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Episode 2

Cruising the Mosel River gives some great perspectives

Yesterday I posted the first episode of  our Mosel trip – which (surprise) had a little about our Riesling-reasoning for loving this place.

So in case you think my interest is only in the eating and drinking (shame on you!) let me tell you I’m in good company.

Underfloor heating, Roman Villa-style

The Romans started it.

All up and down the valley are Roman sites  –  villas, wine presses and cellars, a lasting testament to their ability to pick a good place to start planting.

We visited one such farm-house/villa just up the road at Mehring.  It had a system of under-floor heating, a large hot and cold pool bathhouse, and all the comforts they could then imagine and engineer.   (More photos  at the end.)

Another treasure is the huge stone carving of the Roman wineship at NeumagenDhron.

Roman wineship at NeumagenDrhon

NeumagenDhron is another very old wine-town, just down river from Trittenheim.

They’ve recently built a replica Roman ship (photo below). There are scatterings of columns and pedestals, and wall-carvings around the town.

It’s the thing that my new-country mind finds constantly amazing – being in places where there are layers on layers, millennia on millennia of human habitation.  Friends here look equally bemused when I try to explain my fascination by saying that in New Zealand we have no buildings more than 190 years old.

Fortunately lots of old Burgs, Schlosses and Herrensitzen (castles and manor houses) have been turned into restaurants, so I can get a fill of ancient stones while the gang thinks we’re just enjoying the eats and drinks.

Rittersaal in Alte Burg – with current owner

The Alte Burg in Longuich is one such.  It’s certainly “Alte” (old) – 1200 is the date over the door.And it’s a real Burg complete with a Rittersaal (Knight’s Hall) on the top floor.  Mani gets very ho-hum about such matters, possibly because a Schloss-turned-restaurant we sometimes visit in the upper Rhine valley belonged to a couple of his aunts till about 40 years ago.  The chap who bought it and converted it had to spend a fortune, but that’s the way such buildings can survive.   NZ sort-of-equivalent (adjusting for very different time-scales) is the number of cafes in old Post Offices – substantial buildings, often with some architectural merit, that would otherwise be demolition timber.“Sister sort-of-in-law” Inge was 90 in June – she is one of my role models for aging energetically. She is a fine artist – and still going to workshops to try  new techniques.  She has travelled widely, and lived fully, and is still doing it.   To understand her current joke, you need to understand the German way of expressing numbers. It’s backwards. (Well, backwards to us…)  You remember the nursery rhyme “four and twenty blackbirds”?  Like that.   So, Inge says that after this  birthday she’s going to tell her age as “elf und achtzig” – eleven-and-eighty.

Celebrating Inge

Anyway, her real birth-date was not convenient for celebrations, so when we discovered  the Alte Burg and had lunch in the garden, she declared her birthday dinner would be in the restaurant there.  Double serving of old stones and worm-eaten beams for Carolyn!

Another great Mosel journey, through space rather than time, is the river boat to Berncastle and back.  Berncastle is one of those impossibly fairytale towns, with a wonderful ruined castle up top, timbered houses around small squares, and too many people seeing the sights.

Typical Berncastle square

Mani and I had been before, once by boat, and once by bus to go to their wine festival and fireworks.The fireworks were memorable in two ways:  the first, the excitement of two synchronised sites… fireworks from the carpark down by the river, and from the castle above; the second, the terror of being in a tight-pressed crowd all trying to move off the bridge afterwards. You wouldn’t have wanted anything at all unexpected to happen – and fortunately it didn’t.

But the boat-trip itself is a great way to see the patterns of hillsides of grapes and picturesque towns pass by, while (of course) you sip the local product.   It is a working river  – we shared a lock with a barge full of steel wire coils – but because it’s so winding only cargos that are really too heavy to go by road float that way.

Barge and Trittenheim winehills

Something to notice as you look at the vineyards  –  some empty slots.   Peter Arenz-Lorenz (our host) told us the reason.  When you get to 65, you must pass the vineyard on to family, or sell it, or rip it out.  The risk to the neighbouring plots of a planting going unsprayed, uncared-for, by an aging winegrower is too great.  You can see the logic – but imagine telling a New   Zealand farmer he’s got to get off the land at a fixed age!

Hand pruning – unaided

Mind you, those steep hill vineyards are hard hard work.  Some mechanisation is possible … we saw a vine-trimming machine going up and down on a winch, and a sprayer doing the same.  (Photos below.)

But we also saw a lot of people pruning by hand.    It would be punishing to a body, and Peter has awful arthritis.  Fortunately he also has a son who’s taking over, though the son is keener to be in the cellar than on the hills. You can see why.

Of course, there are some flat growing areas too.

Easier work… vineyards on river-bend flats

I was fantasising the debate hill and valley growers might have about the relative advantages of their lots.  The cool damp feet of valley wines versus the heat from hills of blue schist flakes….  Maybe that’s next time’s tasting challenge!

Flakes from blue schist heat the hillside vineyards and create unique “terroir” flavours

To be continued……

But meantime, some photos I couldn’t squeeze in above.

Vineyard work

Cable-car assisted hand-pruning

winch-attached mechanised pruner

Winch-assisted spraying

Not the toughest land – but not the easiest either

In the “hard land” class… only water access to this vineyard.

Roman Villa

This substantial (34 room) Roman Villa at Mehring was the hub of a farming and trading operation from from mid 2nd to 4th Century.

Bath House in Roman Villa, Mehring

And more….

Inge and Hans by the Alte Burg

“Another helping of old beams please…”

“New” Roman wineship, “based on plans of ancient vessels”

Berncastle … Buildings were taxed on ground-space – so spread out above that

Piesport – yet another atmospheric wine-town a little down-river