The Annual VDP Auctions: Buying Straight from the Cellars of Germany’s Best Wine Producers

Wine auctions are trendy, despite the troublesome concerns over provenance arising in the last decade, and they are great for procuring elite wines not elsewhere available. There is a weekend of auctions, however, that has not hit most wine buyers' radars, and all the wines come direct from the producers' cellars. Dating back to 1897, the VDP (its German name translates as The Association of German Quality and Prädikat Wine Estates) auctions sell primarily Riesling but Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and other varieties as well. 

Why attend or absentee bid for wines sold in Germany? Certainly, plenty of German bottlings are available in the US. Here are five reasons:

1)  The bottlings for the VDP auctions are exclusively available at these auctions, and they are the best lots of the vintage. You won’t find them elsewhere.

2)  A number of producers not imported to the US are present in these auctions.

3)  In difficult vintages, snagging an allocation of prime bottlings can be difficult. For example, the cold snap during flowering 2012 significantly reduced the quantities of top wines available.

4)  Many old wines – occasionally stretching as far back as the 1920s – are available at astonishingly reasonable prices.

5)  Every wine auctioned comes directly from the producer’s cellar, never having left the estate. Provenance is perfect.

Offering your diners experiences they cannot find elsewhere is critical. With each passing season, distinguishing wine lists becomes increasingly important. Wallets are opening wider these days, and by snapping up wines at the VDP auctions, restaurants can offer diners terrific value as well as unique imbibing opportunities.

While the auctions officially occur to sell the most recent vintage, old releases go on the block each year. For example, the Rheingau auction included several gems from Baron Knyphausen, including 375mls of 1983 Riesling Eiswein Erbacher Steinmorgen. The opening price? Only €40. The Pfalz offering included a 1953 Bassermann-Jordan Riesling Auslese Forster Jesuitengarten with an opening price of €150. But, if in the words of Steve Martin in The Jerk, “fresh wine” is preferred, prices for Egon Müller’s Riesling Kabinett Scharzhofberger Alte Reben 2012 begin at €20. 

These auctions occur in late September, before the current vintage’s harvest. Several of Germany’s thirteen wine regions participate, and sometimes the regions work together. The festivities and bidding usually begin with the Mosel’s Grosser Ring auction in Trier followed by the Rheingau’s auction at the historic Kloster Eberbach and then the combined Nahe, Rheinhessen and Pfalz event in Bad Kreuznach. The 2014 auctions are scheduled on September 19-21. Happening over the same time is the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer’s Bernkasteler Ring, not associated with the VDP, but a tasting and buying opportunity that is a true shame to miss.

You can attend in person or submit bids in advance through the wine brokers that work each auction. Though the bidding process is easy, the importation can pose challenges. Working with an importer who ships frequently from Germany is your best bet.

As with almost anything involving wine, attending the auctions in person is lots of fun. The VDP dubs these events as “wet”, meaning the attendees taste the wines on the block both prior to and during the auctions. Only a few impressively rare bottles are saved for the purchaser’s lips only. Talk about encouraging impulse purchases!

The seed has been planted. Don’t hesitate to look into these auctions for fall 2014 and beyond. The need to distinguish wine offerings and wine values will sneak up with year by passing year.