Stephen Brooks writes the following and explains very well the why JJ Prums’s Berkastel, Grach, Wehlen, and Zeltingen product some of the most memorable wines across vitnages. We are indebted to his learnings and writings.
“All of the vineyards of J.J. Prüm are located within this prestigious strip. The Prüm family history in the Mosel dates back as early as 1156! However Johann Josef Prüm (1873 - 1944), founded the J.J. Prüm estate in 1911. Dr Manfred Prüm has led the estate since 1969. Now his daughter Katharina is taking over the mantle. The 13.5 hectare estate includes some 70% of ungrafted vines (because the phylloxera louse cannot survive in these slate soils.)
So what is the secret is to the quality of the J.J. Prüm wines? How is it that they differ so much in style and quality from the wines of most other Mosel producers? The answer, as always, lies mostly in the vineyards, backed up by winemaking of the highest order. Great sites, old vines, the lowest yields, very late harvesting and selection of only the best berries. In the winery the winemaking is as natural as possible with as little intervention as possible. The wines typically need several years to start showing their best and can live and develop for decades.
All of the vineyards of J.J. Prüm are renowned yet it is the great Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard that is the most famous. This site lies opposite the village of Wehlen on a very steep, south-west facing slope between the Graach and Zeltingen vineyards.. The fame of these Rieslings is inextricably linked with that of the Joh Jos Prüm estate.” Having said this, Prüm also produces outstanding wine from benchmark sites in Graach (Graacher Himmelreich), Zeltingen (Zeltinger Sonnenuhr) and Bernkastel (Bernkasteler Badstube) and it is very difficult to pick these wines apart in blind tastings – they are all exceptional. Yet they all subtly express the unique personality of the vineyard in a given year.
Although the J.J. Prum vineyards all border each other along the same riverbank, share roughly the same soils (Devonian slate) and have been managed with essentially the same methods for about 2000 years (!), each site has subtle, yet important differences that results in quite distinctive styles of wine. We’ll try to address each of these below. Let’s follow each site in order from North to South starting with Zeltinger and ending with Bernkastel.
The Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyard in the most northernly site and directly borders the northern edge of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Both sites are named after the sundials (Sonnenuhr) that sit amongst the vines and that are clearly visible from the other side of the river. The Zeltinger Sonnenuhr has a similar sun exposition and steepness to its neighbour, but there is less top soil (if we can use such a term in the Mosel) and the roots hit on the firm slate rock almost immediately. This means the vines have more trouble finding water which affects yields and the characteristics of the vines. Prüm’s parcel comes from a patch of 60-70 year old vines around the sundial. The wines can be very complex,with earthy, rocky and smokey notes. They can have a certain dense, less elegant personality (depending on the vintage) and their acidity often is lower. They perhaps do not achieve the same finesse as the wines from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr but they are probably more complex and can deliver wonderful, mouthfilling pleasure nonetheless.
The Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard has become intrinsically attached to the name of Joh. Jos. Prüm. The Estate owns five hectares of this majestic site. It offers perfect growing conditions for the Riesling grape with its deep, weather-beaten grey slate soil, good water support, extreme steepness of up to 70 % gradient, and its optimal south-south-west exposure. As for the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Wehlener Sonnenuhr is named after the sundial erected in the vineyard in 1842 by Jodocus Prüm, an ancestor of J.J. Prüm, to give the workers a better time orientation. The wines of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr generally possess excellent structure, show beautiful, ripe aromas and flavours (typically stone fruits, like peach, nectarine, apricot), a fine minerality and great depth and length. Especially after having been aged for some years, the harmony, finesse and expression of these wines is unique. Riesling guru Stuart Pigott has written; “Joh Jos Prüm’s Sonnenuhrs are classic examples of the way in which the best Mosel wine’s natural sweetness magnifies, rather than obscures, their character. These are a perfect marriage of Riesling’s peach-like, floral and mineral aspects. White wine cannot be fresher, more vivid and delightful.”
Graacher Himmelreich directly borders the southern edge of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard. The wines from this site often often challenge those from its more famous neighbor, especially in hot, dry years. Graacher wines attract with their racy acidity, a pronounced minerality (that reminds of crushed rock) and slightly different fruit aromas and flavours (more in the citrus spectrum). Often, the wines become accessible slightly earlier than the Wehlener Sonnenuhr and are deliciously mouth-watering when young. Looking at the vineyard conditions, the hill faces slightly more westwards than the Wehlener Sonnenuhr , i.e. it has a more south-west exposure, it is a little less steep and has deeper soils which act as excellent water reservoirs.
Bernkasteler Badstube is the last of the vineyard sites that can appear on a J.J. Prum label. This vineyard borders those of the Graacher Himmelreich on the latter’s southern edge. The Bernkasteler Badstube slopes are on a marginally shallower gradient, with deeper soils than the Graacher and Wehlener, while the western orientation allows the vines longer exposure to the afternoon sun. The Badstube typically produces a wonderfully floral, delicate and mineral wine. Overall, the wines are usually slightly more delicate in structure and weight when compared with the wines of Graacher or Wehlener but they are wonderfully racy and fine examples of the middle Mosel.
Manfred Prüm runs one of the Mosel’s, if not the whole of Germany’s, most revered and respected Estates. It is also amongst the most enigmatic as no-one has yet made it down to his mysterious cellars. Manfred is certainly one of the world’s more eccentric wine producers and a tasting in his drawing room with him is always enjoyable and entertaining. In the Sonnenuhr of Wehlen he owns a portion of one of the Mittel Mosel’s top vineyards. Its steep south-facing dark slate slopes tend to result in deeply flavoured, mineral yet rich and smoky wines. In addition, he manipulates some plots in the next door Himmelreich of Graacher which produces engaging wines with fresh acidities that are slightly softer and earlier maturing. These are unashamedly classic, exciting and long-lived wines produced predominantly in stainless tanks to avoid the addition of too much sulphur, though a small proportion of wooden casks are retained, however, depending on the vintage. They are bottled later than most Mosel and often take a few years in bottle before showing the true character, but patience will be rewarded!”