The wines of Germany’s Mosel Valley are highly prized for their finesse, purity and longevity, but it’s often forgotten that the Mosel river also flows through northeast France – home to a resurgent wine scene.
Cultivated since Roman times, the French region known as the Moselle boasted more than 30,000 hectares in the early 19th century. The area was famed for its riesling and also produced notable quantities of base wines that were shipped to Champagne. However, the acreage fell sharply during the second half of the century, as the region became increasingly industrialized and its vines were hit by phylloxera.
The local wine trade was further damaged by its geographical location: on the border with France and Germany, it was subjected to the ravages of World War I.
In 1918, the Alsace-Moselle region once again became part of France, having been governed by the German Empire since 1871. Moselle natives “were thirsty for patriotic wine, particularly those from the south of France, which were no longer taxed as they had been under German rule," said Maxime Bucciarelli, an amateur winemaker and author of a 2006 book on the history of Moselle wines. During the 1920s, competition from the cheaper, fruitier wines of the south hit the local wine industry further.
Furthermore, the departure of many Germans from the region meant "there were plenty of jobs in both offices and factories." As a result, many vineyard workers left the labor-intensive and poorly paid work of the fields for the factories. By the early 1980s, there were no more than 10 hectares of vines grown in the entire department.
But as the local steel industry has declined, the wine trade has slowly been fighting back. Vines now cover a total of 65 hectares, with 55 of them holding appellation status. With the vineyards located at a latitude of 49 degrees, the Moselle AOC is the most northerly wine region in France.
Although riesling dominates the vineyards on the German side of the border, auxerrois blanc is the signature white grape of the French Moselle. The other main varieties are pinot gris and pinot noir.
“The goal is to double the AOC area by 2020," says Jean-Marie Leisen, president of the local wine growers’ association.
There has also been the creation of a wine route near to Metz to attract tourists and raise awareness of local wines.
It’s a welcome boost for the 20 wine producers in the Moselle AOC. "There is a lot of work to do to make ourselves better known, not only further afield but also with Moselle locals, who have a lot of prejudices against our wine," says Eve Maurice, a 33-year old producer who is revitalizing a 4.5 hectare vineyard on limestone slopes in the village of Ancy-sur-Moselle.
With the planned opening of new markets overseas, the Moselle producers and growers in the nearby appellation of Côtes de Toul are hoping that "Terroir Moselle" will also put them back on the map.
The project brings together wine producers from France, Germany and Luxembourg to promote the wines of the Mosel internationally. In the future, the three countries will collaborate on matters such as exhibiting together at wine fairs.