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The German Winegrowers' Association is in its deepest crisis since the glycol scandal following the departure of the cooperatives and the Franconian Winegrowers' Association. In an interview with Uwe Kauss, Secretary General Christian Schwörer talks about compromises and diplomacy, the discussion about the Großes Gewächs - and why the cooperatives still hold a powerful position in the association after the separation.

Within the DWV, the tensions with the cooperatives and the Franconian Winegrowers' Association had been noticeable for a long time. Did the resignations come as a surprise to you?

Schwörer: The cooperatives had been conducting an internal process on this for some time. After the adoption of the wine law reform, they prepared a strengths and weaknesses analysis of their membership in the DWV. Therefore, we knew about the danger that it could turn out negatively. However, we were not prepared for the Franconians' withdrawal. The federation has always had its own points of view, but this has also enriched the discussions in DWV. One of the main reasons for them is that we would have started the changeover to the Romance denomination system too late. In 2017, we decided to make the systematic transition to the Romance system of origin, after the industry had still decided in 2009 to press the old system into the new one and to work only with "traditional terms". The framework has now been set with the new wine law and the ordinance. If the association had said in 2016: Nothing is happening here, now we draw the consequence, the withdrawal would have been less surprising for us.

Do you expect further withdrawals?

Schwörer: In principle, there is always the danger that such steps can trigger a wave. We will discuss intensively with our members, visit them individually and try to find out where the dissatisfactions lie and how they can be eliminated. Majorities decide in the Executive Board. It is clear that small interest groups may feel that they cannot contribute sufficiently. We will try to address this so that everyone feels taken into account.

Now German viticulture speaks with three voices. Is that a weakening or a chance for a new beginning?

Schwörer: For me, it is clearly a weakening. Politicians expect us to speak with one voice, but now there are several. This raises the question of how far we still have clout. As long as the industry was able to represent its position with only one voice, it carried weight. We have seen that with the new law and regulation. DWV - in accordance with its board resolution - demanded a five-year transition period because we were able to agree on it in the board. In the new ordinance, there is a deadline of five years.

Will that still be the case in the future?

Schwörer: The resignations are a weakening of the industry as a whole, not only of our association. We don't do ourselves any favours in the wine industry if we split up into groups and go separately to the politically responsible people with demands. Opinions cannot be formed at hearings in the Bundestag, at meetings with the minister or at the technical level of the ministry. It has to happen in the sector. The platform for this was the German Winegrowers' Association, and we are campaigning for it to be so again.

The cooperatives obviously see it differently.

Schwörer: The cooperatives have long since approached politicians directly with their positions via their umbrella organisation, the Raiffeisen Association. On the other hand, their interests continue to be represented by us, so to speak, through the regional winegrowers' associations, which contribute positions to the German Winegrowers' Association. Particularly with regard to all producer and cultivation topics, we also have no conflicting interests.

In which bodies are new laws, regulations and detailed rules negotiated in the future?

Schwörer: We will continue to seek exchange with the cooperatives and the Franconian Winegrowers' Association, but not in our committees. I am sceptical, however, when I think of discussions at the European and international level. After all, we continue to represent the interests of the entire German winegrowing sector there. Another question is what happens to the particular interests of the Franconians, for example. Will they be taken to Berlin separately? It is clear to everyone there that this is the voice of a wine-growing region that, in percentage terms, only represents a certain size in Germany.

For decades, one of the most important rules in the debates was unanimity. It has often acted as a brake. Do you want to stick to it?

Schwörer: It was important to the Executive Board not to outvote any grouping. But there was never a decision to vote only one hundred percent. For example, we unanimously agreed on a five-year transition period and a phased model for the introduction of wine designations in the new law. The only point where we did not agree was the use of the place names with the Großlage. The cooperatives also abstained on this point.

What will change in DWV without them?

Schwörer: The cooperatives are no longer involved in the direct opinion-forming process in DWV, but they are still indirectly involved. The regional associations in Württemberg and Baden have a very strong cooperative character, and they will continue to introduce their interests there. How intensive that will be remains to be seen. But we will seek exchange on many issues.

