Hermann Müller (Thurgau)

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For other Hermann Müllers: see Hermann Müller (disambiguation).
Hermann Müller (Thurgau)

Hermann Müller, born October 21, 1850 in Tägerwilen in the canton of Thurgau, died January 18, 1927, in Wädenswil, was a Swiss botanist, plant physiologist, oenologist and grape breeder.[1][2] He called himself Müller-Thurgau, taking the name of his home canton.


Müller initially attended a teachers' seminar in Kreuzlingen and worked as a teacher in Stein am Rhein 1869–1870. In 1870, he enrolled at the Polytechnikum Zürich and graduated with a diploma in 1872. He then went to the University of Würzburg for graduate studies under Julius von Sachs, was awarded his doctorate in 1874 and stayed some time as Sachs' assistant. During the years 1876−1890 he worked at the Prussian Institute for Horticulture and Viticulture (Königlich Preussische Lehranstalt für Obst- und Weinbau) in Geisenheim, Rheingau where he led its experimental station for plant physiology.

In 1891 he was called back to Switzerland and the position as director of the newly created Experimental Station and School for Horticulture and Viticulture (Versuchsstation und Schule für Obst-, Wein- und Gartenbau) in Wädenswil, where he stayed until his retirement in 1924. From 1902, he was also connected to Polytechnikum Zürich as professor of botany.

In 1890, he was made an honorary member of the German Viticultural Association and in 1920 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern.

Müller researched and published on a wide range of topics in viticulture and winemaking, including the biology of vine flowering, assimilation of nutrients by the vine, vine diseases, alcoholic fermentation of wine, breeding of strains of yeast with specific properties, malolactic fermentation, development of wine faults, and methods for producing alcohol-free grape juice.

Breeding of the Müller-Thurgau grape variety[edit]

Main article: Müller-Thurgau

During his time in Geisenheim, he created the grape variety Müller-Thurgau in a breeding programme initiated in 1882, by crossing Riesling with Madeleine Royale, although for a long time it was erroneously assumed to be Riesling x Silvaner. Müller's aim with his programme was indeed to try to combine the aromatic properties of Riesling with the earlier and more reliable ripening of Silvaner. Experimental plantations continued in Geisenheim until 1890, and in 1891 150 plants were shipped to Wädenswil where trials continued, with Heinrich Schellenberg (1868−1967) handling the practical work there. The most successful clone of the trials (serial number 58) was propagated in 1897 under the designation Riesling x Silvaner 1. Vines of this variety were distributed in Switzerland and abroad from 1908, and in 1913, 100 vines of this variety was brought back to Germany by August Dern (1858−1930), who had been a coworker of Müller in Geisenheim. It was Dern who introduced the name Müller-Thurgau for the variety, while Müller himself continued to call it Riesling x Silvaner 1, although he did himself express some doubts that this was the actual parentage of the new variety, and speculated that some misidentification of vine material could have taken place in the move from Geisenheim to Wädenswil.[3][4]

Many experimental plantations of Müller-Thurgau in Germany was conducted from 1920, and its breakthrough from 1938 is credited to the grape breeder Georg Scheu in Alzey.[4] In the middle of the 19th century it had attained the position as the most cultivated of any newly created grape varieties. It was the most planted grape variety of Germany from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s, and is still the second-most planted.