Friday, October 28, 2011

On the prowl for Zell's black cat

Zell's famous black cat (All photos are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011)

Stained glass window in wine shop
Zell's Black Cat (Zeller Schwarze Katz) is on everyone's lips - in more ways than one. She's not only talked about, she helps to sell most of the wine produced in the area. She's present at every sip, as her image is on most wine labels. This is some cat!

Street sign

On my travels around Zell an der Mosel I see her everywhere, but I am unable to meet her. When I say "everywhere" I mean representations of her, not the real thing. The legendary cat died nearly 150 years ago, but her spirit lives on.

Cat defending the wine barrel
Laura, Zell's wine queen (who wears a tiara with a cat design) told me the story:  "In 1863 there were 3 wine merchants from Aachen and they came into a wine cellar in Zell an der Mosel to purchase the best wine they could find.  In one winery, the negotiations went on for a long time and suddenly the cellar owner's black cat sprung up onto one cask. She arched her back threateningly and she hissed when these merchants came near her.  The merchants interpreted this as a good omen [that a cat would defend a wine from price discounting] and they bought without even tasting the wine. Back in Aachen, the wine sold well [it was branded with a black cat on the label] and the merchants came back for more. That is the legend."

An image of the black cat has been used ever since to promote the Riesling from Zell an der Mosel.  Use of the Zeller Schwarz Katz brand and logo is fiercely defended, just like the cat did herself.

Watchful black cat
Stadtb├╝rgermeister Hans Schwarz

When I interviewed Stadtb├╝rgermeister Hans Schwarz (the local mayor) he said, "The logo belongs to the town and is managed by the council. It is protected by a patent and this patent has to be renewed every 10 years. A vineyard in Austria used the black cat logo last year and was fined.  In former times there was a seal on every bottle and the owner had to go the town hall to complete a record of the number of bottles he produced, He was then given the same number of corks to use for the wine." [Note: The mayor's words have been translated from German.]

There are records dating back to the Year 930 on wine making in Zell. However, it is thought that wine was first produced in the Mosel River area by the Romans almost 2000 years ago.  The excellent local history museum in Zell has artifacts, tools and records from centuries ago, including how Zell got its name. The Romans called the place "Cella" after the storage cellars they made for the wine. Cella translates to Zelle in German. The mayor said that there are at least 20 towns in Germany with the name of Zell, but only one Zell an der Mosel (Zell on the Mosel River).  

Black cat fountain
Also on display in the museum are the patent documents that the mayor talked about for the Zeller Schwarze Katz logo.

Images of the black cat are everywhere in Zell. She even has a whole fountain dedicated to her.

Zell has around 4,300 people and approximately 4 million vines. I've lost count of the number of images I've seen of the famous cat.

Signs and window displays in Zell

They even have cat woman
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All text and photos are copyright to Eventful Woman, 2011


  1. I own an 1898 stained glass window of the Zell Black Cat Wine. It is in excellent condition and has a depiction of the Zell cat atop a wine barrel, back hunched while a Monk holds a mug to the barrel spigot as wine pours in. Naturally it is very colorful with the monk wearing ruby colored 'slippers'. This 'scene' takes place in a wine cellar. The size is about 5 feet x 5 feet and is in its original wood frame. It has the date, 1898 on the bottom left hand corner with the following name,,,,,,,,,,,Mueller-Braun Company, Newark NJ
    If interested in purchase, let me know thanks!!

  2. Anonymous9:49 pm

    Your 'cat woman' is seventeen year old, Bianca Passarge, who danced on wine bottles in 1958 after a dream she had.

  3. Thanks so much for this info about Bianca Passarge - another Eventful Woman. I'm not sure if I could pull off Bianca's feat. Here's the link for those who want to know more:


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