Katharina Prüm of J.J. Prüm, Part I
When it comes to products that we savor and ingest, there’s much to be said for integrity and commitment. After announcing its decision to water down or “lower the alcohol content” of its bourbon, big-brand Maker’s Mark recently reversed its decision after the public freakout that followed its announcement. Fueling the raging fire that forced Maker’s Mark team to recede, consumers expressed their ire via social media, in numbers that (continuously) challenge the role of traditional media. In the 1980′s, long before the public had found its voice in Twitter, Dr. Manfred Prüm of Joh Jos Prüm was mocked and ridiculed by journalists for his spontaneous fermentations. ”But he kept at it,” said Katharina Prüm, during last Friday’s luncheon, and now his peers, who have since followed suit, refer to him as the father of native yeast fermentations, “which is crazy,” she added, because the Romans have been doing it for centuries.
Owning vineyards in the village of Wehlen for almost just as long, the family shed seeds over generations leading to the establishment of J.J. Prüm in 1911 by Johann Josef, the grandfather of Katharina. With four prized sites that serve as the estate’s initial foundation, including Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich and Bernkasteler Badstube, J.J. Prum came to expand its initial holdings, some brought to the family by Katharina’s grandmother, and while others qualified as natural extensions of the family’s properties.
“We want to focus on quality, so we can’t manage too many hectares,” said Katharina. And while so many flock to J.J. Prüm for the ageability, depth and complexity of these wines from Middle Mosel, for Katharina, it took time for her to realize that Wehlen was home. ”The more distance I had, the more I returned,” she said.
“For me, growing up, it was every day life. We grew up in the estate itself, a small village with not much going on, but…with people visiting, there was a lot going on, though I still wasn’t sure if it was the right thing for me.” After earning a law degree in Germany, Katharina came to the U.S. to study law, where she met a lot of people with great passion for the family’s wines, who knew more about the vintages than she did.
After meeting a man who’d purchased two cases in 1971, so that he could open a bottle yearly, watching the wine develop as his life progressed, Katharina came to think differently of her family’s work. ”With a wine’s development, you can never predict, like with human beings,” she said. It was the human aspect, alongside the culture and history of these wines as a product that fascinated her. To start with zero at winter time, when the vines are bare, only to end up with a different product every time…”It brings joy to people’s lives.”
Without a favorite vintage, age or parcel, Katharina said that “it depends on the mood, and that’s the beauty of it.” With two to six potential wines coming from each vineyard, from Kabinett to Eiswein, there are seemingly endless options to contemplate. “There is no rule on when to drink the wines,” she added, “it all depends on what you like.”
For more on the 2011 vintage, vinification practices and tasting notes, stay tuned for the next blog post…