Every month, ‘Whose Wine is it Anyway?’ profiles a German winemaker to give you a behind-the-vines look at the world of German wine. This month, we’re highlighting Stefan Doktor of Schloss Johannisberg, located in the Rheingau. Known as one of the most celebrated Riesling producers in the world, the first producer of Spätlese (late harvest) Riesling, and the first producer of Eiswein, Schloss Johannisberg has been synonymous with German wine for 1,200 years. It takes a qualified wine expert to carry on that prestige!
Whose *Wine* is it Anyway? Meet Stefan Doktor
Known as the birthplace of Riesling, it’s no surprise that Schloss Johannisberg is brimming with rich history – 1,200 years of it, to be exact. According to legend, Schloss Johannisberg’s origins can be traced all the way back to the Emperor Charlemagne, who, after noticing from his palace across the Rhine River that the snow melted first on the Johannisberg hillside, ordered the first vines to be planted. This is possibly true, as the first written mention of the vineyard was noted in a historic document in 817 AD, just a few years after the reign of Charlemagne. Centuries later in 1720, the entirety of Johannisberg was planted with Riesling grapes, and only Riesling has been cultivated in its vineyards ever since.
In 1775, Schloss Johannisberg became known for more than just Riesling, creating an entirely new wine style: Spätlese! Each autumn, the prince bishop in Fulda sent a courier on horseback with orders on when to begin the harvest. But in 1775, the Johannisberg courier arrived late, meaning permission, and the official start of harvest, was delayed for weeks. By the time he arrived at Johannisberg, the grapes were overly ripe and covered in noble rot, which was then unknown to winemakers. Nevertheless, the estate harvested and pressed the Riesling grapes, and Spätlese (which translates literally to “late harvest”) has been considered the trademark of Schloss Johannisberg ever since. To this day, a statue depicting the messenger can be found at the estate.
Schloss Johannisberg is now regarded as the epitome of German wine, producing outstanding Riesling with passion and pride. Stefan Doktor, head of the estate, honors this same tradition. Born in Slovakia, Doktor graduated from the Austrian Wine Academy as a Weinakademiker with a diploma in Wine and Spirits. In 2008, he began as a Sales Manager, becoming increasingly involved in the export business. Doktor’s passion for both Schloss Johannisberg and its wines paved the way for his position as winery manager in 2016. The face of the operations, Doktor runs Schloss Johannisberg together with Marcel Szopa, who is responsible for the technical aspects.
The Schloss Johannisberg estate is the sole owner and cultivator of the famed vineyard by the same name. The terroir, combined with the estate’s passion for high quality production, is the foundation for its exceptional wines. With fifty south-facing hectares, the Johannisberg is a uniquely positioned vineyard. Located right on the 50th north parallel, this positioning also provides the vines with a distinct difference between temperatures during the day and at night, which contributes to Schloss Johannisberg’s aromatic and unique wines.
Whether legend or history, Charlemagne’s instinct to plant vines on Johannisberg’s sunny hillside was an impressive decision. The sun shines for approximately 1,700 hours annually on Johannisberg, which is a record for the mild climate of the Rhine River region. Positioned on a mountain with a sloping incline of 45 degrees, the vineyards extend 182 meters above sea level, which offers the grapes the perfect dose of sunshine for beautiful wines. The average age of the vines at Schloss Johannisberg is 25 years, and grapes are always hand picked at harvest.
We work as naturally as possible in the vineyard, reduce yields and harvest selectively by hand.
— Stefan Doktor
Schloss Johannisberg has focused entirely on producing Rieslings since 1720, with each bottle reflective of the character of the Rheingau. The estate perfected the art of late harvest Rieslings, with offerings of Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein, the latter of which was also ﬁrst harvested in Germany at Schloss Johannisberg in 1858. Depending on the type of Riesling, must is fermented in stainless steel vessels or large oak barrels after harvest. The estate uses wood from the three hundred hectares of forest they own to the north of Schloss Johannisberg to produce these barrels. The oak’s natural texture and structure influence Riesling’s quality and flavor profile.
While all of Schloss Johannisberg’s offerings originate from the same vineyard, each wine exhibits its own personality and interpretation of the terroir. This is possible thanks to Doktor’s implementation of quality initiatives, including vinifying wines with native yeast and vine mapping to identify the unique character and quality of every grape grown in the vineyard.
Schloss Johannisberg’s most famous hidden treasure is the Bibliotheca Subterranea, a 900-year-old cellar located 10 meters deep into the hill, with ideal conditions for aging the estate’s most valuable wines. Bibliotheca Subterranea holds about 25,000 wines, with the oldest bottle dated back to 1748. The estate’s bottling system, developed in 1820, is just as famous as its underground cellar. Still used today, Schloss Johannisberg created its own labeling system based on colored seals, long before printed labels gained popularity. The color-coded labels indicate the wine’s quality and ripeness of the harvested grapes.
What is particularly important to us is that all our wines exhibit their very own interpretations of the terroir.
— Stefan Doktor
Steep Slopes: From Vineyards to Bobsledding
Doktor’s unique passion for the cold doesn’t end at Schloss Johannisberg’s production of Eiswein; he is just as dedicated to his career as a luger. Doktor is a competitive bobsledder, competing in both singles and doubles. Stats from Doktor’s bobsledding career include:
- 1988-1994: Slovakian Luge National Team
- 1994: European Championship (Ranked 6th)
- 1989: Junior World Championship (Ranked 11th)
In 2014, Doktor returned to the luge to compete against other bobsledders over the age of 32. He was named the German Senior Luge Champion three times since returning to the sport. Just like the Rieslings produced by Schloss Johannisberg, bobsledding is slick, smooth, and gives you a rush that keeps you coming back for more!