The bulldozers are finally due to leave the countryside to the north of Stadtbredimus. Major consolidation work is drawing to a close on the Goldberg terroir and vines are set to be replanted on more gently sloping parcels and brand-new terraces.
Over twenty years. That’s how long it has taken to reorganise and alter the topography of the vineyards overlooking the lock in Stadtbredimus (Primerberg, Rouseberg, Goldberg, Fels and Dieffert). The municipal authorities filed their land consolidation application in 1999, which led to Grand Duke Henri and Fernand Boden, then Minister for Agriculture, Viticulture and Sustainable Development, signing a Grand-Ducal regulation endorsing the project two years later (6 July 2001).
Although two decades is a long time, an enormous amount of work was required. For the final phase alone, initiated in 2015, the land consolidation covered an area of 98 hectares (60 of which were planted with vines) distributed among 133 owners. Not only did cadastral boundaries need to be reorganised to rationalise the distribution of land among owners, but the entire area also had to be redeveloped. This involved improving 4 km of paths and building 2.6 km of new ones. A 10 km drainage system and two retention basins have also been built.
In total, this phase cost €7.4 million, with 90% funded by the state and the balance paid by landowners in proportion to the area of land owned. Each winemaker in Stadtbredimus paid approximately €15,000 per hectare, a sum that does not reflect several years’ lost earnings due to lack of income from these parcels. In addition to the time required for the land consolidation work, winemakers will have to wait a further three harvests before they can start producing wine. Some plan to wait another year after that to allow young vines to become more firmly rooted in the soil. Moreover, it will take at least a decade for the specific characteristics of this terroir to fully emerge in the wines produced from it. Land consolidations invariably take a heavy toll like a wound that needs time to heal.
However, the impact of this one has been less severe than its predecessors. That said, the project certainly got off to a highly contentious start. The idea originated among a handful of winemakers with support from the local authorities, which mainly saw it as a good opportunity to have several kilometres of country roads repaired at the state’s expense. However, a large majority of wine-growers opposed the project set out by the National Land Consolidation Office (ONR) in its initial incarnation. This looked set to be a particularly harsh land consolidation and the preparatory meetings were animated, to say the least.
With a helping hand from the law of 25 May 1964 setting out the relevant procedures (which is still making the news today), the “ayes” prevailed by a small margin. Under this legislation, any landowners absent during votes are automatically considered in favour. Reflecting hostility among the growers, four of the five winemakers elected to the land consolidation committee had voted against the project! Jean-Marie Vesque (Domaine Viticole Cep d´Or Hëttermillen) is their chairman and was himself highly critical of the project. “Since the opponents were in the majority, all parties were forced to listen to us and, after extensive discussions, we managed to reach a suitable compromise,” he explains. “There is a big difference between the initial project and what has eventually been done.”
There is a big difference between the initial project and what has eventually been done.There is a big difference between the initial project and what has eventually been done.
Despite initial plans to bulldoze the entire area, several parcels were left unscathed. The hilly landscape was only partially modified to avoid creating excessively artificial and uniform flat areas. Most of the work was carried out in places with the steepest slopes. This entailed terracing 2.6 hectares of land where gradients exceeded 40%. Some of these terraces were supported by dry-stone walls and others by embankments reinforced with coir netting. Appropriate plant cover has been planted to keep everything in place and eventually add an aesthetic touch to the landscape.
The biggest challenges were faced in the Hosbëesch area (part of the Goldberg terroir) where a major landslide occurred just a few months before work started, cutting off all access to the vineyards. Excavations were performed here to a depth of eight metres, with rocks added for reinforcement. The path that originally led over the top of the hill was diverted to avoid its weight resting on the mass of arable land. “These types of events do tend to happen on this land,” says Jean-Marie Vesque. “A landslide occurred in the same spot in the 1960s.”
Since large areas need to be replanted, land consolidation also provides an opportunity to look to the future and consider planting new grape varieties. “Consumption has changed considerably in the past 20 years,” admits Jean-Marie Vesque. “For instance, people have virtually stopped drinking Elbling and Rivaner. In these new vineyards, I’ll be focusing on Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and perhaps some Pinot Meunier for crémants.”
The Stadtbredimus land consolidation will be one of the latest in a relatively successful series which, in the course of just one century, has seen the reorganisation of 1,200 of the 1,300 hectares that make up the Luxembourg wine region. The next one is due to take place in Wintrange behind Felsberg. The ONR had big plans for this project too, until winemakers mobilised to ensure that work is confined to a small part of this magnificent terroir affected by a landslide. From now on, it’s hands off unless strictly necessary!