Johannisberg is the nucleus of a great wine culture that stretches far beyond the borders of the Rheingau. History was written here. Johannisberger Rieslings are born in the vineyard --literally -- where they have their roots. The typical soil composition is Taunus quartzite beneath a topsoil layer of loam-loess. Its integral influence on the flavor of the finished wine is expressed by the grape – a quasi ”spokesperson” for the soil. For nearly 300 years, Riesling has been the only varietal cultivated in the vineyard. The soil and the grape, together with the favorable climatic conditions and long viticultural tradition of Schloss Johannisberg, bring for the wines that reflect inimitable character of their origin.
Rieslings from the Johannisberg palace cellar are authentic. They are vinified in a diversity of styles, ranging from dry to lusciously sweet, and even with their low alcohol content, they are rich in exquisite flavors, elegance and refined aromas. Johannisberger Rieslings are meant to be enjoyed, but to fully savor them, it’s worth taking a closer look at their structural and mineral finesse as well as the harmonious interplay of their fruit aromas. They need time for their true magnitude and unique elegance to develop. To discover the spectrum of flavors and differences among the Rieslings of Schloss Johannisberg is one of the most challenges the Rheingau has to offer.
Great wines are the result of an ideal interplay of soil, grape variety and climate. A winegrower must bear this in mind in order to produce authentic wines. The use of casks made from oak of the Schloss Johannisberger forest, which like Riesling, reflect the character of their origin-is another means of lending the wines authenticity and inimitability. Vineyard maintenance in harmony with nature, gentle processing of grapes and overseeing fermentation and aging with the right feel have long been the standard. During their development, Schloss Johannisberger Rieslings also spend considerable time on the lees to foster complexity and bring forth elegant fruit. This important phase of development is worth the effort-it yields wines that retain their freshness even years after bottling.
The First Riesling Wine Estate of the World
Few wine enthusiasts probably realize that with every sip of Riesling from Schloss Johannisberg, they are enjoying the legacy of nearly 1,200 years of history that involves a monastery and a palace – both of which are steeped in wine history – a chequered history during which many a fortunate wine discovery was made, for which gourmets the world over are grateful. The first documented wine harvest was in A.D. 817. Louis the Pious was delighted with the 6,000 litres of wine from the vines on the hill then known as Bischofsberg (bishop’s hill). Nearly three centuries later (ca. 1100), the first Benedictine monastery in the Rheingau was founded on the hilltop and the monks diligently tended the vines on the slopes below. In 1130, they consecrated their abbey church in honour of John the Baptist, after which the hill, the monastery and the village assumed the name Johannisberg (John’s hill). In 1716, the prince abbot of Fulda at that time had the monastery torn down and a baroque palace built on the site. Parts of the nearly 900-year-old abbey cellar remained intact. After the completion of a larger wine cellar in 1721, a very welcome guest moved in: cladosporium cellare, a black mould that covers cellar walls and acts as a natural air conditioner, i.e. it regulates the humidity in the cellar. Its presence indicates optimal conditions for winemaking and storage. The prince abbots of Fulda zealously went about restoring the vineyards. In just two years (1719/1720), they planted an impressive 294,000 Riesling vines. It is thanks to their efforts that Schloss Johannisberg is justifiably the first Riesling wine estate of the world. Riesling heralded the start of a new era of viticulture in the Rheingau – and not only there. Schloss Johannisberg’s recognition of the benefits of a Spätlese (late harvest) came about by accident. Every autumn, the head monastery in Fulda sent a courier on horseback with orders on when to begin the harvest. In 1775, he was delayed. By the time he arrived in Johannisberg, the ripe grapes were infested with mould – noble rot – yet they were harvested and pressed. The monks thanked God for the phenomenal results and erected a monument to the courier in the courtyard. The prince abbot issued an edict that henceforth, the grape harvest should always take place this late. Additional world premieres in viticultural history were not left to chance. They were prompted by curiosity, eagerness to experiment, and above all, the tireless efforts of the people of Johannisberg to make something good even better. Connoisseurs all over the world owe thanks to the Rheingau wine experts for further developing the practice of selective, late harvesting: Auslese (1787), Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese, as well as Eiswein, which was first harvested in Germany at Schloss Johannisberg in 1858. In the post-Benedictine era, the Johannisberg vineyards and palace changed hands often (Napoleon numbered among the temporary owners). In 1816, Emperor Franz I of Austria ceded the property to the House of Metternich-Winneburg, specifically, to Clemens Fürst von Metternich, who had made a name for himself as a peacemaker. The gift was in gratitude for the famous diplomat’s role in achieving a peaceful solution to European unity at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It was, however, a gift with strings attached: one tenth of the annual harvest was to be delivered to the House of Habsburg, an agreement valid to this day. Clemens Fürst von Metternich enthusiastically fell in line with his predecessors and embraced the distinguished tradition of Schloss Johannisberg. With foresight, he wisely decided to introduce sparkling wine production at Johannisberg. His name and portrait still adorn the label of what is by far Germany’s most popular and best-selling premium Riesling sparkling wine. His great-grandson, Paul Alfons Fürst von Metternich, had the palace rebuilt after it was almost completely destroyed by bombs in WW II. Reconstruction continued until 1965. In 1979, Schloss Johannisberg gained in importance through the acquisition of the neighbouring H. G. von Mumm wine estate, also located on the outskirts of the village of Johannisberg, and one of the Rheingau’s most highly respected estates. Both estates are united today as part of the “JWG Johannisberger Weinvertieb KG”. Together they have the largest private vineyard holdings in the Rheingau: since the takeover, the enterprise has 35 ha (86.5 acres) at Schloss Johannisberg and an additional 65 ha (161 acres) of vineyards at G. H. von Mumm. Riesling (85 percent) and Spätburgunder (14 percent) are the predominant grape varieties.
The Rieslings of Schloss Johannisberg have won innumerable prizes, medals and awards in the past, and the future also looks promising. Nevertheless, a wine estate so steeped in tradition can also take pride in its past.
In the “Bibliotheca subterranea”, the underground treasure chamber of Schloss Johannisberg, more than 11,000 bottles of Riesling – the oldest date from the 1748 vintage – are lying in the over 900-year-old vaulted cellars. It is the most comprehensive collection of Rieslings in the world. As such, with its library of Rieslings, Schloss Johannisberg is an unsurpassable highlight. It’s only a pity that the number of “library passes” is so limited.
THE COLORED SEAL
Long before printed labels were common practice, Schloss Johannisberg had its own system of distinguishing among its bottlings through the use of coloured seals. Introduced by Fürst von Metternich in 1820 and in use to this day, the quality of a wine, based on the ripeness of the harvested grapes, can be identified according to colour. While capsules have replaced Siegellack, or wax seals, and words have superseded colours in today’s official quality classification according to the wine law of 1971, the basis of the system introduced nearly two centuries ago at Johannisberg has not changed. Furthermore, in accordance with an edict issued by Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg in 1830, all labels still bear the signature of the current domain administrator – the guarantor of the high quality of the estate’s Rieslings. Gelblack (yellow seal): QbA; classically crisp, dry to off-dry; powerful wines Rotlack (red seal): Kabinett; dry to off-dry; fine, delicate, elegant wines Grünlack (green seal): Spätlese; dry or fruity and mild; only from the best grapes Silberlack (silver seal): First growth; finest dry wines of the collection; mineral tones