The Three Personalities of the Mosel Valley
Believe it or not, the 339 miles that make up the Mosel Valley can be subdivided into three distinct personalities based on soil, climate and flavor profile characteristics.
The Lower Mosel, ironically at the northern end of the Mosel, but named for its lower elevation, also goes by the title ‘Terrassenmosel.’ Steep vineyards can be found at all parts of the Mosel Valley, but here, vines are planted on terraces, each level much higher than the one below. This region starts approximately at Zell and continues to Koblenz, where the Mosel meets the Rhine River, the ‘Deutsche Ecke.’ Between these two points are over 3460 acres of vines. If you can imagine some parts of the Grand Canyon planted with vines, we’re getting closer to a mental image of this region. Don’t look down…
The soil is much denser here (thank God!) to hold the vines – and the vignerons — in place with clay slate, as mentioned in the previous post, and blue Devonian slate, red slate and a large portion of quartzite, as well as sandstone, mixed with silt slate and clay slate. There is also a much smaller portion of lime-rich sandstone.
The climate in the Terrassenmosel is also typically warmer. The slopes are steeper making the whole valley narrower. Because of the exposed slate on the terraces, it has much more surface area to attract heat from sunlight. This not only affects the wines, whose tastes are more exuberant, with fruit forwardness and floral aromas, slightly lower acidity (but not much) – and, interestingly, also provides a microclimate for certain beneficial plants and wildlife, which become unique to this area.
Along the Terrassenmosel is the town of Bremm, where lies the vineyard Bremmer Calmont – the steepest vineyard on record in Europe (and probably the world). The incline at some parts of this vineyard can be 68 degrees.
The Mittelmosel is planted with an upwards of 14,300 acres of vines grown on soil in large portions Devonian slate, with much of the clay and blue slate. The famous vineyards here are recognized and respected worldwide – Zeltingen, Wehlen, Graach, Piespoort. Ever seen ‘Sonnenuhr’ on the label of a German Riesling? Here’s a memory jog – Brauneberg Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr. Ring a bell? Mittelmosel. And, get this – the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard has 200 owners all with individual parcels! And who said Burgundy was complicated?
Only miles south of the Terrassenmosel, some of the flat vineyards that stand right up at the banks of the Mosel ‘sans slate’ can be found here as well.
Even further south, the Obermosel (Upper Mosel) is really at the southernmost point of the Mosel viticulture area. It is the highest in elevation, so it claims the ‘Upper’ prefix, although it has less than 1970 acres (depending on the source) under vine over the area between Perl on the French border to just south of Trier. Maintaining a broader width, a dramatic change in soil follows, leading to shell limestone, chalk, dolomite and marl, similar to the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France. Elbling, at 60% is the most planted. It tends to be lighter bodied and a bit rustic with tongue curling acidity. It’s followed by French varietals Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Auxerrois.
Next time when we’re enjoying a glass of Mosel Riesling and we ask ourselves: how can one varietal taste so different?! Check it out – which part of the river did it come from? If it’s a single vineyard, which direction is it facing? We’ll see if we can make the connection between soil, climate and sunlight in an effort to better understand where this bottle came from!
Until the next time, thanks for reading – Cheers!