Lippe service: German wine
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Munich businessman went in search of his artistocratic heritage and became a winemaker
Georg Prinz zur Lippe Derek Scally photos Dr Georg Prinz zur Lippe
The restored glory of Schloss Proschwitz, the Lippe family home
Standing at the top of his vineyard on a sunny afternoon, Georg Prinz zur Lippe gleams with pride. Lush green vines, heavy with grapes, run downhill in clean lines to the beautiful town of Meissen. Friends and visitors sit on benches around him, enjoying the spectacular view and the fruits of zur Lippe’s 20-year labours: wines that are among Germany’s best.
It was a very different scene the first time he stood here, shortly after Easter 1990. The Berlin Wall had fallen and his father asked his youngest son, who was then 32, to go to East Germany and see what, if anything, was left of the family’s property that was seized by the Nazis, nationalised by the East Germans and locked behind the Iron Curtain.
After two disheartening weeks driving around the other Germany, Georg found little to salvage. Once a big landowner in this corner of Saxony, the Lippe family property had been largely built on; the old family home, Proschwitz Castle, was a dilapidated care facility. The family vineyard had been divided into about 800 allotments. He began taking pictures to show his father, ignoring a “Photography Forbidden” sign erected by the Russian tank repair works at the bottom of the hill. A Trabant raced up to him. The driver pointed to the sign and asked: “Are you the prince? We were expecting one of the family to turn up.”
Georg’s mood lifted: nearly half a century after his family had fled, the locals remembered them and that the land was once theirs, despite the best efforts of the ruling communist (SED) party.
Downstream from Dresden, on the Elbe, Meissen is steeped in history. The Lippe vineyards were established by local bishops and monks 900 years ago.
Before the second World War, the House of Lippe ruled a small former principality near Hanover dating to the 12th century. In 1946 it was absorbed into the state of North Rhine Westphalia. Half a century later, Georg zur Lippe decided to turn his back on his life in Munich to rebuild his inheritance. Sleeping in his car or in a vineyard shed, he had no friends in the area and not an inconsiderable amount of enemies. His father suggested he sign away claims on former family land that had been built on. Zur Lippe bought out the allotment owners, to restore the 87-hectare vineyard, and restored Proschwitz Castle; he now lives on the grounds with his wife and son.
The first harvest of 1991 sold quickly but zur Lippe faced a double dilemma for the future: low yields per hectare, typical for Saxon wines, and investment to replace equipment from the 1920s. He had spent his previous life as a consultant steering his clients away from precisely this kind of labour- and capital-intensive endeavour. To survive, he decided Proschwitz wines should focus on quality. “No one needs wines from eastern Germany unless they can hold their own,” he says.
Two decades on, with an international team, the vines he brought from western Germany, predominantly Grau, Weissburgunder, Elbling and Riesling, have settled into the mineral-rich soil and adapted to the Saxon climate of hot days and cool nights.
The wines have had critics searching for superlatives and zur Lippe is cautiously optimistic for the future of Saxony’s wine industry: “We are in a time of climate upheaval.That will be good for German wine.” Another reason for optimism, he says, is that Germany’s light white winesare in tune with today’s diets. “My aim is to build up something sustainable . . . We lived here for nine generations and I want the Lippe family to be established once more.”