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The Price of Loyalty

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 11, 2007 2:19pm ET

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.

James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  May 12, 2007 1:25am ET
Bruce - This was a fun blog to read because I know Katharina and her family quite well. I have sat in their sitting room and shared a bottle many times since 2002 when I first met them. They are just really nice people, and the wines (of which I have a lot covering '99, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005) are just incredible. We met them when my wife called them looking to buy some 2000 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese for my 40th Birthday--after WS made it a cellar selection. The funny thing about that was that Manfred didn't even know about the selection. So when all the 2005 ratings started coming out, I passed along the Insider reports to Katharina. If anyone reading this has never tried one of their wines, you really are missing out on something special. - Jim
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  May 12, 2007 2:55pm ET
Bruce, completly out of the target but i need your expertise: i wass readinf the paper issue of WS , cabernet master class and , on the auction section their is a small line about the DRC Les Gaudichots????????? I have never heard of it and , i am from le mesnil sur oger and a big big fan of burgundy wines and a fanatic of DRC and i have never ever heard of this "cru?". Do you have more info regarding this wine? Have you ever tried it ? when was the last vintage? great great thanks! regards, Ludovic
Marchello Chacchia
Connecticut —  May 12, 2007 3:00pm ET
Many Joh. Jos. Prum wines have rapidly become some of my favorite wines white or red. And, until I tasted them, I considered myself very partial to reds. Having only been collecting for a few short years, I have tried many 2002's - 2005's. I don't know if I am getting spoiled early on or not but I find great delight in these wines (oh's those delicious 2005's!), and I hope I never find out. I am attemting to stock my cellar with enough of these beauties to make me blissfully ignorant. From the results in an ongoing forum regarding German Riesling on this site, I wouldn't worry too much about marketing if I were Katharina. Her family's wines seem to top most respondents list as their favorites in all of Germany. I for one, thank her most earnestly for her efforts.And, speaking of St.-Urbans-Hof, I found their 2005 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Spatlese pouring at the Tour in Atlantic City to be beautiful right now and so refreshing (especially after all those reds). Only two rieslings at that event of over 200 wines though (Psst... Katharina- maybe you can improve your marketing afterall.) Life is just too short to mess around.
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  May 13, 2007 11:13am ET
Bruce what does the Joh. and Jos. stand for? Thanks for the blog.
Jason Fernandez
Boston, MA —  May 14, 2007 8:17am ET
My girlfriend and I have really enjoyed the few J.J. Prum wines we have tasted thus far. Does J.J. Prum generally host visitors for tasting, etc.? We are actually planning a trip to Germany this fall and would really like to spend a few days in the Mosel Valley. Bruce, do you (or any others) have any recommendations of where to taste or areas in the Mosel to focus on? Any input would be much appreciated! Thanks!
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  May 14, 2007 10:27am ET
Ludovic, Les Gaudichots was a separate vineyard next to La T¿e, purchased by Duvault-Blochet, then owner of DRC, between 1834 and 1866. It was entitled to be called La T¿e since 1932.Karl, Joh. Jos. stands for Johann Josef, the founder of the Pr¿m estate in 1911.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  May 14, 2007 12:23pm ET
Jason,I don't believe the estate is open for tours or visits. You would have to contact them to find out. I suggest you look at my reviews to decide which wineries you would like to focus on. The Mosel Valley is a beautiful area, so I'm sure you will enjoy it. You should see Trier, a Roman town with a fascinating history.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  May 14, 2007 12:36pm ET
Jason - FYI. Our visits have always been by appointment, and usually with a purpose. Unlike a lot of Mosel Weinguts, the Prums do not keep their place open for tastings. And every time we have gone there (and I mean every time), we are lucky if Manfred has time to sit and chat. When Katharina says they are busy, she's not kidding. But if you are going to Mosel, don't miss Bernkastel, which is just a neat town. And if you can make it, go and see two great castles (or burgs), Burg Cochem and Burg Elz. Burg Cochem is up on a hill above the town, and Burg Elz is hidden in a little valley further on toward Koblenz. We lived near Trier (also a cool town) for almost three years, so I know the area quite well. Oh, and you all might want to try Fritz Haag's wines too. - Jim
Joe Chaput
May 14, 2007 2:51pm ET
jason, you can book a stay at the guesthouse at S.A. Prum, a couple of doors down from JJ Prum. The rooms were great, clean and reasonable. The view from the window overlooks the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard. Also check out Markus Molitor.
Matthew Habdas
connecticut —  May 14, 2007 10:49pm ET
Bruce, I have a half bottle of 2001 Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg gold cap auslese. How long should I hold it for?
David Kenney
New Orleans, LA —  May 15, 2007 4:48am ET
Jason, I also recommend Bernkastel-Kues as a town to stay in the Mosel. It is just about in the middle, and offers a great co-op like tasting room where many independent producers have their wines available to taste and purchase.-David
Jason Fernandez
Boston, MA —  May 15, 2007 8:30am ET
Thank you guys very much for your comments! I really appreciate it! We are taking everyone's advice and looking into staying in Bernkastel for a couple of days and now S.A. Prum as well. Thanks again!
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  May 17, 2007 6:09pm ET
out of content again, sorry for that! question , i have a krug 89 grande cuvee, when sould i drink it?regardsludovic

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