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The Mosel: A bridge too far

A plan to build a bridge straight through one of Europe’s most famous wine regions has enraged hugh johnson, who believes that it is both unwanted and unnecessary

What if I were to tell you that they have decided to make Dijon Airport a cargo hub for eastern France, and that Ryanair is stationing its French holiday fleet there? It is vital, they say, to have a new access road from central France.

Unfortunately, the only route for the road – or so they assert – runs along the crest of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or,

100m from the top of the vineyards of Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin.

The project involves a viaduct 160m high (you could fit Notre Dame under it) and almost 2km long. Work has already started on carving the road deep into the Côte d’Or, quarrying, felling the forest and pouring concrete in for flyovers.

You, a foreign fan of Burgundy, have not heard about this. And, to come clean, it isn’t actually happening. Not in France anyway. But it is happening in Germany’s Middle Mosel, in the finest Riesling vineyards on the planet – the slatey slopes of Wehlen, Graach, Urzig and Zeltingen.

The airport is Frankfurt-Hahn (actually a two-hour drive from Frankfurt) and Ryanair is using its usual bluster. This mad, destructive, unnecessary road is on course to pollute the most famous, most beautiful and historic stretch of one of Europe’s loveliest rivers, forever.

You must understand that the Mosel, for all its global prestige, is not a big deal for Germany’s politicians. It lies near the French border, and border provinces always get short shrift. But the state of Rheinland-Pfalz also has bigger wine regions, with more voters. There are 8,000ha (hectares) of vines on the Mosel, but 20,000ha in Rheinhessen, and more in the Palatinate.

The regional government at Mainz has a chip on its shoulder, envious of its neighbour, Frankfurt, in the state of Hessen, with its huge international airport. Kurt Beck is minister-president of Rheinland-Pfalz, and some say that boosting Hahn’s fortunes could be his big contribution to the region, ensuring his place in the (local) history books.

What will it do to such vineyards as the Sonnenuhr in Wehlen and Zeltingen, Graacher Domprobst or Urziger Würzgarten? In the case of the Würzgarten, it will smash right into the middle of it. The others will have to wait and see; it will irretrievably alter their drainage and their ecology.

Water that would have flowed through them from the hilltop will be diverted away from them by the road. No study has been able to predict the long-term effect, but one thing is certain: their magic ecology will be changed for ever.

Perhaps the bridge will exalt the valley in the way Norman Foster’s sublime Millau Viaduct exalts the Tarn (in France’s Massif Central region). No chance. It is nothing but an autobahn on stilts.

I was on site to address a protest meeting in September, having visited the works and seen the swathe being cut through the forests. It was hard to believe that this is the age of comprehension that screwing the planet is yesterday’s game.

The past 40 years have not been kind to the Mosel. It is one of the regions of Europe that should have been given World Heritage status, both for its beauty and its history, but it was never on the German government’s list of priorities. Dresden was made a World Heritage site, but when the government built a huge bridge over its finest landscape, UNESCO cancelled its status.

As for the Mosel’s wine, in an age when people are shying away from weight and alcohol, the incredible precision of its lightweight Rieslings makes them contenders for the world’s most modern wines. It is not the Côte d’Or. It is somewhere just as unique, but far more beautiful and sadly even more delicate.

Every wine lover should stand up and protest. If you agree with me, contact the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (write to her at angela.merkel@cdu.de), and open a bottle of Urziger, Graacher, Wehlener… you choose.

Written by Hugh Johnson

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