“Johannisberg Riesling”

Chapter 25

I had an exchange with a gentleman once upon a time, which stuck in my mind because it always sticks in my mind when someone is rude and condescending to me during an argument when I know that they’re wrong and I’m right in the least subjective way possible.[1]

He asked me if I had any Johannisberg riesling.

I told him, no, there is none such thing, that it was a marketing name attached to riesling grapes, but that if he meant, as tradition implied, a riesling on the sweet side, we had a few.

He huffed at me, convinced that I was trying to pull the wool over his eyes, “you think I don’t know what a Johannesburg Riesling is?”

I patiently told him that it really was just riesling, and was about to launch into the story below when he puffed out to full manliness, swept away with all his dignity, and heckled me down the hall “I’m from Johannisberg, I know what Johannisberg Riesling is.”

I pulled out my sniper rifle and shot him stone dead in front of everyone.[2]

So why was I verbally assaulted over a name?[3] Chareth Cutestory.  Back in the wild days of American wine, when men were real men, beer was that strange new German drink made out of grass, and grapes were not always exactly what the wine makers said they were, those immigrants who brought with them real riesling vines sought some way to distinguish their wine from the “Riesling” other people were making out of vidal, sauvignon blanc, niagara, or whatever else they could get their hands on.  In those days, riesling carried a note of prestige and high culture with it, which meant more expensive wine for a captive market that often couldn’t tell the difference between riesling and chardonnay.[4] A few among the wave of German migrants of the middle nineteenth century were from the town of Johannisberg[5] in the Rheingau, where, by tradition, late harvest wines were originally discovered.[6] It was a recognizable name that acted as a seal of Germanness for people who wanted to grow and sell a little slice of home.  Over time, controls on wine hoodwinkery got tighter, and the utilitarian aspect of “Johannisberg Riesling” fell away.  The name stuck, especially in New York, where it’s used to this day, usually by people who want to annoy me.

[1] On the 0.00001% chance that this gentleman is reading this.  I don’t care where you’re from, you’re still wrong.

[2] This last bit didn’t happen, but sometimes I daydream, and I make a happy.

[3] Seriously, what the fuck?

[4] This is what is called a retailer’s wet dream.

[5] Not to be confused with ‘Johannesburg’.  My spell check was hot for the correction, but where one is a small town in Germany, the other is the capital of South Africa.  This fact made my internet searching at least twice as laborious as it should have been.

[6] The estate that makes the name famous is a hill that has been a vineyard since at least the time of Ludwig der Fromme, who was a monk during the reign of Charlemagne.  German wine regions, much like Burgundy, are somewhat marginal, so only monks with a lot of time to kill had the patience to sort out how to grow grapes there.

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