A Quick History of GDR Wine
East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was a country that existed from 1949 to 1990, when the eastern portion of Germany was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.
Wine was produced in the former GDR almost exclusively in Saxony and in the Saale-Unstrut area (the only two of Germany’s 13 wine regions that were located in the former East Germany). The beginnings were particularly difficult, not helped by an outbreak of grape blight just before World War 1 which destroyed many vineyards.
Outdated farming methods and the very low earning potential in the industry meant that many growers sold their vineyards. Only 60 hectares of vineyards were still available in the early 1950s, a particular tragedy for Saxony which once contained over 6000 hectares.
By 1955 there were officially only two wine-producing companies in Saxony: the Winzergenossenschaft in Meißen and the state-owned Gut Weinbau “Lößnitz”, which grew out of the city vineyards Radebeul, Dresden and Meissen and expropriated businesses of private winegrowers. As everywhere in the GDR, one had to be inventive due to the closed economy – even in state-owned enterprises. One such example was the people’s winery in Radebeul who in the 1960’s exchanged the old cumbersome basket press for a new (or rather adapted) juice extraction machine from Bulgaria.
It was also not possible to replace the wooden barrels which were now getting old with new stainless steel tanks due to the cost involved, which is why they used 15,000-litre enamel tanks originally designed for beer brewing. Since there were hardly any cork oaks available for wine bottle stoppers, they were also forced to seal a large number of wine bottles with bottle caps up until the mid-1970s.
By 1989 however the industry had grown to around 350 hectares of vineyards in Saxony. Of the 10 to 15 million bottles produced annually, half of them in the Elbe Valley and the other half in Saale and Unstrut, these only accounted for four percent of the wines consumed in the GDR. The remainder came from friendly socialist states such as Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.
Today the area is home to Germany’s smallest, but perhaps most charming wine growing region, and known for its fruity, tangy and dry white wines. The three primary grapes grown in the region are Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, and White Burgundy.