Germany's Mosel River Valley is the most frightful place on earth to make wine. Its dangerously steep slate slopes — perfect for capturing sunlight and radiating heat to ripen Riesling in this marginal climate — are being abandoned. The (sometimes literal) backbreaking labor and cost to work them has proven too great for many of the farmers of the region, especially considering the pitiful prices many of the wines fetch in today’s market.But one man, Ulli Stein, is on a crusade to save them. Like your favorite eccentric uncle, he’s educated, passionate and not afraid to step on toes to do what he feels is right. He’s fought the German government and the EU to save historical traditions of the region, and won. He refuses to submit to wine critics for reviews, letting the wines garner their own attention — which they do.Ulli isn’t fighting just to prove a point. He’s fighting for his national treasure. The Alfer Holle vineyard (or “Hell”) is his pinnacle. The vines were planted, like the name of the wine suggests, in 1900. They are, like most of Ulli’s vines, ungrafted on single stakes in pure slate at death defying angles. With tiny berries on little bunches, the airflow is constant, botrytis is never a problem and the juice to skin ratio means these are some of the most concentrated wines out there.
Many of us enjoy our Riesling with at least a touch of sugar. If you’ve ever had a cocktail on a tropical island, you’ll have noticed that a little sweetness has no problem at all dealing with hot weather, and it probably helps. “Weihwasser” means “holy water”, and indeed Riesling is such a magical grape that even hardcore atheists have been tempted to associate it with the divine. This holy water comes from the incredibly steep slopes of the Lower Mosel.