Monthly Wine Challenge #1: Transportation

My fellow blogger The Drunken Cyclist has put up a nice challenge on his blog the other day. In it, he pretty much encourages us other bloggers to write a themed post to be published by the first week of July around the topic of “transportation”. And, naturally, the post has to be somewhat connected to wine…duh.

The first thing that popped to my mind was the Mosel valley. I have told you many times (and trust me, those who have met me in person suffer even more from that!) how, at times, insanely steep the vineyards at the Mosel can be. How steep, you ask? Well, the Mosel vineyard Bremmer Calmont, which Wikipedia names as one of the steepest vineyards in the world (yes, and that actually means the world and not just America because it is not the “World Series”…), has up to a 68 degrees incline (for the record: 45 degrees is 100% for those who measure it that way). Just sayin’. An article on About.com speaks of “typical inclines between 40 and 60 degrees” along the Mosel. Are you beginning to understand why I am telling you that Mosel wines are seriously under priced? Think of all the hard work that goes into maintainng a vineyard like this…

So how do winemakers transport themselves into these hills to do pruning, and assessing grape quality? And even more importantly, how do they transport the grapes out?

Well, this guy has found the answer:

When you drive down the Mosel on your bike, in your car or on a train, you will notice these metal lines sloping up into the steepest parts. They are necessary to power a piece of machinery that was – I believe – invented in Switzerland: A so called monorack train. The monorack’s track is made of a steel square tube to which a tooth bar is attached on the bottom. The tubes are firmly attached to the ground on poles. The winemakers then hook a monorack train to these rails, complementing the tooth bar. The train is powered by either Diesel, gasoline or even electricity. The tracks use extremely little space and can climb inclines of up to 100%; they even can perform horizontal or vertical curves in a radius of up to four meters. Besides the engine, the train is comprised of a seat or more and a cart-like space to put tools in – or even boxes of grapes at harvest time.

Many steep vineyards still are not using the monorack, or cannot be reached by it because they are too steep. But even with the monorack, harvesting is extremely hard work, getting the grapes from grape pickers and getting them to the waiting monorack tractors. If there are no monoracks, that is even more work. Transportation and labor therefore form very high cost factors in producing these wines – monorack or not.

And what if I tell you that you can still find wines from these winemakers that sell for around $20 to $25. You would call that insane? Well, that is one way. Others call it buyer’s luck…

The monorack is a unique feature in unique landscapes. Keep your eyes open next time you wander the vineyards along Mosel or Neckar in Germany. And admire the guts of the winemakers riding these, or imagine how much fun it would be sitting on one…Monoracks have made transportation in an almost impossible world a tiny bit easier, and at least some more fun.

To me, my love for these wines has in part stemmed from an appreciation for what these vineyards demand from a dedicated winemaker. You can’t use harvesting machinery really, you have to climb slatey soil to reach the steepest outreaches. The prize is clear: Producing some of the proudest, most beautiful and deepest white wines this world knows. I wish we wine drinkers could merit that a bit more…

Please, please watch at least parts of these two videos to see what I mean by gutsy and fun…

First it’s uphill…

And then it’s downhill…

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32 thoughts on “Monthly Wine Challenge #1: Transportation

  1. foxress says:

    Wow! That is awesome! I have a whole new respect for Mosel Rieslings!

  2. vintomas says:

    Yes, Mosel has some quite fantastic scenery – not to mention fantastic wines! You also see those monoracks installed in many places in Ahr, the red wine region just north of Mosel, but I can’t recall having seen them in other German regions. I guess the terraces are the explanation. When there’s a heavy incline, but an “even slope”, such as in Bernkasteler Doctor, you usually don’t use them.

    • Great point! You see them most where there are terraces.

      I wasn’t aware that the Ahr had them, too. I only knew them from the Mosel, but Wikipedia said they also occur in the Neckar valley.

      • vintomas says:

        There’s one rather visible track in this picture taken close to Mayschoß:

        It looks like it branches. I think I’ve seen that from far away in other vineyards, so it must be possible to install monorack switches. I hope they’re reliable, because you wouldn’t want to fall off…

        I actually haven’t visited the Württemberg wine region, where Neckar flows.

  3. All the time I’ve spent in Germany, and I’ve never been to the Mosel Valley. I need to fix that. The Mosel Valley winemakers are clearly in it for the love of the vine! That Monorackbahn reminds me of a roller coaster!! Salud!

  4. talkavino says:

    This is one serious transportation! I saw the movie about winemaking in Valtellina Sfursat Nino Negri – they were actually transporting the grapes using helicopter… Very cool!

  5. Stefano says:

    Wonderful post, Oliver: super informative. I did not know that the vineyards in the Mosel were THAT steep! Wow, really impressive. They kind of remind me (clearly, in a less extreme way!) of the vineyards in Valtellina, certain sections of the Amalfi Coast and Liguria. I completely agree with what you say: you have to love the commitment, the hard work, the determination of those producers to make it against all odds. Hat’s off to them, especially if, despite clearly greater production costs, they still manage to keep the prices of their wines to so reasonable a level.
    PS: I also loved your World Series tongue in cheek comment! ;-)

    • I couldn’t resist sneaking that in…:D

      Knowing how and under which circumstances these men and women produce wine has definitely made me way less intolerant of the exuberant pricing of estates with flat lands…it just doesn’t seem warranted by the work put in.

      I have not seen the vineyards of Valtellina or Liguria, but I do hope to see the ones along the Amalfi Coast when we visit friends of ours there next year. I already cannot wait…

      • Stefano says:

        Absolutely. When you go to the Amalfi Coast make sure to stop by Marisa Cuomo: great wine and the kind of “heroic viticulture” that I am sure you will appreciate. If you reach out to them ahead of time they will arrange a visit for you. If you recall, you may find more info about them in my post about my vertical of their delicious Fiorduva.

  6. (GULP!) that downhill trek is downright scary…and also boasts some of the most gorgeous vistas ever.

  7. Absolutely amazing, the way man can overcome nature to grow grapes. A “Disney-like” ride for wine enthusiasts. Of course, I think you may be rushing the “transportation” theme, but this was totally enjoyable.

  8. Duff's Wines says:

    Unbelievable! Thanks for this. I think that I’ll leave that trip up and down the hill to others and simply enjoy the wine that they craft.

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