A designation for dry wines from classified top sites, the so-called "Erste Lagen", introduced for the first time with the 1999 vintage and permitted exclusively in the German Rheingau region. The reason for this is that the Rheingau was the only growing region before the VDP classification introduced in 2002, which had already created a legally legitimised quality mark ordinance in 1999, and Erstes Gewächs is a quality mark registered by the state of Hesse. The Rheingau members of the VDP (Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter - Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates) will use the VDP's own (and analogously equivalent) designation "VDP Grosses Gewächs" from the 2012 vintage onwards, as will the association members from the other growing regions.
The VDP-Rheingau adheres to the site quality map on which the classification is based. Only those varieties of Riesling andPinot Noir that come from particularly high-quality vineyards are permitted. These are sharply delineated parcels (core areas) of the classified sites. This classification was developed according to scientific criteria with the Geisenheim Institute. Parts of 79 of the total 123 Rheingau sites were classified. Due to the cultivation and production criteria as well as the sensory examination, however, only about 3% of the total harvest is classified as first crop.
General conditions are wines from producer bottling or estate bottling in a dry area with a dry taste, low yield per hectare (maximum 6 eyes per m², maximum 50 hl/ha), manual harvest and at least late harvest suitable must weight. Riesling wines must have an alcohol content of at least 12% vol. and a maximum of 13 g/l residual sugar (VDP regulation since 2005 is 9 g/l). For joint presentations of First Crops (Rheingau specification) and Large Crops (VDP specification), 9 g/l applies, so that each Rheingau VDP operation is free to choose one of the two variants with regard to residual sugar. For Pinot Noir wines, this is a minimum of 13% vol. total alcohol content and a maximum of 6 g/l residual sugar.
The wines are specially sensory tested on 1 May of the following year at the earliest. Marketing is permitted from 1 September of the following year at the earliest. Wines already on the market can be tested again and if the result is negative, further marketing can be prohibited. Wines filled into Rheingau Schlegel bottles with the VDP capsule bear the text "Erstes Gewächs" (first plant) on the bottle label with three Romanesque double arches on a black background (see also under Charta Rheingau).
In February 2012, the Rheingau Winegrowers' Association submitted an application to the Hessian state government to amend § 10 of the Hessian Implementation Ordinance on Wine Law and Phylloxera Control (HAVO) with regard to the "awarding of quality marks". The aim was to rename the previous designation "Erstes Gewächs" (first crop) to "Grosses Gewächs" (large crop), which has been used exclusively by the VDP up to now. The decision was made in March 2013. The approximately 50 VDP members in the Rheingau can now also call their top dry wines from the "VDP Grosse Lagen" "VDP Grosses Gewächs". The remaining Rheingau winegrowers will continue to use the name "Erstes Gewächs". See also the VDP (Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) levels under VDP Classification.