Wine Pages

Mike Steinberger's Wine Diarist


Wine in the Way of Progress

Several years ago, a highway was proposed in the Margaux region of Bordeaux, which would have resulted in having many historic vineyards ripped up in order to get cars from one place to another with more efficiency.  In the Northern Rhone appellation of Cornas, the mayor proposed a comercial development which would have overtaken a site called Les Mazards, owned and farmed by the great producer Auguste Clape.  Luckily, through petitions, both projects were abandoned, and the vineyards that were candidates for extinction have been saved.

Today, in Germany's Mosel River Valley, a similar battle between vineyards and capitol development is playing out.  A bridge, which has been in the works since the 1960s, is in the process of being designed and constructed between the towns of Rachtig and Urzig.  The Mosel, like many of Europe's great wine regions, has been producing world-class wines for around 2000 years.  Much of the region has seen little by way of major transportation development, and river crossings by bridge are less common than by ferry.  But the cold-war era plan to build a giant bridge (originally with military transport in mind) would be a major improvement in getting vehicles and equipment quickly to and through the region.  Of course, some vineyards would be caught in the middle.  In this case, the famed Urziger W├╝rzgarten (over my shoulder in the picture above) would be right in the middle of the entire project.  Not only would vines need to be dug up to be replaced by the bridge's base support, but those vines which remain would have fewer hours in sunlight thanks to the giant shadows the bridge would cast.  The great vineyards in marginal growing climates like the Mosel are made great, in part, by their exposition to the sun - crucial for grapes to ripen and produce well rounded wines.

Of course, we have had 2000 years to enjoy these wines.  Maybe it's time for other regions to have their "day in the sun," so to speak.  Tradition and history have been the enemy of progress since the beginning of time.  Who is to say which is right and which is wrong?  Yes, I do absolutely LOVE the wines of the Mosel and would hate to see a bridge adversely affect the wines from W├╝rzgarten, but I'd also love to be able to drive to the Mosel from the airport faster.  And I bet there are more than a few locals who can't wait for a Walmart to arrive soon after the bridge's completion.  Blasphemous, yes, but it's in the name of progress!