Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Katharina Pruem at Wegmans in Virginia
I met Katharina Pruem last year twice, both times in Germany: at the 100 Years VDP Anniversary in Berlin and at the 1. International Riesling Symposium in the Rheingau. This time, we met in the Washington DC area, near Dulles airport, at Wegmans, a huge supermarket catering to the well-off residents of the so-called Dulles airport corridor, a kind of East Coast Silicon Valley.
This posting is part of WeinRallye #43, a monthly blog event in Germany. Participating wine bloggers - mainly in Germany - are all releasing postings today under the heading "Riesling Spaetlese". Weinrallye is the brainchild of Thomas Lippert, a winemaker and wine blogger based in Heidelberg, Germany. The first wine rally took place in 2007. Thomas Lippert is the author of the wine blog Winzerblog.
This month's wine rally is organized by Ralf Kaiser, one of Germany's leading wine bloggers. He will provide a summary of all postings on his wine blog Weinkaiser. The invitation to participate in the WeinRalley #43 is here.
That I am releasing this posting - on Katharina Pruem and her world class wines - for the German internet wine rally, is a bit ironic, as Weingut JJ Pruem is among those winemakers in Germany that have a very limited or no internet presence. The Pruem web site is still under construction, a Pruem facebook page or twitter account do not exist. But with or without internet presence, the wines of Weingut JJ Pruem are among the best, Germany has to offer to the world.
Germany's picturesque Mosel Valley has been a prime wine-growing region since the Romans first planted there. The area is known for the steep slopes of the region's vineyards overlooking the river, up to 65° degrees. Blessed with abundant rain and sunshine, a long growing season and rich soil, the Mosel produces some of the finest Riesling wines in the world. The Mosel is mainly famous for its crips, low alcohol and high acidity Riesling wines with a hint of sweetness.
“The Mosel region” Katharina explained “boasts the coolest climate for wines in the entire Europe, which has both its advantages and disadvantages. Riesling grapes have a longer maturation time on the vines, resulting in more natural acidity and freshness but it’s also harder to achieve ripeness”.
Picture: Katharina Pruem Signing a Bottle
Mosel wines are not only produced in Germany, but also in Luxembourg. Interestingly, in contrast to the downstream German wine region, Luxembourg has very little tradition of producing sweet style wines. Rather, their wines tend to be bone dry and higher in alcohol than the elegant German sweet-style, low alcohol Mosel wines. More on that below.
Weingut JJ Pruem
Weingut Joh. Jos. Pruem is – without doubt – one of the most exceptional producers of wine in Germany. Although the Prüm family was well established as viticulturists and winemakers, having been tending vines along the banks of the Mosel since the 17th Century, the Joh. Jos. Prüm estate only came into being in 1911, when the property was divided up among seven heirs. One of them, Johann Josef Prüm (died 1944) laid the foundation for the estate as it is today, his son Sebastian (died 1969) continued his work. Today it is run by the third fourth generation, Dr. Manfred Pruem and Wolfgang Prüm, with Manfred’s daughter Dr. Katharina Prüm.
Today there are at least seven wineries that bear the Prüm name several generations later: including Alfred Prüm, Dr. F. Weins-Prüm, Jos. Christoffel Jr. (formerly Christoffel-Prüm), Studert-Prüm, Weingut Steffen Prüm, S.A. Prüm, and J.J. Prüm. Several more Prüm intermarriages and mergers are also responsible for several more prominent names in German wine, including Dr. Loosen.
Picture: JJ Pruem Graacher Himmelreich and Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese
The estate has 33.5 acres of vineyards planted with Riesling. The Joh. Jos. Prüm portfolio includes a number of great vineyards, but it is undoubtedly the vines in the Wehlener Sonnenuhr on the opposite bank to the town of Wehlen and the Graacher Himmelreich that are most readily associated with the estate.
Naturally Sweet Rieslings
The Riesling vines of Weingut JJ Pruem are grown on the region's decomposed blue slate soils, at incredibly steep inclines. The vines are own-rooted (non-grafted). Grapes are meticulously hand harvested and destemmed before being gently crushed into steel tanks where they ferment almost always with native yeasts before being moved into 50-plus-year-old, 1000-liter oak casks where they age until bottling. There is minimal CO2 pumping. As Joelle Payne notes in the Gault Millau WeinGuide Germany, the JJ Pruem cellars are, as they always have been, barred to visitors and Dr. Manfred Pruem is usually silent when asked for details of his vinification process, although I am sure there is nothing to hide. These are wines of great aristocracy, renowned for their precision, focus and finesse. The JJ Prüm wines have a reputation for being very long-lived.
