Sunday Read: The Saar and Mosel Map of 1868

The Saar and Mosel map framed (Photo links to Lars Carlberg’s website, where it is uploaded)

I feel like I owe an explanation for my week long silence, but there really is not much to it. There are weeks when writing this blog is easy, and weeks were it is harder. Last week was one of these. I wrote a lot (work related) last week and so my eagerness to write more diminished. I also didn’t drink much wine last week, to be precise: none, so there was nothing I felt particularly strong about sharing. Let’s see how next week works out.

Today, for my Sunday Read, I want to point you to a particular article but also to a website in general: Lars Carlberg’s page. Lars is an American living in Trier, where we used to live, and he is a wine writer, worked as an importer or winery representative and loves the small estates that dot the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer. I have had the good fortune of meeting him several times and he is knowledgbale and a great conversation partner: thoughtful, witty, never boring. He started a Mosel wine, restricted access database last year in which he profiles wineries and posts his tasting notes. I don’t have access to it, but I like whatever he posts publicly and highly recommend you check his website out.

The article I am sharing today is about the Mosel and Saar Tax Map of 1868. When the Prussians took over the Rhineland and Mosel after the Napolenic Wars, they really had not much of a clue of this heavily Catholic area (the Prussian Kings were Protestants). So they established their administrative system and over the decades decided to streamline taxation etc. In 1868, the Prussian government commissioned this tax map. The commissioner, a Mr. Clotten, divided the vineyard properties in eight categories, or tax brackets, according to the net profit made from wines whose grapes came from the vineyard, and for the map purposes made three different brackets. This way, he identified the profitability of the vineyards on the map (from light red to dark red). This in turn, is now seen as marking which vineyards had the best growing conditions or reputation. Looking at the map today, many of the vineyards we now consider prime spots are dark red on the map. It is pretty awesome, and much more a testament to the idea of terroir than the Bordeaux ranking of estates.

Lars teamed up with the Trier Public Library to produce a reprint of the map. Nina and I own one from the second batch of reprints. It is very high quality and gorgeous to look at. We still need to get a custom made frame for it (it is VERY long), but are looking forward to having it on our wall sometime this year. In his article, Lars explains more about the map, a fascinating piece of history. And you can have it shipped to the US as well…just sayin’ for you fellow Mosel Riesling nuts.

And happy Sunday! It’s a sunny but cold day in Ann Arbor.

Sunday Read: Saar and Mosel Taxation Map

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12 thoughts on “Sunday Read: The Saar and Mosel Map of 1868

  1. Stefano says:

    Fascinating: I have to say Napoleon III’s almost contemporary Bordeaux classification came to mind when I was reading your excellent piece.
    And, I totally hear you that it is hard to write for the blog when you have to write a lot for work too. This blogging thing takes a lot of perseverance! :-)

    • I am not really familiar with Napoleon III’s classification but I always thought it classified wineries instead of the particular plots. Or have the wineries just held on to all their possessions from back then? That is why I thought this map was so intriguing: Because it only indirectly reflects the quality of the particular vineyard, no matter who owns or operates it.

      • Stefano says:

        You are right, the two classifications are different and the German one is definitely more “scientific”. I only meant to say that I found it interesting that there had been two let’s say similar classifications so close in time to one another.
        Regarding the 1855 classification, this is an interesting quote from Serena Sutcliffe on it: ‘It was based on the combined opinions of brokers and négociants. They based their decisions on price history. You might say it’s a bit crass, but over a very long period, certain châteaux have always fetched higher prices than other châteaux because their wines offered more consistent quality. Interestingly, the high prices did correspond to the best positions in Bordeaux. And that’s why the classification has held for so long. There are some [estates] that one might demote because they’ve diluted their holds, and others that were left out because of absentee owners. But when you look at the classification overall, it holds up. Not many institutions can claim that after 150 years.’

        • Very interesting. And thank you for researching that comment! Although to me, I immediately wonder whether the classification system itself is part of the reason that prices for the highest ranked chateau stayed up…impossible to tell, I guess.

          It is however really interesting that these attempts at classifying all happened in that period. It certainly fits in the Victorian age of measuring. But it also fits the needs of an expanding state (Mosel Map) and an expanding clientele (Bordeaux)…fascinating indeed.

  2. d d b says:

    I love maps. Could pore over one for hours

  3. teacherpatti says:

    I feel you on not having the eagerness to write. I started April telling myself that I would blog every day. Then it became every other day. I think I have written once a week though so I got that goin for me.
    I look forward to learning about wine in your blog :)

  4. Very interesting! Love the map… it would be fabulous decor (particularly on a red wall… can’t take the decorative genes out of me!) Thanks for sharing the article. Especially of interest after our conversation about Mosel earlier!

  5. Oliver,
    I enjoyed this article very much, though it is not about wine per se, I found it fascinating as I do enjoy maps, and the taxation on wines very interesting.
    As for the fact that the muse does not always visit us, to give us the direction to write, that is understandable, especially since you were deprived of even one glass of wine to nourish your soul. I do hope better days are ahead for you and your charming Bride.
    I shall raise my glass to you, as I pen this note.
    – John

    • Thank you so much, John! I did imagine that this post might interest you. I will make sure to show you the map when we meet next. It is a sublime piece of accuracy and beauty (to me at least). And as always thanks for your good wishes!

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