Steep slopes

The diversity that abounds throughout the the worlds vineyards is no better illustrated than those that use steep slopes to maximise the the suns rays in the ripening process of the grapes.

Most but not all are in northerly climes where cooler climate means a longer growing season and a chance to make wine in seasons that are not as reliable as those found further south or vice versa in the southern hemisphere.

2 Entrance to Abtsberg

One area stands out above all others in this, the Rhine and its tributary the Mosel, the later having more examples, culminating in the six mile stretch of unbroken vines in the middle Mosel that includes some of the most famous sites in Germany and the very steep site at Calmont near Bremm reputedly the steepest slope in Europe.

The Mosel currently produces the majority of the finest wines from the best estates and the Reisling grape reigns supreme with almost 100% planted on the best slopes, the Reisling needs all the sun it can get taking a long season to ripen, something that in recent years with warmer summers and ever advancing growing techniques making those years when unripened grapes would be turned into sekt a cheap fizz a thing of the past.

3 Wehlen on Mosel

Reisling and German wines in general are currently out of favour in Britain, being perceived as sweet, cloying wines related to Liebfraumilch a perception that’s proving difficult to shift and couldn’t be further from the truth.

More of a problem for German wines is the labelling, the labels are often glorious in the image they give but unintelligible to almost everyone outside with an interest. Strangely, there was a recent attempt to simplify the wording but the better vineyards wanted to retain the old information so it was added to the new.

It can be safely said this is one area the Germans have completely lost the plot.

4 Veneto vineyard

Adding to this labelling problem is the fact, as in Burgundy, the prime sites are nearly always split into various sized plots, all owned by different winemakers, so that knowing the producers is as important in purchasing wine as much as the site and year.

There is another layer of complication in that all producers make more than one type of wine from the same plot and the better the year, the longer the grapes or some of them are left on the vine to mature.

These are the best that the area produces and at the very top are produced in minute quantities and are very expensive as the grapes are not only harvested by hand , itself not easy on such steep slopes, but that with these very top wines, the grapes are picked individually to produce a few bottles of to some the greatest dessert wines of all.

5 Cinque Terre

The complicated system and different levels of wine from the same source does have an upside, the entry level wines from these great producers and in no way are these second or third wines as in Bordeaux and can be purchased for a fraction of the price you would pay for equivalent quality anywhere else in the world.

The style of Reisling in Germany is very different to examples from elsewhere in the world, light in alcohol 7%-9% is normal and from the Mosel and its tributaries is generally much lighter in style at the normal levels made than many of the Rhine wines.

6 Vineyard Lake Zurich with overhead watering system

I would not be presumptious enough to say which are the greatest wineries in Germany. There are many in all the different producing areas, including the Rheinfalz and Franken, but most are in the Mosel including some who own the whole site. A rarity in Germany, these are mainly away from the main river and are in the Ruwer and Saar tributaries.

Two of these stand out. Egon Muller is the sole owner of the Scharzhof on the Saar, and one of my favorite wineries anywhere in the world. Karl von Schuberts, Maximum Grunhaus vineyard on the Ruwer is a site planted in Roman times and cellars in the old formerly Benedictine manor house records that go back to AD966.

7 From Montforte d’Alba (Barolo area) across Turin plain to the Alps

The three solely owned slopes are the Abtsberg (for the abbot) Herrenberg (for the gentlemen) and the Bruderberg (for the brothers) needless to say the Abbot site is the biggest and best.

Other steep slopes do exist all over the world but not on the same scale, and mountainous regions, surprisingly, do not supply that many, the lower gentler slopes being preferred. The Alsace has a few and likewise the Veneto in northern Italy though the one other area to really have steep slopes is sadly in decline, being uneconomic to manage and difficult to find people to work on them.

8 Cinque Terre

These are on the coast in Liguria in Italy, the Cinque Terre a magnificent stretch of coast south of Genoa. These, unlike Germany, are terraced above the cliffs that abound on this coastline and produce wine that has become a collectors item for its rarity rather than its quality.

That’s not to say the dry white wine made from a blend of grapes is bad, it’s just not good enough to merit charging the cost of making, hence the decline.

9 Wehlen Mosel with mechanical lift

The coast and the villages on it are worth the trip on their own so in this beautiful area, the wine becomes an add on rather than the reason for being there.

10 Vineyards on the Douro in Portugal

[All photos are mine or free licence and in the case of one no record of any copyright.]

3 comments for “Steep slopes

  1. dearieme
    April 8, 2012 at 16:51

    I love the stuff: have I ever told you about our wet Sunday morning in Lauerburg’s in Bernkastel? Or our B & B in Wehlen? …………….

    Anyway, Sainsbury stocks a lovely Graacher Himmelreich, Dr Loosen, £11.25. Beyond our pocket for everyday, but suitable for weekends when the nipper comes home.

  2. dak
    April 8, 2012 at 20:27

    Loved this post. I lived in Luxembourg for a few years and always enjoyed running my old Lotus down the Route du Vin on summer evenings.

    I got to know Abi Duhr slightly and his knowledge of wines was amazing.

    The Mosel whites are still my favourite of all wines, and every so often I’ll open a bottle of Mosel eiswein just for nostalgia’s sake.


  3. April 8, 2012 at 23:19

    Very interesting to read about the different wine areas and some excellent photos.

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