The Price of Loyalty

May 11, 2007

I had dinner earlier this week with Katharina Prüm of Joh. Jos. Prüm and Wilhelm Steifensand, one of Prüm’s U.S. importers and president of Valckenberg. The question arose about how to best market German Riesling.

My view on this is that you offer wine lovers something that is unique and they will discover it. You may not win everyone over, but you will find devotees and they will be loyal because good estate German Riesling offers flavors, character and sheer pleasure that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the wine world.

I noted that as a consumer it’s great to be able to rely on a grower like Joh. Jos. Prüm for its consistently excellent wines. And as a journalist and critic of German wines, I have confidence in recommending such wines to our readers.

At that point Katharina said, “We try to make the best wines we can each year, but we never know if we succeed until we taste the new vintage. People don’t realize how hard we work all year in the vineyards and the decisions that we make along the way. There’s no guarantee.”

Katharina’s first “official” vintage at her family’s estate was 2003; she was 24 years old. Her father Manfred also took the reins at 24, with the 1959 vintage. The exceptional ’03 vintage is the modern equivalent of 1959.

We had tasted a Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 1994 and a Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 1998. They were very different wines and not just because the weather was different in ’94 and ’98. “We weren’t making the selections in the 1990s like we do now, especially since 2000,” explained Katharina. Even between the ’94 and ’98, you could see the latter year was a much bigger, more powerful wine, harvested at higher ripeness levels. The 1994 was more of a true auslese and combined with the racy acidity of the vintage, elegant and refreshing. The 1998 showed more power and seemed softer beside the ’94, despite having good structure itself.

Nik Weis of St.-Urbans-Hof in the Mosel is another grower I respect highly. His view is simple. “In the steep slopes of the best vineyard sites in the Mosel, you have to aim for the best quality possible. There is no other option,” he stated. Indeed, it is these top sites that offer unique expressions of Riesling.

That made me wonder how much I take for granted year in and year out when tasting or buying wines. I expect excellence every year from top estates and houses. When they don’t deliver, or the vintage conditions are difficult, I give them the benefit of the doubt. Even in tough years, the top growers often succeed in making good wines. I believe those who work hard year in and year out to make authentic, handcrafted wines expressive of their origins deserve both my loyalty and my dollars.

Collecting Aging Wine

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