For the cooperatives, nothing will change after the withdrawal - their veto is secured by regional associations with a cooperative character. What at first seemed like a huge step is in fact only a small one?

Schwörer:Yes, the cooperatives are still present in the Baden and Württemberg winegrowers' associations. However, there are partly different positions here, also between the cooperatives.

You are not counting on a new start for the association, but on diplomacy?

Schwörer:We will analyse how to proceed. The cooperatives have signalled to us that they want to continue talks. We will have to wait and see. But we are currently assuming that we will go our separate ways from 2022. The Franconian Winegrowers' Association has also emphasised that they would not leave in resentment. If we were to work side by side without an exchange, it would harm the entire industry. But the individual producers must not suffer from these problems. For them, the one hundred percent representation of their interests by us should remain assured.

The representation by the DWV was no longer sufficient for the Franconian Winegrowers' Association.

Schwörer: But with the passing of the wine law and the wine ordinance, it now has a lot of leeway. The law only provides the framework. There is a graduated model, and minimum criteria have been defined for local and single vineyards wine regions. Each regional association, each conservation community, is free to define further and stricter criteria. Franken will probably do so in some areas. They have created a structure for this, to develop their own system. If they want to restrict their grape variety portfolio, DWV plays no role in that. But neither does it play a role in the other areas; it is only the regional protection associations that wear the hat here.

The DAC system in Austria is limited to a few leading varieties per growing region and relatively strict rules. It is clear and simple. Why do the German stakeholders have such a hard time with it?

Schwörer: In Austria, it was possible to use supra-regional geographical terms, which we don't have. We had an intensive discussion in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture whether it would not be possible to establish two Pfalz wines, for example, with a DAC-like system in the future: As Pfalz DAC and as Pfalz. DAC wines would then be limited to a few leading varieties. But this was rejected outright because in Austria, unlike here, there are different geographical designations. For "Niederösterreich", the entire set of grape varieties is allowed, whereas in the DAC Burgenland the leading varieties are limited. We lacked the framework for this. DAC Pfalz would be the premium product here, Pfalz alone the basic product. According to the regional associations, this would not be communicable to consumers.

Will these debates be easier without the cooperatives?

Schwörer: In the protection associations, the cooperatives remain fully responsible. They have to work together with the DWV members to design the profile of their growing region. The participants must get their act together, otherwise certain wine designations will be lost for them: This concerns the single vineyard, the Erste and the Große Gewächs. They may only be used if the Schutzgemeinschaft has adopted a regulation for them.

What is the state of the discussion regarding First and Great Growths?

Schwörer: We have discussed this topic for a long time and have founded a working group. There is a need for their use, but we are also registering a certain proliferation of the term. Every producer is allowed to use the Große Gewächs as an "outstanding product of the farm", there are no legal requirements. From various sides, the wish was expressed to regulate the term by law. Now we have used the criteria of the "Selection" in the regulation and made it optional, such as sensory testing and the recognition of suitable vineyard areas.

Does the lowest common denominator of the interest groups apply there as well?

Schwörer: That is the big bone of contention: One side argues that there must be a recognition process for the Großes Gewächs in order to maintain the value of the product. The other side sees it differently. But the wine industry would do itself no favours if it were to destroy the image of the product abroad. That is why we are discussing with the wine communities how we can guarantee the value of the Grosses Gewächs during the transitional period. The question is: Will we find an agreement with the wine communities, which will be defined in the specifications - or will we manage to change the wine regulation for the transitional period until 2023? For me, it is important that a concept emerges that safeguards the value of Großes Gewächs and Erste Gewächs. In the past, we have unfortunately been masters at running such concepts down.

What are you doing to ensure that the result is not just another compromise?

Schwörer: It must not be a concept that can be sold in the lower price segment. They are premium products that have to have their price. The whole thing requires additional effort, so it will not be free of charge for the winegrowers. They have to put some money into it, and the product has to fetch a certain price. I can't imagine it any other way.

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