Johannisberg, between Riesling and Sylvaner
Johannisberg is mentioned for the first time in Valais in 1862, referring to a Riesling. Its name clearly comes from the Château Johannisberg in Rheingau, the world’s oldest Riesling domain. Le Blanc de Rhin appears at the same time and corresponds to Sylvaner.
Popular usage reversed the names, starting in 1928, and the two grapes swapped identities. Specialists objected but in the end they were obliged to give in to the popular names. Since then, in Valais, Johannisberg has been used exclusively for the Silvaner (Rhin) grape.
Silvaner is the result of a long-ago natural crossing between Savagnin Blanc (known as Heida in Valais, Traminer in Tyrol) and an Austrian grape variety (Österreischisch Weiss).
Johannisberg from Valais has been protected since 1966. A surfeit of the wine led authorities to limit its production in 1985 and, since then, only grapes from the Rhin variety grown in a zoned area deemed most suitable have the right to use the name.
Sources: Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin en Valais, «Le renversement d’identité du Johannisberg: du Riesling au Silvaner», José Vouillamoz, ampelographer; «Trente ans de tribulations pour protéger les appellations Dôle, Johannisberg et Fendant», by Sabine Carruzzo historian.