One of the reasons grapes (and olives) have been so successful in the human diet is that they will grow ANYWHERE. In the exact logic that tells us to plant corn and wheat in the topography that is easy to harvest, we plant grapes and olives in the places that staple crops will not grow well enough to sustain us. They can be planted on the valley floors, but that is luxury not history. Great winegrapes thrive on the margins of possibility.
These slopes overlook Germany’s Mosel River at Bernkastel-Kues – and the view is vertiginous. The rough-hewn stone stairs offer little improvement on the climb up or down. The slaty soil in which these Riesling grapes grow erodes down the slope with the winter and is carted back up every spring lest the vines themselves become uprooted. Bernkastel’s latitude provides only low average temperatures. Their stout-legged harvesters enjoy no luxury of machination hauling these grapes to press.
And in most years, karmic justice prevails (brought along by dedicated muscle and know-how) marshaling the produce of these staked vines into piercingly flavorful, inspirational examples of wine – specifically Riesling. Cooler years just highlight tha acidity of the grape instead of the sweetness.
And for the wines, their homeland prizes ripeness above all else – as they have for hundreds of years. What else could bring such pride in the land of thin sunlight and low temperature? The German classification system still maintains its foundations in grape sweetness at harvest. Now, with consistently productive years in the upper tiers of classification, growers wishing to distinguish themselves craft ever drier versions of their wines. They are mimicking their French neighbors (and it’s turnabout).
So, stereotypes erode too. Carry them back up if you have to. We don’t have to live with vertigo, height and slope offer delightful perspective to the safe valleys.