Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jodocus Prüm's Birthday Party

Today is the 202nd birthday of Jodocus Prüm. The reason I am cognizant of this highly obscure fact is because a couple of years ago on this date, I had the extraordinary and unexpected privilege of attending a celebration commemorating his 200th, which was an inebriating, wildly surreal and thoroughly delightful experience.

Jodocus Prüm was a brother of Sebastian Alois Prüm, who was the grandfather of Johann Josef Prüm, as well as seven or eight other siblings from whom the various Prüm lines have descended. (Johann Josef Prüm, of course, is the founder of the renowned wine estate in Germany’s Mosel Valley that continues to bear his name today.) A lifelong bachelor, Jodocus used his money to fund many public projects, including building the actual sundials in the vineyards of Wehlener and Zeltinger Sonnenuhr (the name Sonnenuhr means sundial), and today he is a revered figure in the Mosel community.

So to celebrate his birthday, the Prüms threw a family party.

The Wehlener Sonnenuhr

I happened to be in the Mosel with my friend Kirk at the time, recovering from a hangover at the Dr. Loosen estate after the annual Mosel auctions. The Loosens are part of the Prüm clan (I think Erni Loosen’s great-grandmother was Joh. Jos. Prüm’s sister or something like that, but I’m still a bit hazy on the details), so as Kirk and I were still lounging about the Mosel taking up space, Erni invited us to come along to the event in the village of Wehlen. Kirk and I were a bit skeptical about crashing a private gathering of one of the most legendary families in the wine world, but as Erni was one of the primary organizers of the whole thing, he said not to worry about it.

Having the distinction of being one of only two people present who weren’t either descended from or married to somebody named Prüm, I naturally felt a bit out of place and slightly awestruck. With his Teutonic looks and Swabian blood, Kirk might pass for a distant member of the clan (he had actually been mistaken on the street for a Bergweiler earlier in the day), but there wasn’t going to be much of a chance of me, a skinny Asian guy, casually blending in. Everyone was pretty much staring at me wondering what the hell I was doing there, but once Dr. Manfred Prüm, grandson of Johann Josef and proprietor of the Joh. Jos. Prüm estate, came over to me and said how he’d been trying to get a chance to talk to me for the whole week (we’d seen each other in passing at several different events), I think most people were satisfied. As for the ones who kept asking, eventually Erni’s wife Eva started telling people that I was from a long-lost, illegitimate branch of the family, which of course sparked a lively debate as to which one of the Prüms might have originated it.

It could have been a plausible idea—apparently there hadn’t been such a comprehensive gathering of the extended family for something like 100 years, so who was to know? Dr. Prüm admitted to me that even he had forgotten who some of these people were. Waiting for the dust to settle as four generations of Prüms, Bergweilers, Loosens, Weils and other branches of the vast Prüm family tree crowded into the large dining room, I happily found myself seated next to Katerina Prüm, Manfred’s daughter, who also happened to be holding a bottle of 2004 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, saving me from the Peter Nicolay feinherb that I’d politely been pretending to be drinking. Many bottles of various wines continued to flow ceaselessly through a rapid dinner, followed by several long-winded speeches about items pertaining to Jodocus, his birthday, his legacy, and perhaps even to nothing at all. Katerina valiantly attempted to translate the proceedings for me, but they soon became so boring that even she stopped listening. I did catch the lament, though, that the name Jodocus was sadly out of fashion, and that perhaps something ought to be done about it. Eventually, however, everyone decided that drinking was better than talking, and people began dispersing to dip into the myriad coolers of wine lying all about the place. I got up to go look around and maybe find Kirk.

Erni suddenly materialized out of nowhere, thrusting a glass at me. It was brown, a little cloudy, and smelled and tasted rather like a lightly sweet manzanilla amontillado. I opined that maybe it was just a little bit weird. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s the ’37 Wehlener Sonnenuhr BA from Weins-Prüm.” Well, then. Clearly we weren’t hanging out in the right section of the party. Kirk and I wandered outside to where a cluster of people were gathered around Jost Prüm, the eldest brother of Manfred. (His real name is Johann Josef, like his grandfather, so with a name like that you can be sure he drinks well.) We arrived just in time to see him opening a bottle of Joh. Jos. Prüm 1949 Wehlener Sonnenuhr feinste Auslese. “Now things are really interesting,” said Kirk. “You’ve got no idea,” said Christoph, a cousin of Erni’s. “We’re only getting started.”

