Monday, 1 February 2010

How we have already failed the Mosel

This is going to be unpopular but I feel compelled to do it. I’m going to take issue with Hugh Johnson’s recent Decanter piece decrying the plans for the Mosel Bridge which many others, including Jancis Robinson MW, have also argued against.

First of all, make no mistake: if I was Ernie Loosen or any other winemaker in the area, I’d be stockpiling dynamite. No matter how annoying it is, I empathise with the NIMBY (not in my back yard) factor here. And I’d be furious.

Next, what is going to be the actual damage? Well, from the artist’s impressions, we’re looking at around five big holes – one in the Würzgarten and four in the (now ironically-named) Himmelreich vineyards – to support the bridge pillars. These holes have to include some land around it, as the shadows cast by the pillars will undoubtedly render some of it barren.

The only other physical issue will be that of drainage along the top of the Sonnenuhr and Domprobst Grosses Gewachs. This, potentially, could be very destructive. It also might not. Why gamble, asks Johnson, and I have to admit, I agree with him.

But if Johnson raises the spectre of ecology and the potential destruction of great wines, there are other, wider, issues that must be faced.

Without doubt the biggest is that of comparative importance. Imagine, for a second, that Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson win their campaign. What happens if they say nothing about the LGV train line planned to cut through the Graves in Bordeaux? Imagine, in ten years time, if someone wants to stick a bridge through the Languedoc and they don’t mobilise public support when that occurs.

If we oppose the Mosel bridge but fail to actively oppose every other pulic works scheme in another vineyard, we are implicitly saying to those other winemakers and growers that their wines aren’t important. They aren’t in the big league.

And if we assume that that is indeed the case – that some vineyards are worth having a cultural protection stamp – who draws up the list? Imagine Hugh and Jancis putting that together. What vineyards would they leave out?

Unfortunately Hugh Johnson’s parallel with the Côte d’Or is false. The Côte d’Or is protected by the huge value of the vineyards within it. The Mosel would love to have some of the auction speculation that Romanée-Conti gets, would love to be as deified. But it isn’t. And in a world where money is everything, the Mosel cannot compete.

And if you accept that an economic system whereby the most expensive wines are the best indicator of greatness, then you have to say that we have already, collectively, failed the Mosel.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy within Johnson's argument is that he has to use a higher-profile region in higher-profile country to try to make his point.

So what is there left to do for the Mosel? Well, if you really don’t want the bridge, I suggest direct action: a few well-placed sticks of dynamite might work, or perhaps bribe some local archaeologists to ‘find’ a Bronze Age settlement on the Zeltinger Berg.

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At 1 February 2010 06:38 , Anonymous Fabius said...

It's not so complicated! I see it as yet another battle in the long war for a cleaner, healthier, more beautiful world in which we and the generations to come after us can live.

Basically, do we really need another bridge in the Mosel? (that notoriously under-developed, infrastructure-lacking region!!!)

It's interesting always to ask: Why is it being built? Who benefits?

At 2 February 2010 06:13 , Blogger Oliver Styles said...


Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, I think it is that complicated.

I think we should ask why we are actively against the bridge. I'm not so sure it's simply an ecological issue. Nor am I saying that Hugh Johnson is the local Lord asking the villagers to stop the school minibus driving through his cabbage patch.

The Mosel is already facing the loss of 3,000 hectares of vines (to become barren land) and that's without a bridge. It's also something we can do something about.

But it demands (a) re-evaluating things like our acceptance of a liberal economy or (b) asking whether we, personally, are prepared to part with our cash to save these vineyards (not just petition others), and (c) ask ourselves why this does not get more press.

Is a bridge, wanted, apparently, by politicians, an easier target?




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