneers. As Germany slowly emerged as the main source of fine Riesling from the mid to late 18th century onwards and cemented that position by the late 19th century, wines were usually sold at auction. Gradually, associations were formed to bring some structure into a multitude of auctions that were held in numerous German wine towns. Today, the VDP continues this tradition and has digitalized access to bring the auctions into the 21st century.

Other German Auctions

There are two further auctions of note in Germany that are not covered in this report: the Bernkasteler Ring and the VDP Rheingau. The Bernkasteler Ring is an association of estates in Mosel, Saar and Ruwer who are not VDP members. This auction is considered less important internationally. However, it has notable members like Weingut Markus Molitor and Carl Loewen. The Bernkasteler Ring auction will occur on Thursday, 16 September 2023, in Trier.

The annual auction of the VDP estates in the Rheingau will take place on 9 March 2024 in Kloster Eberbach, Rheingau, the day preceding the ProWein Trade Fair in Düsseldorf.

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