Domaine Schloss Johannisberg

History and Wine

The viticultural history of Schloss Johannisberg commences with the figure of the emperor Charlemagne (A.D. 768-814).

Legend records how from his palace in Inglelheim, he noticed that the snow melted early on one particular hill, and he came to the conclusion that this would be an ideal site for winegrowing, decreeing that the first vines should be planted.

These vineyards, by the Elsterbach stream, at the foot of the hill, were recorded by his son Ludwig der Fromme on the 4th of August 817 as producing a yield of 6 Fuder of wine, ie: 6000 litres.

We believe it was Rhabanus Maurus archbishop of Mainz, also known as the 'Praeceptor Germaniae' who gave this hill the name Bishop's Hill whilst living in Winkel in the year 850. About 1100, the Benedictine Monks of Mainz built a monastery here, the first in the Rheingau. Following the consecration of the Roman Basilica in 1130 to St. John the Baptist, the hill, monastery and village were renamed Johannisberg.

Through purchase, barter and endowment, the monks extended their property to embrace the entire estate as we know it today; setting an example of economic efficiency to the neighbouring winegrowers.

This period was not without its troubles and trials, including the plunderings of the peasant uprising in 1525, and the occupation of the Monastery by the Markgraf Albrecht Alkibiades von Brandenburg-Kulmbach in 1552.

The Monastery was dissolved in 1563, and during the 30 years war seized as a pledge by the imperial tax collector Hubert Bleymann and his son in law G. von Giese of Cologne.

In 1716 the estate was purchased by Konstatin von Buttlar, the Prince-Abbot of Fulda. After demolition of the Monastic buildings-with the exception of the church and almost 900 year-old cellar- he had the palace built, and the church altered to the Baroque style. The main cellars which were completed in 1721, owe their ideal atmosphere to the cellar fungus Cladosporium Cellare.

The Prince-Abbots of Fulda took great pride in restoring the neglected vineyards: As many as 294,000 vines were planted in 1719 and 1720. Whilst the 38,500 Riesling vines planted, heralded a new era in winegrowing for the Rheingau, and far beyond its boundaries. Today, the synonym Johannisberg Riesling is used to describe this vine varietal in many parts of the world, including the USA, Brazil etc.

The annual harvest yield has been recorded regularly since 1716, and the best wines have always been bottled on the property since 1775. In the same year, an accident led to the discovery of a decisive improvement in the quality of the wine.

The Johannisberg harvest courier returned late with the permission of the Prince-Abbot of Fulda to commence harvesting, by which time the overripe grapes were already shrivelled and beginning to rot, to the despair of the Monks. But their patience was rewarded.

The first unwittingly harvested Spätlese or late harvest, led them to appreciate the so-called Noble Rot or "Botrytis Cinerea" and allowed them to begin harvesting those Auslesen, Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen which founded the world fame of the Rheingauer Riesling. The administrator of those days, Joh. Michael Engert recorded on the 10th of April 1776: "I have never tasted such a wine before."

In 1802, both Fulda and the Johannisberg monastery were secularised, and the Johannisberg became the property of the Prince of Orange. But it was taken from him by Napoleon in 1806, and presented to Marshal Kellermann, Duke of Valmy, who owned it until 1813. From 1813 to 1815, the property was administered by the then allies (Prussia, Russia and Austria) who gave it to the Hapsburg Emperor Francis 1 of Austria at the Vienna Congress. On the 1st of July, 1816, the Emperor presented it to his State Chancellor Clemens Wenzeslaus, Prince of Metternich-Winneburg in recognition of his outstanding services in the cause of European peace. This gift entailed an obligation to pay an annual tithe equal to one tenth of the harvest to the Hapsburgs or their legal successors.

Throughout the centuries, the wines of the monastery and Schloss Johannisberg respectively, have maintained their reputation as belonging to the finest produced in Germany. Their elegance, fruit and flavour delight the connoisseur and consumer alike, whilst wines of older vintages are even prized for their medicinal qualities.

The Vineyards of Schloss Johannisberg embrace an area of 86 acres, and are planted exclusively with Riesling vines. Within the spacious cellars, which measure a total length of 250 metres, with a capacity of 750,000 litres, the wines are allowed to mature in wood-as in centuries past-under expert supervision, until ready for bottling.

Viticulturally, Schloss Johannisberg is an 'Ortseil' or independent section of the Johannisberg community, as defined by the 1971 German Wine Law. Thus, its wines, as in centuries past, are still described as Schloss Johannisberg, without any additional vineyard name, since the vineyards encircle the Schloss.

All labels have born the signature of the estate administrator since 1830.

The Capsule colour, or former wax seal, has denoted the different qualities for the past 170 years. According to the new German Wine Law these now represent:

  • Yellow Seal:Qualitätswein,
  • Red Seal:Kabinett,
  • Green Seal:Spätlese,
  • Pink Seal:Auslese,
  • Pink/Gold Seal :Beerenauslese,
  • Gold Seal:Trockenbeerenauslese
  • Blue Seal:Eiswein-Beerenauslese

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