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Wherever the German tongue is heard, and even further still, the king of all Rhine wines, "Johannisberger" is known and sought after. Every friend of the grape which grows on the banks of this river is well acquainted with it, but few perhaps know of its princely origin. It is princely, not because princes' hands once kept the key to Johannisberg, but rather because princely hands planted the vine in the Rhine country, and this royal giver was no other than Charlemagne, the all-powerful ruler of the kingdom of the Franks.
Once in early spring Charles the Great was standing on the balcony of his castle at Ingelheim, his eyes straying over the beautiful stretch of country at his feet. Snow had fallen during the night, and the hills of Rüdesheim were clothed in white. As the imperial ruler was looking thoughtfully over the landscape, he noticed that the snow on one side of Johannisberg melted quicker in the sun's rays than on any other part. Charles, who was a great and deep thinker, began to reflect that on a spot where the rays of the sun shone so genially, something better than grass would thrive.
Sending for Kunrat his faithful servant, he bade him saddle his horse the next day at dawn and ride to Orleans, a town famous for its good wine. He was to inform the citizens that the emperor had not forgotten the excellent wine they had given him there, and that he would like to grow the same vines on the Rhine. He desired the citizens of Orleans therefore to send him plants from their country.
The messenger set off to do the king's bidding and ere the moon had again gone round her course, was back in the castle at Ingelheim. Great satisfaction prevailed at court. Charles, mighty ruler as he was, even went so far as to cross to Rüdesheim, where he planted with his royal hand the French vine in German soil.
This was no mere passing whim on the part of the emperor. He sent messengers constantly to bring word how the vines were thriving in Rüdesheim and on the flanks of Johannisberg, and when the third autumn had come round, the Emperor Charlemagne set out from his favourite resort, Aix-la-Chapelle, for the Rhine country, and great rejoicing prevailed among the vine-reapers from Rüdesheim to Johannisberg.
The first cup of wine was solemnly offered to the emperor, a golden wine in a golden goblet, a wine worthy of a king.
Charles took a long deep draught, and with brightened eyes praised the delicious drink. It became his favourite wine, this fiery "Johannisberger", making him young again in his old age. What Charlemagne then felt when he drank this wine, every one who raises the sparkling grape-juice to his lips is keenly sensible of also. Wherever the German tongue is heard, and even further still, the king of all Rhine wines is known and sought after, Johannisberger wine.
The legend weaves another wonderful tale about the great emperor blessing his grapes.
A poet's pen has fashioned it into a song, which is still often heard among the grape-gatherers.
Every spring when the vines are blossoming on the hills and in the valleys along the river, and their fragrance scents the air, a tall shadow wanders about the vineyards at night, a purple mantle hanging from his stately shoulders, and a crown on his head. It is Charlemagne, the great Emperor, who planted the grapes long years before. The luscious scent of the blossoms wakens him up from his tomb in Aix-la-Chapelle, and he comes to bless the grapes.
When the full moon gently casts her bright beams on the water, lighting up the emperor's nightly path, he may be seen crossing the golden bridge formed by her rays and then wandering further along the hills, blessing the vines on the other side of the river.
At the first crow of the cock he returns to his grave in Aix-la-Chapelle, and sleeps till the scent of the grapes wakens him next spring, when he again wanders through the countries along the Rhine, blessing the vineyards.
Let us now relate another little story which is told of the monks who lived at Johannisberg. Once the high Abbot of Fulda came unexpectedly to visit the cloister at Johannisberg just about the time when the grapes were ripe. The worthy Abbot made many inquiries about his people, showed himself highly pleased with the works of the industrious monks, and as a mark of his continued favour, invited all the inmates of the cloister to a drinking-bout.
"Wine maketh the heart glad," thus quoting King David's significant words, the holy man began his speech: "God's loving hand will be gracious in future years to your vines. Let us profit by his grace, brothers, and drink what he has provided for us in moderation and reverence. But before we refresh ourselves with God's good gifts, take your breviaries and let us begin with a short prayer.
"Breviaries?" was whispered along the rows, and the eyes of the fat genial faces blinked in helpless embarrassment.
"Yes, your breviaries," and the white-haired Abbot looked silently but sternly at the brothers. They searched and searched.
Gradually the frown disappeared from the Abbot's face, and a smile gradually spread over his withered features.
"Well, never mind, let us drink," said he. Then feeling his pockets, he said with a gleam in his eye, "That's too bad! I ought to have brought a corkscrew with me when I came to the Rhine."
A corkscrew! Every one dives his hand into his pocket, and as many corkscrews were produced before the worthy Abbot as there were brothers present.
Then a gleam of merriment beamed in the Abbot's eyes.
"Bravo, ye pious monks! what a plentiful supply of corkscrews! Do not all look so embarrassed, we shall not be annoyed about it today but – to-morrow! Now we shall sing with King David. 'Wine maketh the heart glad,'" and the uncorked bottle went the rounds.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine