Brauneberger Juffer and Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr
In a land filled with vineyard sites paradoxically both renowned and difficult to pronounce (or even remember, in the case of non-speakers of German), the precipitous Brauneberger Juffer, found a bit short of halfway to Koblenz from Trier, offers one of the most important: Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr.
If you enjoy Riesling – and even if you don’t – you probably recognize the importance of the river Mosel and the German wine region now named exclusively for it; formerly, the region was called Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, which, though cumbersome, at least also communicated the names of the two equally-important tributaries to the Mosel: the Saar and the Ruwer. Certainly Riesling fanatics (and there really are some fanatical fans of this grape) are in broad agreement that the finest, most refined, most expressive examples of their preferred wines come from producers located in this viticulturally challenging corner of the world.
What’s it like?
The banks of the winding Mosel are steep and carved from shale. This simple geological fact is perhaps the most important contributing factor to the fame of the region and its precious Riesling – particularly since, climatically, the Mosel, as a region, is pushing the limits for being able to ripen grapes.
Located, naturally, right by the village of Brauneberg, the Brauneberger Juffer offers some of the steepest slopes in the zone or, indeed, the world, to be planted with vines. All vineyard work is done by hand. The vines are individually tied to posts, instead of being trained on wires. The soil is a thin layer barely covering iron-rich shale. Only Riesling is permitted.
How’s the Weather?
Because the region is quite cool, it is the slope and the aspect (south-facing) of the vineyards that acts to encourage ripening of the grapes. The steep angle offered by the mountain means the grapes get much more sunlight than they otherwise would. In fact, the warmest-ever temperature in Germany was recorded there in August 1998: 41.2° Celsius. The 42.7-hectare Brauneberger Juffer is already rightly famous for the wines produced from its slopes, but the greatest wines are produced from the 10.5-hectare parcel at its heart: the Juffer-Sonnenuhr.
The site is surrounded by the vineyards of the Brauneberger Juffer itself. Its southeastern exposure and vertigo-inducing grade (between 60 and 70%) combine with the shale to create optimal conditions for Riesling to succeed – and very much sub-optimal conditions for people to work the site. Here, too, everything is done by hand. The labour is intensive, difficult, and requires the kind of conviction and skill that tends to come only from experience – and it is getting harder and harder to find the people that can do it. The wines produced must carry the costs of their production, but oh! Such wines! Even though the best wines are not cheap per se, the simple fact remains: Germany continues to offer the best value for fine white wines (particularly those made from Riesling) in the entire world.
A Bit of History
It is not a recent phenomenon that this particular spot has been producing superb wines. The Romans had already recognized the site as exceptional; a winery dating from Roman times has been excavated at the foot of the Juffer-Sonnenuhr site. Napoleon, apparently, also had reason to be a fan, as the vineyard site classification commissioned by him in 1804 awarded the first class exclusively to wines from Brauneberg.
What’s in a Name?
How the current name of the site came about depends on who you want to believe. Literally translated, “Juffer” means something akin to “spinster” or “maiden”, depending on how insulting you want to be. “Sonnenuhr” simply means “sundial”, which is probably easy to understand, given the microclimate of the site. There are two stories that lay claim to the origins of the name. Both are true stories, so choose whichever one suits you.
First: the Brauneberger Juffer used to belong to the Franciscan Convent in Filzen, which is now one of the neighbouring villages to Brauneberg. The so-called “grey sisters” of the order were called “Juffern” (which also means “virgin”) by the people in the area after the dissolution of the convent following the French Revolution.
Second: this, generally more accepted, story goes back to the beginning of the 18th century, to a certain Chamberlain Wunderlich of the Palatinate. He and his wife had three daughters who, against the wishes of their parents, never wed. These “spinsters” eventually owned most of the Brauneberger Juffer, and the wines made from the site came from the “cellars of the maidens”, as it were.
Today, both the Brauneberger Juffer and the Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr are owned and worked by a variety of different producers – a situation that will ring a bell or two for anybody who is familiar with the crus of Burgundy. A cursory examination revealed no less than 15 different producers, seven of which are counted among the top producers of quality wine in the country. As chaotic as this might seem, it does afford a fabulous opportunity to see how different winemakers achieve different results from very similar raw materials and conditions.
But how are the wines?
Obviously generalisations are a bit hard to make when there are so many different producers from all levels of the quality pyramid; nevertheless, the wines from the Brauneberger Juffer are, like most places in the Mosel, relatively low in alcohol – and with a bit (well, between a bit and a lot, depending on the classification) more residual sugar than in many parts even of Germany, let alone the wider world of white wines. The acidity is filigree and fresh, meaning the wines (again, like in many parts of the Mosel) often taste dry, even if, strictly speaking, they are not. A long vegetative cycle combined with large diurnal variation contribute to the wines being even more aromatic than usual for Riesling. Extract and concentration are high, aromas offer plenty of stone and citrus fruits, but there is a firm mineral core and an elegance that is absolutely characteristic.