In the Mosel, the oldest wine region in Germany, Thorsten Melsheimer, winegrower and producer, rows a blow-up paddleboat through his underground cellar. Traditional 1000 litre Mosel Fuder barrels barely holding their heads above rising floodwaters. Yet, Melsheimer works with a reassuring smile on his face, attaching tubes to the tops of his barrels allowing carbon dioxide to escape in case they're submerged like submarines.
For the most part, scaling the Mosel's steep slated vineyards each day with gradients up to 68 per cent would be difficult enough. Let alone, recent torrential rains that have devastated parts of North-western Germany and caused this set of challenging circumstances in which Melsheimer finds himself. It takes hard work and resourcefulness to grow grapes in the Mosel on any one day. However, to make great Riesling here, you need creativity and optimism. Attributes found in palpable quantities in Melsheimer's cellar and wine garden.
The Mosel has a unique set of geographic factors that make viticulture possible in western Germany's cool continental climate. The region is located 50.4 degrees north of the equator and follows the meandering northeast flowing Mosel river approximately 250km before joining the Rhine river. The Mosel has three distinct subregions: The Upper Mosel with its lime-rich shell and clay soils, the Middle Mosel with approximately 50 per cent of its vineyards planted on grey, blue, brown or red Devonian slate, and the Lower Mosel, rich in quartz, sandstone, clay and slate.
During the Paleozoic era, almost 400 million years ago, the Mosel was a deep and diverse home to marine fauna known as the Devonian sea. After tectonic plates shifted, the seafloor, along with a mass of sediments, compressed under extreme pressure and high temperatures, metamorphosing it into the Devonian slate found under vine in the Mosel today. The river carved out the valleys and the regions distinctive steep slopes. Like the perfect pairing, these steep slopes of slate retain the warmth of the sunlight that the river reflects.
The varying soil compositions impart distinct characteristics to the vineyards and their wines, influencing the temperature, soil structure, water drainage, microbiology, flora, and fauna. Soils with a high slate component drain ably, encouraging the unirrigated vines to search deep for water and nutrients, drinking minerals from the seafloor that dissolve in rainwater as they do so.
You can find Melsheimer's cellar in the quaint village of Reil, with a very fitting rock-climbing wall at its entrance. Reil is in the northeast of the Middle Mosel, close to the Lower Mosel, where the river thins and the slopes begin to get even steeper. Like many growers in the Mosel, Melsheimer's vineyards are planted solely to Riesling. With its refreshing acidity, low-alcohol yet flavoursome character. It is well-suited to the climate and is a versatile food and life companion.
Melsheimer's family has been growing grapes in the nearby vineyards of Mullay-Hofberg for five generations. In 1995, Melsheimer became organically certified with ECOVIN, and in 2013 biodynamically certified with Demeter. Their vineyards are full of diversity, using a whipper snipper and goats to manage the under vine.
Along with Rita & Rudolf Trossen and Gernot from Immich-Batterieberg, Melsheimer’s Rieslings were some of the most distinctive I tasted when I visited the Mosel in 2017. The 2018 Melsheimer Trocken Riesling is hand-harvested and wild fermented in old large format 1000 litre fuder barrels. A deliciously dry and refreshing Riesling that makes me want to recreate a Devonian sea party in my mouth. Perhaps some oysters or white fish en papillote?
Day in and day out, the Mosel river reflects sunlight onto its steep slated slopes, moderating temperatures by absorbing warmth throughout the day and slowly returning it in the evening. If you take your shoes off, the slate will warm your toes, the Riesling will warm your nose, and the people in this creative and unique region will warm your heart.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Mosel. Thank you to Thorsten Melsheimer for taking the time to meet with me. And thank you to the amazing Rita & Rudolf Trossen for showing me the Mosel. My thoughts are with all of the producers and families who have been affected by the tragic floodwaters this year.
Thorsten's 2018 Trocken Riesling is included in the upcoming September box. Follow this link to sign up.