All JJ Pruem wines are sweet-style Rieslings. Weingut JJ Pruem does not produce any dry wines. A few miles up the river Mosel, the climatic conditions are about the same as in the German part, but Mosel wines from Luxembourg tend to be bone dry. How does this work?
Pictures: Katharina Pruem at the 1. International Riesling Symposium in the Rheingau in Germany and in Berlin at the 100th Anniversary of the VDP
Many wine drinkers, in particular outside of Europe, when they see a Riesling in the shelves, have the association of a sweet-style wine. This is however misguided. Rieslings as a rule are dry wines. Of course, there are the famous sugar sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein and Schilfwein wines from Austria and Germany, the Sélection de Grains Nobles from France, the icewines from Canada and other Rieslings, made from botrytized, dried or frozen grapes. The grapes that go into these wines have such a high sugar content that there is nothing you can do to make dry wines out of these grapes. They inevitably produce nobly sweet wines. Weingut JJ Pruem produces these kinds of wines. But apart from these exceptions, which account for only a tiny share of total production, Riesling grapes in Germany have normal sugar content at the time of fermentation and tend to produce dry wines, when fully fermented – like in Luxembourg.
However, modern cellar methods allow winemakers in Germany to produce wines with a touch of sweetness. There are principally two methods applied for making Rieslings with a touch of sweetness. First, you do not let the fermentation run its course and stop it; as a result, you get a sweet and low alcohol wine. Second, you let the wine fully ferment to a normal alcohol level and then add Suessreserve (sterilized juice) to achieve the desired degree of sweetness. These sweet-style wines are a kind of niche wines in Germany, although there is a renewed interest in them. In any case, they remain very popular outside of Germany, notably in the US market. Two of the three German wines on this year’s Wine Spectator Top 100 List belong into this category: St-Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett Mosel Ockfen Bockstein 2009 and Schloss Vollrads Riesling Kabinett Rheingau 2008. See here.
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Katharina Pruem at Wegmans in Virginia
A word on chaptalization, i.e. adding sugar before the fermentation: While the wine regions with a warmer climate battle against too much sugar in the grapes and allow – for example in California – to add water to the must, a cool climate wine country like Germany has the opposite problem – not enough sugar. Accordingly, for wines that are labeled as QbA Qualitaetswein or below QbA wines – which is more than half of Germany’s production - chaptalization is legal and normal. But Kabinett, Spaetlese, Auslese and the other predicate wines upwards the quality ladder are not allowed to be chaptalized under German law. Or, if you chaptalise them, you cannot sell them as Kabinett, Spaetlese, or Auslese. You need to sell them as QbA wines.
I have not seen any JJ Pruem QbA wines recently, although there have been some in bad years. So, the sweetness you taste in all the JJ Pruem wines you find on the shelves today is natural, in the sense that it is sweetness that was in the grapes, when they were harvested, produced by mother nature.
I was very pleased to meet Katharina again in Washington DC. It is always great fun to talk to her and listed to what she has to say about her wines. The grace, the refinement, the gentleness and the elegance of Katharina is impressive.
Picture: Katharina Pruem
Fourth-generation wine maker Katharina Prüm is the great-grand daughter of the estate’s founder Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm. After completing her doctorate in German civil law (Die Folgen der Verletzung des Umgangsrechts. Dissertation von Katharina Prüm. Verlag Dr. Kovač, Hamburg 2006), Katharina devoted her energy and time to the estate as ambassador and joint wine maker, together with her father, Dr. Manfred Prüm.
Dr. Katharina Prüm is the oldest of three daughters of Dr. Manfred Prüm. She joined her father in running the family estate in 2003.
The Giant Mosel Bridge
One of the things that are close to the heart of Katharina is the giant bridge that the Government wants to build across the Mosel valley. She calls it –with Ernst Loosen and others - a monster in this valley and an attack on this region. It is "a very, very monstrous big bridge that is more than 160 meters high — higher than the Cologne cathedral — and more than a mile long. It is a monster in this valley" Katharina Pruem says. Katharina has successfully enlisted high-profile international wine critics Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and Stuart Pigott in her fight.
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