The Moselle, Saar and Ruwer rivers twist and turn in narrow loops through countryside where the Celts and Romans first cultivated wine 2,000 years ago. As a wine region, the Moselle is the oldest in Germany and the largest with vines on steep slopes. Terraced hillsides and precipitous slopes, which face either south or south-west, create beneficial microclimates for wine grapes but also rare plants and animals. The sublime rieslings grown in these conditions in the Moselle, Saar and Ruwer vineyards rank among the finest white wines in the world with their wonderful mineral notes.
The Moselle is the fifth largest wine region in Germany with 9,000 hectares under vine. Its steep vineyard slopes grow more riesling than any other variety: 5,273 hectares (approx. 60 per cent) are planted with the noblest of the white grapes. A speciality of the region is elbling, an older variety which is now only cultivated to any great extent along the Upper Moselle. The other major white wine varieties are müller-thurgau (also known as rivaner), pinot gris and pinot blanc. 90 per cent of Moselle wines are white. Pinot noir, dornfelder, regent and other reds account for the remaining 10 per cent.
The slopes where Moselle wines are grown were once seabeds, beaches and coastal mudflats. These prehistoric ocean floors folded up into mountains over millions of years and eroded into what we see today. The steep vineyards, which rise up from the banks of the Saar, Ruwer and Middle Moselle, are based on Devonian slate formed 400 million years ago. Quartzitic, calciferous sandstone forms the basis of the Lower Moselle valley between Zell and Koblenz. Vines along the Upper Moselle, part of the Paris Basin, grow in soils composed of fossil-flecked limestone, sandstone and marl, underlaid with dolomite. A characteristic feature of the region is 'Rotliegend', a rust-coloured rock of volcanic origin found at Ürzig on the Middle Moselle.
The Moselle and its tributaries have cut deep into the Rhenish-Westphalian Slate Mountains, creating the perfect geological and climatic conditions for wine growing. Shielded by these valleys, the region is one of the warmest in Germany. The rivers also make excellent heat retainers, which prevent damaging frost from forming. Mild winters and pleasantly warm summers are the norm here. The average annual temperature ranges from 9.1 to 10.5 degrees Celsius; mean yearly rainfall is 800mm. On average, the region basks in 1,370 hours of sunshine per year.
Connoisseurs can choose from literally thousands of different wines along the Moselle. Some 5,000 growers cultivate grapes in 524 vineyard sites. Nowhere else can you enjoy so many steep-hillside wines made by so many different producers. Around 2,000 estates bottle their wines independently and sell them directly. Any village that is close to a vineyard will have wineries where you can sample the wines and buy some for back home. Other growers deliver their grapes to the Moselle wine cooperative or to companies that produce and bottle the wines, then export them around the world.
The locals in the Moselle region are friendly, free-spirited folk who can also be stubborn at times, but really love to laugh. New experiences await beyond every turn in the river, as picturesque towns and villages follow one after another amid richly varied scenery. Other cultures have always had a role to play in the Moselle region: first it fell under the rule of the Roman Empire, then it was settled by Celts, Franks and Burgundian monks, before alternating between the Germans and the French. The region's proximity to France and Luxembourg carries through to the relaxed attitude to life and the Moselle-Franconian dialect. In many places, you might have to pinch yourself to realise you're not in the Mediterranean!
The Moselle's meandering journey to the Rhine begins in the southern Vosges mountains in France. Flowing through Luxembourg and on to Germany, the river has many a fascinating tale to tell.