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The Calmont Vineyard: Where the Rock itself gives birth to Wine
There's no steeper slope even along the Mosel: With a gradient of up to 60 percent, the Calmont is the steepest sloped vineyard in all Europe. The hill with a height of 290 metres, rising between Bremm and Ediger-Eller, was born 400 million years ago in the earth age of Devon and consists of slate rocks and weathered graywacke stones.
The steep slope causes an ideal angle towards sun radiation thereby providing an optimum of temperature for the growth of the Riesling wine grapes. Walls made of slate rocks, built horizontally across the slope, save the soft soil of clay slate from sliding down – they also give the steepest vineyard of all Europe its distinctive face. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the famous German poet, once described the famous vineyard as "a natural amphitheatre, where on small, protruding edges the grapevine flourishes at its best."
As a matter of fact, viticulture has a centuries old tradition of cultivation on the Calmont. The oldest record that we know of is to be found in the epic poem „De navigo suo“, written around 588 by Venantius Fortunatus, then bishop of Poitiers. Venantius accompanied the Merowingian king Childebert II. on a journey by ship from Metz to Andernach in the Rhine valley. Already in those Medieval times, travelling by ship on the Mosel was popular, and also the abundance of grapevines between the rocks of the steep slope caught the eye of the traveller: "Up there, where steeply jointed rocks give birth to the most precious sweetness of the grapes", romanticized Venantius, continuing: "where leaved vineyards rise upwards towards naked mountaintops", there "yields a harvest of the many colored grapes to the wine maker, hanging inside the precipice, harvesting the fruit." So steep the slopes and so bare the slate rocks that "rock itself giveth birth and wine gushes from it."
Indeed, the jagged and steep rock slopes mean hard work to the wine makers also in our times, enabling only hand work on the slopes – up to 1800 hours per hectare. The grapes have to be brought down to the carts on the men's backs. From the 1990s on, a single-tracked rack railway eased the pain of the work, that railway being a piece of wine culture in itself well worth seeing. Nevertheless, work remains dure up in the steep slopes, and because of that, today only 13 hectares of the 22 hectares of vineyard space are still stocked with grapevines.
The name "Calmont", by the way, is said to come from the Latin words "calidus", meaning 'warm', and "mons", meaning 'mountain' – or from the Celtic word "kal" which means 'dure'. Calmont thus signifies rocky mountain - and that can be experienced by visitors by mounting the Calmont: a spectacular via ferrata leads through the vineyard which has been nicknamed "the Eiger north face of the vineyards".