Ern Schumacher (Domaine Schumacher-Lethal, in Wormeldange), president of the Independent Winegrowers of Luxembourg, looked out some old photographs from his family photo albums.
Working a vineyard is a family business, a pilgrim’s staff that is handed down from generation to generation. Looking through old photos which have been carefully preserved is a way of connecting with this lineage, where it’s not just a question of genes, but of passion too.
In the Schumachers’ album, we see photos particularly of Pierre, father of a young Ern who doesn’t yet know that he will devote his life to the vines. A paternal figure, still very much present since the estate’s crémant is named after him: Cuvée Pierre.
These old photos with their serrated edges provide valuable evidence of what the Moselle looked like in the middle of the last century. Although it is still all about harvesting the grapes, methods have progressed greatly, even if today the Moselle is an area where harvesting is still mostly done by hand.
And already, the torch is being passed on to different hands. The keys to the cellar are now in those of Tom, Ern’s son. With his father’s blessing, Tom brings with him new ideas so that the story can continue.
“This photo was taken in 1962 or 1963. You can see my father, Pierre, on the left. I’m in the middle and on the right is my cousin, Henri, who was a baker [owner of 16 shops, he sold his business at the start of the year]. We’re in the garage adjoining our family home, in the middle of Wormeldange. During grape harvesting, we’d get out the equipment and set up the wine press. Back then it was state of the art! This model was the first to replace traditional presses. The grapes arrived in wooden vats placed on a trailer. My cousin and I, we used to feed the grape bunches into the grape crusher using a shovel. The grapes would then go into the wine press and the juice would run out from the bottom. Because there was a bunghole dug into the ground through which a tube ran, the juice could flow directly down into the cellar, just below. It was all very carefully thought out! I can remember spending hours with my cousin, a knife in our hands, removing grape skins and grape pips that would get stuck between the wooden staves of the vats. I used this cellar up until 2009… but I did replace the equipment! Since then we have moved to entirely new premises on the Route du Vin.”
“Here’s a photo of the grape harvest, from the mid-1950s. At that time, the grape pickers were either members of the family or workers from Arbed [the large Luxembourg steel group, before it became ArcelorMittal, based in the south]. They’d take their holiday to come and work in the Moselle because they could earn decent money. During those years there was a really special atmosphere in the villages. We used to work hard during the day but in the evening, everyone went to the cafés and we’d listen to music: it was really lively! Now, it’s much quieter and anyway there aren’t many cafés left… The man on the ladder is carrying an iron container. Before these ‘hottes’ were made of wood and were much heavier. Later on they were made from plastic but now we don’t use them at all! The grape-pickers are putting the grapes into containers that are being placed on the trailer. On the photo, you can see that the wooden vat is covered with canvas sacks which were used for potatoes or seeds. We had to do this because whenever it was too dry, the staves would contract and the vats would no longer be watertight. So we had to keep the vats damp using these sacks which we sprayed with water.”
“Here’s my grandfather on my mother’s side, Metty Lethal, who also had some vines on his farm. This photo was definitely taken before 1971. Metty always used to come and harvest the grapes, but he stopped that year. Not because he was too old, but rather because the vineyard plots had just been joined together and he wasn’t at all happy about it! He didn’t want to work on the new larger plots, he preferred the smaller ones from before. He was so disgusted by this plot consolidation that he stopped coming to the vineyards.”