Schloss Johannisberg in Germany’s Rheingau region is celebrated as the first riesling estate in the world and now combines nearly 1,200 years of winemaking history with exactly 300 years of world-class riesling tradition.
It’s an eventful history that has resulted in a unique winemaking culture. Established as a Benedictine monastery circa 1100, the Johannisberger Abbey quickly became the focal point and initiator of grape growing for winemaking in the Rheingau region.
Long before that however, legend has it that Charlemagne decided to plant the first vines after noticing from his palace in Ingelheim that the snow on the hill beneath Schloss Johannisberg melted before it did anywhere else. Documentary evidence actually shows that Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious, certified this monopoly vineyard on August 4, 817.
Skipping ahead to 1716, the already famous but neglected vineyard was passed to the Princely Abbey of Fulda under Prince Abbot Konstantin von Buttlar, who revitalised it from the ground up and attempted a major viticultural experiment. He replanted the estate’s vineyards with only the noblest grape in the world, the riesling grape. Around 300,000 new vines were planted over the following two years. This is how the world’s first cohesive riesling vineyard was created in 1720, making Schloss Johannisberg the first vineyard in the world planted exclusively with riesling.
To this day, the oldest Schloss Johannisberger riesling – a 1748 vintage – still lies in the Bibliotheca Subterranea, the 900 year-old cellarium and the estate’s treasure trove. Alongside are numerous precious riesling wines created by the estate’s cellarmasters over the past 300 years. One of these masterpieces is a 1920 Schloss Johannisberg riesling Goldlack, which was auctioned to a wine lover at Kloster Eberbach in early March for the princely sum of €18,000.
With their strong regional character, authenticity and individual appeal, the exclusive single grape variety wines from Schloss Johannisberg have a dedicated fan base around the world. They are found on the wine lists of the best restaurants and regularly achieve top results and win awards at international wine competitions.
As a tourism stop, there may be no better wine experience in all of Germany. Rheingau and its surrounding area is also perfect for walking and cycling tours, with the impressive Eberbach and Abtei St Hildegard monasteries within easy reach.
Schloss Johannisberg was designated as its own, independent appellation in 1971. The estate intends to celebrate this historic anniversary year with a varied program of events throughout the remainder of this year, including inviting visitors to celebrate the popular grape and its many exceptional riesling wines together.
I recently had the opportunity to sample two of Schloss Johannisberg’s world-class rieslings, both of which can be found in most wine shops (including the LCBO in Ontario):
Schloss Johannisberg 2018 Rotlack Kabinett
According to the winery, there has never been a year as warm – since the beginning of their own weather recording – as 2018. From April onward, every month was 3 degrees warmer than average. This stable high-pressure weather lasted until October. Due to the quick development of the grapes the harvest started four weeks earlier than the average year. And so, with an unusual (but exceptional) vintage, comes an extraordinary wine. This wine is by far a cut above any other riesling I have tasted. The quality is just so unmistakable. An immediate and quite pronounced bouquet of oranges, ripe apple, nectarine and subtle petrol greet you once the wine is poured. The palate is juicy with precisely balanced acidity and sweetness. In fact, there’s just over 22 g/l residual sugar, but you’d never think to try and notice it. Contemplative and delicious. A real showstopper. ($43)
Schloss Johannisberg 2018 Grünlack Spätlese
One of Schloss Johannisberg’s biggest claims to fame is that it was the first estate to produce late harvest (spatlese) wine. In fact, the year 1775 marked the beginning of the practice of deliberately allowing grapes to develop botrytis, or noble rot, which led to the first lusciously sweet rieslings that have become so highly prized throughout the world today. This wine is the stuff that drives your taste buds berserk… but in such a satisfyingly good way. The floral and wild honeyed aromatics will have your mouth watering in seconds. Palate bursting flavours of juicy peach, freshly squeezed tangerine, mango nectar, lemon and lime are so rich and intense. Mineral notes on the mid-palate really drive this wine’s character. Calm things down a bit by pairing this with sharply flavoured cheeses, and then repeat the process and experience the moment all over again. The right occasion will make this a perfect and memorable choice. ($61.95)