German wine exports rose, but so did uncertainties

Last year saw higher volumes of German wines heading to overseas markets. But the news was mixed.

Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash
Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Exports of German wine rose last year by 3%, though value dropped by €0.11 to €2.93 per litre, thanks to a larger harvest.

“This development is first and foremost the result of the high-yield vintage of 2018, which followed an unusually low-yielding harvest in 2017,” said Monika Reule, managing director of the German Wine Institute (DWI). “Due to the larger wine supply, the hitherto record average price for our wines was often not sustainable in the highly competitive export markets.”

Exports to the USA also declined, which the DWI thinks is mainly due to America’s general decline in wine consumption, first recorded in 2018.

“For German wine exports, this resulted in a drop in wine export quantities of 4%,” with a decrease in sales revenue of 9%, or €65m.

The DWI says that although the 25% US trade tariffs haven’t yet impacted the 2019 balance sheet, negative consequences are surely on their way.

It wasn’t all bad news, however, as German wines received a bounce from the removal of wine import tariffs in Japan, thanks to the JEFTA free trade agreement, which came into force in February 2019. German exporters received a nice 17% growth in volume, and a 13% bump in value.

Exports to Scandinavia and Denmark also rose by 4% in value to €56m, and 2% in volume to 182,000 hectolitres.

The biggest news to come out of 2019, however, was that it was the first year on record that Germany was only able to make a single ice wine. The Zimmerle winery from Remstal in Württemberg announced on 3 March that they had managed to harvest Riesling ice wine grapes, but only less than 100 litres.

“Beyond that, we are not aware of any other winemakers from one of the 13 German wine regions who managed to produce ice wine in this mild winter, because the required minimum temperature of minus seven degrees Celsius was not reached,” said Ernst Büscher from the DWI.

The ice wine harvest has been in trouble for some time as the weather warms, with only seven producers able to harvest ice wine in 2017. If the warming trend continues, “ice wines from the German wine regions will soon become even more of a precious rarity than they already are,” said Büscher, with the average ice wine harvest being around 500 litres per hectare.

The loss would be a major blow both to the German wine industry and to wine lovers; although the wines themselves play a negligible role in the overall volume, they are the crown jewels of German wine, attracting not just affection, but also enormous sums at auction.

On top of that, Monika Reule believes 2020 will be a challenging year for Germany, given the trade conflicts, the impact of Brexit and the uncertainties around Covid-19. “In 2020, it will be a challenge to maintain the current level of wine exports,” she said.

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