This terroir near Wellenstein in the southern Moselle Valley offers ideal conditions for Pinot Gris. It was in these Keuper marls that the grape variety was first planted in Luxembourg in the 1930s.
Many of Luxembourg’s most famous terroirs are planted with Riesling. Examples include Koeppchen near Wormeldange, Palmberg near Ahn and Felsberg near Wintrange. However, the king of grapes is not the only variety grown on the Moselle – ampelographic diversity is in fact high in this wine region. The most popular variety in gourmet restaurants is actually Pinot Gris, which grows best in the southern half of the valley, and particularly the Foulschette terroir overlooking the village of Wellenstein.
These parcels are unusual in Luxembourg in that they are not situated along the river. Foulschette lies at the bottom of the northern (and therefore fully south-facing) slope of a small valley perpendicular to the Moselle formed by the Aalerbaach, a small stream that has now been channelled underground. This steep-sided basin (with a 25-35% gradient) is bordered by Wellenstein forest, which plays an important role in creating a local microclimate.
Mathis Bastian (Domaine Mathis Bastian in Remich) knows the area like the back of his hand and is particularly fond of it. “The forest protects the vines from cold westerly winds, violent storms and hail,” he explains. Evidence of this was seen in early May 2019, when Foulschette was completely spared the late frosts that cost almost half the crop elsewhere. “My vines in Remich had everything thrown at them – frost, hail … but the ones in Foulschette were left unscathed,” comments the winemaker. Hard to believe then that the two sites are less than two kilometres apart as the crow flies.
The soil here is heavy and clayey. “The red marls are very deep in places,” says Marc Desom who cultivates just over a hectare on Foulschette and regularly extends his holding. Due to land consolidation in the 1980s, the soil is sometimes inconsistent and a good knowledge of each parcel is necessary in order to properly manage applications of organic matter. “There is less earth at the top and therefore less organic matter,” explains the winemaker. “So more compost is required here.”
The country’s first Pinot Gris planted here in 1930.
Land consolidation in the Bech-Kleinmacher/Wellenstein area (which includes Foulschette) between 1981 and 1990 was particularly heavy-handed as was often the case at that time. The 3,975 original parcels in this 218-hectare area were reduced to 800 and 2.2 million cubic metres of earth was moved. Consequently, it has taken the soil years to heal and regenerate.
Foulschette copes well with dry summers due to the forest and Keuper marls. The trees create water reserves, as does the clay in the soil, which expands during rainfall, retaining precious moisture that the vine stocks’ long roots are able to tap if needed during dry spells. “Our vines in Foulschette yielded a very large crop in 2018, which was a particularly hot year,” notes Mathis Bastian, adding that there are also a number of springs in the hillside, which are a godsend during heatwaves.
The rich, fertile soil offers ideal conditions for Pinot Gris. “It’s one of the best soils for this grape variety,” says Marc Desom who makes his driest Pinot Gris from these grapes. Wines grown here are neither tense or mineral. Foulschette Pinots Gris are opulent and round, which is perfectly befitting of this generous grape variety.
“For years, we have known that Foulschette is ideal for Pinot Gris. Luxembourg’s first Pinot Gris vines were even planted here in the 1930s,” points out Mathis Bastian. The Wilwert-Brucher family, once wine estate owners, imported them from the Alsace region in France. This famous estate supplied the court of the Grand Duke. Its coat of arms can still be seen on the façade of the estate building. Sadly though, production ceased due to a lack of heirs.” Mathis Bastian therefore took on some of these vines. These first Pinot Gris root stocks were grafted and then replanted in one of the Luxembourg Wine Institute’s control vineyards in Remich with a view to preserving this heritage.