Kirk Wille gets down and dirty in the world’s steepest vineyard, the Bremmer Calmont in the Mosel. Join Kirk as he recounts his recent trip to Germany and the serious hiking he filled his days with – including plenty of Riesling to recharge!
We all know that Germany’s Mosel Valley is the source of some of the finest Rieslings grown anywhere in the world. The extremely steep slopes and distinctive slate soil of this storied wine region form a unique growing situation and produce a singular style of wine. But those vertiginous slopes also provide another opportunity to experience the region in a very up-close and personal way, by taking to foot and scrambling through the vines. The Germans are über-avid hikers, so there is a prodigious web of trails throughout the valley, wending their way through the vineyards and into the surrounding forests. In fact, they have designated an official hiking trail that runs the complete length of the Mosel. Called the Moselsteig (“Mosel climb”), it covers some 365 kilometers (228 miles and is broken into 24 stages, each a good day’s hike of 11 to 24km). On a recent vacation in the Mosel with my wife and some friends – serious hikers all – I finally took some time away from cellar visits and wine tastings to dive into several segments of the Moselsteig. Our first outing was through the famously steep Calmont vineyard in the village of Bremm. Indeed, Calmont is acknowledged as the steepest vineyard in the entire world. The name is derived from the original Latin name given by the Romans: Caldus Mons, meaning “hot mountain,” and indicates that this hairpin turn in the river has long been recognized as having superior conditions for growing grapes.
When you see the impossibly steep and rugged face of the Calmont from a distance, you wonder how there can possibly be a trail across it. But we struck out from the church in Bremm and soon found ourselves on the Calmont Kelttersteig (“scrambling climb”), a side trail of the Moselsteig that picks its way across the middle of the slope. With each step along this frightening path (one especially tricky part of the trail bears the nickname “Todesangst” – “mortal fear” in German), you gain a greater respect for the brave souls who work these vineyards. This now includes our friends at Dr. Loosen, because Erni acquired a one-hectare parcel of Calmont a couple of years ago.
As the Klettersteig trail approached the next village, at the end of the Calmont slope, we turned uphill for a huffing-and-puffing climb to the top of the ridge. There we joined the official Moselsteig trail and looped back toward our starting point in Bremm. Now in the cool shade of the forest, we realized just how exposed we had been to the brutal heat of the sun while traversing in the vineyard. Thankfully, we had been clever enough to start the day with the exposed section, before it got too hot. But we thought again of all the vineyard workers who must endure those conditions all day long in order to bring us the wines that we cherish so much.
From the top, you get a spectacular view of the valley, looking both upstream and downstream at the same time. You know you’ve made a good climb when you find yourself eye-to-eye with the hang gliders! By comparison to that climb, the hike back across the top and down into Bremm was an easy stroll through the woods. Along the way, we found some intriguing sights, such as the Schutzhütte (shelter hut), the Vierseenblick (viewpoint where you can see four different bits of the Mosel), the site of an ancient Roman sanctuary, and the Gipfelkreuz (“cross at the summit”). It was a fantastic, and strenuous, first day on the Moselsteig, made even more exhausting by the unusual heat (over 90ºF) in the valley that September day. But the greatest thing about hiking in the Mosel is that there is always a village – and a pub – at the end of the trail. A cold, crisp local Pilsner is a beautifully cultural way to refresh yourself after a good day’s workout. Our hiking friends – the Merrery Wanderers – have hashtagged it #payoff!