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  • October 2, 2013
  • A Get-Together of “Mosel Oxen”

  • by Lars Carlberg

moselochsenLast Thursday, a group of about 50 Mosel winegrowers met at Markus Molitor’s newly renovated Haus Klosterberg. The get-together was in response to an article about the Mosel Valley titled "Der Schönheit wohnt der Schrecken inne in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by Jakob Strobel y Serra. In his controversial piece (which translates to "The Inherent Beauty of Horror"), Strobel y Serra writes, on the one hand, about the kitsch and mass tourism one finds along the Mosel River in towns such as Cochem, which cater to tourists from the Rhineland, North Rhine-Westphalia, or Holland—many of whom stay at the numerous camping sites found up and down the river. On the other hand, he praises the Mosel's history, beauty, and steep-slope viticulture.

With humor, Strobel y Serra describes how the Mosel is still stuck in the mass-tourism boom of the 1960s and 1970s. Most of these tourists, he says, only swill plonk or drink beer—or, beer mixed with lemonade, known as Radler—rather than top Mosel Riesling. This is in contrast to Markus Molitor, who has remained, against this backdrop, an ambitious quality-oriented producer. Over the years, Molitor has expanded his holdings to about 50 ha and has long been considered one of the best winemakers on the Mosel. In both instances, the author points to the stubbornness of the Moselaner. He uses the term "Moselochsen" (Mosel oxen).

Unlike the Pfalz or Rheinhessen, Strobel y Serra says that the Mosel lacks wine tourism. (Though the Mosel has Straußwirtschaften, or wine taverns run by growers who serve their wines, in most instances, to a less-discerning clientele.) He goes on to say that many growers tend to only drink their own wines or prefer even beer. He, however, mentions some positive developments, too, such as the restaurant Schanz in Piesport. Yet the region still has an outmoded image, especially in Germany. (Then again, I come across much of the same kitsch and bad restaurants in other wine regions of Germany and France.)

In order to show solidarity, various growers decided to meet up at Markus Molitor. The goal of this meeting was to prove that not all growers are "Moselochsen," but, more important, to find ways to better market the wines of the Mosel. In other words, Strobel y Serra's piece helped ignite this initiative.

A caricaturist even drew an image of an ox being dunked into a Römerglass, or Rummer. This picture was then used as a sticker on the various magnums (see photograph).

In addition to some other journalists, I was invited to attend this event. Each grower brought a few wines from their cellar, including magnum bottles. To pair with the wines, the restaurants Schloss Monaise and Bagatelle (both located in Trier), along with Zeltinger Hof, each provided an oxen dish. At first, we stood outdoors, before moving indoors for dinner. The new interior at Haus Klosterberg is sleek. In one corner of the main room, a deejay played music, which made it even more difficult to talk with one another.

Among the attendees were growers from different associations, including the VDP, Bernkasteler Ring, Klitzekleine Ring, and Moseljünger. The latter helped organize the event with Verena Clüsserath of Clüsserath-Weiler giving a short speech and thanking Markus Molitor for hosting the festivities. There were also growers unaffiliated with a syndicate.

On my train ride from Trier to Wittlich, I ran into Kai Hausen, who, along with Maximilian Ferger of Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch – Erben Müller-Burggraef, runs Projekt 156 in the Ruwer Valley. This is the two young Mosel winemakers' side project. From their official plot number, Flurstück 156, they produce a Ruwer Riesling from a site on the slope (known as Lorenzberg) between Kasel and Mertesdorf. Their block of vines is located in the official single vineyard of Mertesdorfer Herrenberg, nearby van Elkan's old-vine plot in Kaseler Nies'chen.

I also talked to Immich-Batterieberg's Gernot Kollmann, who was instrumental in starting the initiative. Gernot said that it had less to do with the article itself than with finding ways of joining together to help push the Mosel's reputation, because he feels—and rightfully so, in my opinion—that the wines are undervalued for the labor costs involved, especially as compared with other wine regions. Moreover, he explained that Moselochsen is not a common expression at all. The source who told Strobel y Serra about this term was mistaken.

Ansgar Schmitz, the manager of the Moselwein e.V., said that it's a shame that Strobel y Serra didn't do more research for his write-up on the Mosel, as his article missed many of the good things that are happening here.

Some of the many growers who attended were Julian Haart, Johannes Haart of Reinhold Haart, and Philipp Kettern of Lothar Kettern, all from Piesport. Others included Andreas Schmitges, Christopher Loewen of Carl Loewen, Ulli Stein, Thomas Haag of Schloss Lieser, Axel Pauly, Matthias Meierer of Klaus Meierer, Thomas Ludwig of Gebr. Ludwig, Timo Deinhart of zur Römerkelter, Ernie Loosen, Daniel Vollenweider, Thorsten Melsheimer, Jan Matthias Klein of Staffelter Hof, Stefan Steinmetz of Günther Steinmetz, Martin Kerpen, as well as the newcomers Rebecca Materne and Janine Schmitt of Materne & Schmitt in Winningen. Both of whom have been working at Heymann-Löwenstein.

All in all, it was good to see that the growers came together for a common cause and to taste each others' wines. Many of them had never met before. Could this be the beginning of The New Mosel Wine with a more open-minded, less-envious younger generation rising up? ♦

  • Before I forget, Stefan Schwickerath, a good friend and subscriber to my site, had emailed me about the FAZ article on August 23. Most people had yet to read it. The first reports in various local newspapers (Triericher Volksfreund, Luxemburger Wort) and social media about the piece came out only in early September.

  • Matthew Cohen says:

    It’s very sad. I recall visiting a Mosel winemaker who I felt had excellent wines in a prestigious area. On the way out, we saw a goofy looking, decorated cart. The poor guy was trying to sell these wonderful wines (that had great character) to drunken tourists for 3-4 Euros a bottle.

    I hope that as more Mosel wineries like Immich, Knebel and Steinmetz get the recognition that they deserve from their wonderful dry wines that everyone will benefit from the rising tide of German dry wine consumption.

    • Thanks again for your comment, Matt. Immich-Batterieberg and Knebel are recognized as top Mosel producers, and Günther Steinmetz is still underrated but garnering more attention over the last several years. Most important, all three also produce Mosel wines in that quasi no man’s land that is neither legally dry nor really sweet.

      I hope, too, that more consumers will appreciate light Mosel wines, including Kabinetts, whether designated trocken, feinherb, or up to 40 or so grams of residual sugar per liter.

  • John Ritchie says:

    “Could this be the beginning of The New Mosel Wine with a more open-minded, less-envious younger generation rising up?”

    Hear, hear!

    The younger generation on the Mosel is filled with talent and it’s time growers from all ends of the stylistic spectrum put to rest the notion that the region only makes one kind of wine and that it is dominated by old, powerful estates.

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