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Castle Johannisberg: Where the Spätlese was invented
This is legendary ground: The Castle of Johannisberg, near Geisenheim in the Rheingau, was the aim of a rider who acquired legendary fame – it was because of him that the Spätlese was born on these grounds.
Since 817, wine is cultivated on these slopes, for the last 300 years almost exclusively Riesling grapes. The estate of Castle Johannisberg is thus a monument for establishing Riesling as the dominant German wine grape. A dictionary of viticulture, stemming from 1930, notes under the entry of Riesling succinctly: "Native country: Germany. Probably a variety from the Rheingau." In any case, one fact holds true: The Castle of Johannisberg is a gigantic treasury of Riesling wines – and a true refuge of the art of wine making.
Legend says, that the vineyards themselves were planted according to the orders of Charlemagne – he is said to have noticed from his royal palace in Ingelheim, situated on the Western side of the Rhine in the region of Rheinhessen, that the snow first melted on the Johannisberg. That may well be possible, since the vineyard site along the magpie's creek is first noted in a historic document in 817 – the time of Charlemagne. Around 1100, monks from the Benedictine abbey of Saint Alban in Mainz founded an new cloister on this spot – exactly on the 50th latitude. Around the year 1130, they built a basilica. The new monastery is dedicated to Saint John, its properties are first called "Saint John's mountain" around the middle of the 12th century – the origins of the name Johannisberg.
From 1716 on, the estate belonged to the prince bishop of Fulda who built the huge castle with its three wings in 1715. In 1720, 294 000 Riesling grapevines were planted in the Castle's vineyards – a trigger for a viticultural explosion which is noted by winemaker Odo Staab thus: "In all of the Rheingau, no other grape variety for the making of wine is to be planted except the Rüßling." This is also the birth of the "Johannisberger" which becomes the very synonym for high quality wines in the centuries to come. Up to present day in the US, "Johannisberg Riesling" is the equivalent for Riesling wines in general.
One of the reasons for that is the legendary "accident" of 1775: The messenger who brought the official authorization for the start of the grape harvest from the prince bishop in Fulda was delayed for a couple of weeks. When the rider finally reached Johannisberg, the grapes in the vineyards already showed the noble rot which was up to then unknown to the wine makers. The courageous winemaker of the castle had the grapes brought in, nevertheless – it was the birth hour of the Spätlese which started its victory around the world from Johannisberg. A monument, situated right in front of the Vinotheque, reminds of this first late harvest of the nobly rotten grapes which became the rule on Castle Johannisberg from then on.
The estate itself, however, is given in 1816 by its owner, the Austrian Emperor, as a gift to his famous foreign minister Clemens Fürst von Metternich. Up to present day, the estate is still owned by the family of Metternich – and they still pay the wine tithe to Austria. The 35 hectares of vineyards are still stocked with Riesling grapes exclusively while the „Bibliotheca subterranea“, the famous treasury in the cellars underneath, still holds dear specially rare vintages back to the year 1848.