Schloss Johannisberg: Historical estate dedicated to growing Riesling

The wine shop at Schloss Johannisberg offers a wide variety of wine for sale priced to meet every budget.


By MARK PATTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 2, 2010

Germany’s beautiful Rheingau region is at the core of a winemaking culture that offers a unique history and world-renowned wine.

The Schloss Johannisberg in Geisenheim-Johannisberg offers visitors the opportunity to experience the Rheingau’s historic Riesling wine tradition while admiring majestic views of the region from the estate’s hilltops.

Starting around 1100, the estate’s grounds were part of a Benedictine monastery. They underwent many economic and political changes over the years, and in 1716 were purchased by the Abbey of Fulda. A three-winged palace was built on the grounds, and four years later Riesling vines were planted.

“We are the first Riesling wine estate in the world,” says Stefan Eiser, account manager for private clients at Schloss Johannisberg. So, in other words, it was the first vineyard in the world totally dedicated to Riesling wine.

One of the more unusual tales involving Schloss Johannisberg occurred in 1775 and gave it a place in winemaking history. When a courier sent to the abbey to get official permission for the start of the grape harvest was delayed, the grapes began to dry on the vine and developed a sort of rot. The cellar master ignored conventional wisdom of the time and had the grapes harvested and made into wine. The result was better than expected and led to the regular production of Spätlese Riesling, a style of wine produced from late-harvest grapes.

Eiser also organizes wine-tastings and guided tours for the estate. Groups of eight or more can arrange a guided tour that includes a stop for a wine-tasting in the palace cellar, which dates to 1721. It’s important to note that the wine-tasting costs extra.

Going underground to reach the wine cellar is an experience in itself and the most impressive part of the tour. The only light comes from candles, creating an eerie, and romantic, atmosphere. The cellar holds more than 200,000 liters of wine in barrels, which are constructed out of oak wood taken from the estate’s forests.

“Every time it’s exciting to show the cellar,” said Eiser. “We have the oldest cellar in the Rheingau, and you don’t have many big cellars with candlelight in Germany.”

Also in the cellar is the Bibliotheca subterranean, or underground library. It is not your traditional library; instead it showcases wine bottles and notes on the annual wine production dating to 1748.

Although a tour and wine-tasting cost money, visitors to Schloss Johannisberg can have a perfect day without opening their wallets by strolling through more than 85 acres of vineyards spread out through a romantic landscape with old forests and scenic overviews. Amid the scenery are telescopes on large stands to give viewers a closer look at the Rhine River below or the many villages and cities in the distance. Visitors can also grab a meal at the estate’s restaurant or peruse the variety of wines, priced for every budget, in the adjacent shop.

Etched into one of the wine barrels in the cellar is a quote from German writer Heinrich Heine that describes perfectly the atmosphere and the wonderful wine of the Schloss Johannisberg. Roughly translated it says:

“My God, if I have so much faith in me that I’m able to move mountains, Johannisberg would be this mountain I’d let follow me wherever I go.”

Directions: From Wiesbaden, take Autobahn 66 toward Rüdesheim. Continue on A66, which turns into B42 at Eltville, and drive along the Rhine past Erbach, Hattenheim and Oestrich-Winkel. Leave B42 at the Geisenheim exit and follow signs to Schloss Johannisberg.

Times: Guided tours and wine-tastings are available by appointment. The wine shop is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. during the week and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. until the last guest departs for the evening.

Costs: Strolling the grounds of Schloss Johannisberg is free. For guided tours (available in English), the basic charge is 160 euros for a group (minimum of eight people). Wine-tastings with the tour range between 10 euros and 18 euros, depending on how many wines are tasted.

Food: The estate has its own restaurant, the Gutsrestaurant-Schloss Johannisberg. It offers spectacular views of the surrounding area along with hot and cold regional cuisine. Prices for meals average 12 euros. For more information on the restaurant, call 06722-96090 or e-mail restaurant@schloss-johannisberg.de.

Information: The Web site is www.schloss-johannisberg.de; it has an English link at the bottom. To arrange a guided tour along with a wine-tasting, contact Stefan Eiser at 06722-7009-29 or Stefan.Eiser@schloss-johannisberg.de

The Schloss Johannisberg was the first Riesling wine estate in the world. In 1716, the property was purchased by the Abbey of Fulda, who had a three-winged palace built, and four years later Riesling vines were planted throughout the estate grounds.

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