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“coming in as freely as they did before 1914”: An early post-WW2 bottle of German wine once sold in America

The triple punch of World War I, World War II, and Prohibition cut off American wine lovers from German wines for nearly 40 years.  The first significant German wine imports into America did not appear until five years after the end of World War II in 1950.  This is not surprising given the need to rebuild the transportation infrastructure not only within Europe but also between Europe and America.

Under the Marshall Plan, European countries saw a period of rapid growth from 1948 through 1952.  Trade agreements were reached such as that between the Allied High Commissioners for Germany and France in 1950.  These agreements naturally involved wine as one of many products.  By Christmas 1950, not only were Rhine and Mosel wines plentiful in West German stores but so were the wines of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and Chile.

That same year, during August 1950, West Germany showcased wine, amongst other goods, at the first International Trade Fair in Chicago for the Marshall Plan countries.  Some 35,000 people attended the Fair through which European merchants established trade partnerships.  There was even a German Wine Tasting Ceremony of 24 wines for some 100 tasters.  New trade partnerships soon bore fruit for by the end of 1950, Central Liquor Store of Washington, DC, was selling a selection of German wines including 1947 Liebfraumilch Madonna, Spatlese at $2.39 per 24oz.

You can imagine my surprise then when Vladimir Srdic of Novi Sad, Serbia, sent me pictures of 1950 Otto Caracciola, Piesporter imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co for the Central Liquor Store.

PIESPORTER 1950 2

The Caracciola family were wine merchants and hotel operators since the mid 19th century.  For further history and historic images related to the Caracciola family please read the section Otto Caracciola und der Apollinaris-Keller on the Rhein Wine Bruderschaft website.  This particular bottle of 1950 Caracciola represents an early selection from the resumption of German wine imports.

PIESPORTER 1950 3

Macy’s held their first all-German wine tasting in 1953.  Jane Nickerson of The New York Times noted the wines were “coming in as freely as they did before 1914”.  She felt that Macy’s in particular was acting “as if to make up for time lost.”  The following year Frank Schoonmaker was importing German wine exported by Deinhard & Co of Coblenz. It was during the fall of 1954 that Central Liquor first sold the 1950 Caracciola vintage imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co of New York City.  These selections of Liebfraumilch, Hohannisberg, Niersteiner, Domtal, and Moselblumchen were consistently amongst the least expensive wines.  They were priced at $0.89 per 24oz compared to 1950 Huegen Piesporter Goldtropchen at $1.49.  Central Liquor continued to sell the Caracciola wines through the end of 1957.  It is not clear whether Dreyfus, Ashby & Co stopped importing the Caracciola wines or the market for inexpensive German wine in Washington, DC, dried up.

PIESPORTER 1950 5

This wine bottle bears no indication of vineyard nor grape.  With no other designation than Piesporter, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, it is possible this is not a Riesling based wine rather one from Muller-Thurgau or Elbling.  Both Andre Simon and Frank Schoonmaker wrote that the wines of Piesport were amongst the very best of the Mosel.  However, there was a fair amount of inexpensive Piesporter exported out with Frank Schoonmaker going so far as to write in The Wines of Germany (1956) that more was sold than produced.  With this in mind he felt it was “particularly important” to insist on estate bottled wines with a specific vineyard name, the label indicating Original-Abfullung, and a producer’s name.  Of the 1950 vintage, Frank Schoonmaker felt it was a very good year for the Mosel wines but by the mid 1950s they were already past prime.  Michael Broadbent echoed this sentiment noting that most wines of this vintage had been drunk up by the middle part of the decade.

PIESPORTER 1950 4

You might be wondering, as did I, how a bottle of wine imported into New York City then sold in Washington, DC, came into the hands of Vladimir in Serbia.  It turns out a friend of his lived in New York for a long time.  When he moved back to Serbia he brought with him interesting bottles of wine and liquor including the one featured in today’s post.  Many thanks to Vladimir for letting me include his images in this post.

Buy 1684, avoid 1687: An Historic German Vintage Chart

July 23, 2014 1 comment
Uebersicht von Menge und Güte der Wein-Erträge in dem vormaligen Herzogthume Naussau in den Jahren 1682 bis 1884.

Uebersicht von Menge und Güte der Wein-Erträge in dem vormaligen Herzogthume Naussau in den Jahren 1682 bis 1884.

Some of you may recall that I have an interest in wine related tables which is reflected in such posts as A Visual History of Wine Gauging Tables.  This interest led me to Heinrich Wilhelm Dahlen’s book Karte und Statistik des Weinbaues im Rheingau und sämmtlicher sonstigen Weinbau (1885) that is full of  viticultural statistics for the Rheingau and other areas.   Though these statistics caught my eye, it was the colorful vintage chart for the former Duchy of Nassau that stood out in the otherwise stark and dry book.  The chart is fascinating for several reasons.  First, it covers the vintages of 1682 through 1884.  I do not yet know of any vintage chart that describes both quantity and quality of wine-yield for 17th century vintages.  If you are aware of one then please let me know.   Second, to describe quantity and quality it employs a color-coded bar chart where the color indicates the quality and the width of the bar indicates the quantity.

Die Qualität ist durch folgende Farben ausgedrückt.

Die Qualität ist durch folgende Farben ausgedrückt.

The chart is assembled based on several sources of information.  On inspection you will notice slight format changes but the overall idea is consistent.  There are four quality levels indicated: vorzüglich (excellent), gut (good) , mittelmäßig (fair), and Gering und schlecht (poor and low).  The quality levels are color coded: vorzüglich (red), gut (green), mittelmäßig (brown), and Gering und schlecht (gray).  The quantity of the wine is indicated in two manners.  For the years 1682-1829, specific quantities were not available so the bar widths are fixed.  The quantities are verbally described using such terms as echt viel for a large quantity.  For 1830 through 1884 specific quantities were available so the width of the bar directly correlated with the amount.  Thus with a quick glance you can see that the vintages of 1834, 1846, and 1868 were both of the highest quality and produced in the largest quantity.  After 1868 there was a string of poor vintages with that of 1875 surely flooding the market.

Five great vintages in a row!

Five great vintages in a row!


Dahlen, Heinrich Wilhelm. Karte und Statistik des Weinbaues im Rheingau und sämmtlicher sonstigen Weinbau. 1885. dilibri Rheinland-Pfalz.  URL: http://www.dilibri.de/rlb/content/titleinfo/94715

The Creation of a German Vineyard in the 1920s

July 22, 2014 2 comments

During a recent search through European archives I came across fascinating images in Joseph Goerge’s  Der Rotweinbau an der Ahr (1928). [1] A portion of this book chronicles the creation of a new vineyard.  This process involved clearing an oak forest, blasting out sections of hillside, building terraces, manuring the soil, and planting the vines.  A phenomenal amount of labor was required!  I have selected a subset of the images for this post.  Please click on an image for higher resolution or visit the links I have provided for the best quality.

The conversion of a stunted oak forest.

The conversion of a stunted oak forest.

Partially finished sections of vineyard.

Partially finished sections of vineyard.

Creating terrace walls in a new vineyard.

Creating terrace walls in a new vineyard.

Digging foundation 1-1.2 meters deep.

Digging foundation 1-1.2 meters deep.

Aligning the stakes and training the vines.

Aligning the stakes and training the vines.

Women bending the vines.

Women bending the vines.

At work.

At work.


[1] Goerges, Joseph. Der Rotweinbau an der Ahr. 1928. dlibri Rheinland-Pfalz.  URL: http://www.dilibri.de/rlb/content/titleinfo/527793