He wasn’t kidding. The next four or five hours were occupied by bottle after bottle, emanating in stately, copious array from the blessed and magical Prüm refrigerator. I particularly remember a J.J. Prüm ’59 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr feine Auslese, which showed a lively freshness and intense notes of slate under the soft, voluptuous richness of the vintage. Even screaming Prüm children running about tumultuously underfoot could not distract me from the glory of that wine, and it wasn’t even the wine of the night. The wine of the night was the J.J. Prüm Wehlener-Zeltinger Sonnenuhr feinste Auslese from 1969, with a piercing, impossibly fine clarity and ethereally fragrant finish. The richly concentrated, masculine J.J. Prüm 1971 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese goldkapsel heralded a whole parade of ’71s: a Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese from Zacharias Bergweiler-Prüm (Erni’s family); the even better Kaseler Nies’chen Spätlese from the same estate, with its laser-like Ruwer acidity; a stunningly youthful and vibrant Joh. Christoffel-Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. I’ve forgotten many other wines in the hazy riesling blur.

At 10pm there was a massive display of fireworks over the Wehlener Sonnenuhr across the river that echoed like artillery in the tight confines of the Mosel Valley, and as I stumbled around the corner of the village’s 17th-century church to get a better view, I was accosted by Dr. Peter Pauly (of the Pauly-Bergweiler estate, from another branch of descendants), brandishing a delicious bottle of Erdener Prälat 1971 Auslese from Christoffel-Prüm. As the incendiaries subsided, Jost reassembled his flock like Moses leading his people to the Promised Land, pouring an amazingly fresh and primary 1976 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Beerenauslese from Zacharias Bergweiler-Prüm, which I sipped while listening to Bettina Prüm, sister of Katerina and daughter of Manfred, explain to me her doctoral thesis on the sticky part on bugs’ feet that allows them to cling to different surfaces. (!) God knows what else I drank. Eventually I was pretty trashed, and pretty cold in the crisp September evening as well, and was about to suggest to Kirk that we call it a night when Jost announces in a booming voice that it’s time for another ’49. Hell, yeah. This one was the “regular” Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese from J.J. Prüm, which showed even more freshness and primary fruit than the feinste Auslese, if not seeming quite as long or as highly structured. Freakishly great wine.

By this time it was around two in the morning, and Kirk needed to be at the Frankfurt airport by eight. We made a slow round of good-byes, drinking quite a few other wines in that process, and eventually ending up bidding farewell to our host, Jost Prüm. He protested our leaving, clearly disappointed in our stamina, but extended a hearty handshake to each of us, inviting us back for a future Prüm-a-thon. “Next time you come,” he said, “we’ll drink old wines.”


Lyle Fass said...

I may be bias, but I think this is my favorite piece you have ever written. I was transported back there. Not to the party but to all the magical times I have had in Wehlen and hanging with Katherina. Awesome, Awesome post Peter and I will link it as it deserves to be linked.

Peter Liem said...

Thanks, Lyle! Much appreciated.

Wine Maker Jeff said...

What a beautiful picture...It truly is a picture of freedom, the hills, the trees, the grape fields, the little hut near the water :)

E said...

Just brilliant.

Lyle Fass said...

Linked! With a picture of the WS from Bert Selbach's front window.

juicyo said...

yellow jazz is so sexy. i am happy to know her and have her on te knobb. - mark your neighbor.

Mandy Chan said...

Hi Peter,

I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago and once in a blue moon I am able to read a few of your posts. Your writing is great and my husband and I identify with it in a lot of ways. This post was especially interesting as we just bought a collection of wines that had quite a few JJ Prums and not ever experiencing one (yet) it was exciting to see you write about them! Great fun.

Thanks for sharing your insights.

Kind regards, Mandy Chan

Richard Jennings said...

Hey, that's my birthday too.
That's a memorable event, and you've described it beautifully. With the fireworks and all, it reminds me of the birthday party for Bilbo Baggins that opens The Lord of the Rings. And Bilbo's (and Frodo's) birthday was also -- wait for it -- September 22!

Peter Liem said...

Bilbo and Frodo Baggins! Really? I didn't remember that at all. That's outstanding. And happy belated birthday to you, too!

Nancy Deprez said...

Oh I love it! Next time you come we'll drink old wines, LOL! Thank you for sharing this lovely experience. I'll email the link to Katarina Prum!

Jack Everitt said...

Peter, "J.J. Prüm ’59 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr feine Auslese" - this is the bottle I need to celebrate my 50th birthday in November. :)

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.