Wine Heroes Interview: Christian Witte, Schloss Johannisberg

The director of the famous German winery speaks to us about music, sailing and Riesling


What sustains your love of wine?

The individuality of the heritage and grape variety combined with ‘handmade’ winemaking. It is a pure pleasure for me if you can taste were a wine comes from in the combination of the typical grape variety and the expression of the terroir.


What was the last wine you consumed?

I just made a short trip to the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal to explore the Riesling trends in these areas. But not to talk about Riesling I tasted some stunning Grüner Veltliner in a stunning spicy version as well as a very mineral salty way which reminded me more on white Burgundy than on GV. Most stunning and unusual was a 2011 Rkatsiteli wine from Alaverdi Monastery Cellar in Georgia – fermented in classic Qvevri (amphorae). Not a wine for every day and the opposite of mainstream. This is orange wine with over 1000 years of history and not a trend thing.


What’s the best wine you’ve ever consumed?

I can’t name one wine since there a so many great wines, so I will mention one of the first great wines I tasted in my life; a 1971 Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese from Egon Müller. It was the second week of my first job after I finished at Geisenheim. We visited the estate with customers first thing in the morning and after the current vintage we sat down and had the 1971. I tasted it and got a big smile on my face and this smile disappeared when I fall asleep at midnight. That’s 16 years ago.


Can you sum up your winery in three words?

No… Riesling, tradition, elegance, perhaps?


What’s the best part of the winemaking process?

To form a wine is fantastic, it is one of the few products were you can influence 100% of it. You choose the land, the grape variety, the technique of the processing, the philosophy, you influence the transformation from fruit to juice to wine, you make the marketing and you sell it. It is never boring, it is never the same.


What’s the worst part of the winemaking process?

Same as the best part… it gives a lot of headaches it is very time consuming and you are not always the best in all aspects. Hmm, perhaps the selling part.


Tell us something about your winery or company that nobody knows?

Globalization is not a new thing for us; we had Roman, German, Swedish, French, Austrian owners (most of them Kings or Emperors). The Rothschild Family used to be our exclusive worldwide distributor during the 19th century.


What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Wrong pricing. I sold good wine too inexpensive. Trust disappears by horse, but it returns by feet.


Which unknown varieties will be big in 2020?

Sylvaner from Germany – wait and see.


What music do you listen when making wine?

Almost every type of music, which just fits to my mood in that moment.


Who is your wine hero?

There are many of them.


Who is your sporting hero? And why?

Paul Elvstrøm, the most successful sailor in the last 200 years.


Who is your favourite Superhero?

Batman, since he had to play several rolls with different faces.