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Grevenmacher Fels – the spirit of the cliffs

Shelly limestone is a distinctive feature of the northern half of the Luxembourg winegrowing region, and the Grevenmacher Fels is one of the terroirs that express this remarkable minerality to best effect.

The Grevenmacher Fels is one of Luxembourg’s most renowned terroirs. Even at a cursory glance, it is clear that this area lying just south of Grevenmacher is aptly named. In Luxembourgish, the word “Fels” means “cliff” or “rock”, and there’s certainly no shortage of stone here! A dolomite limestone barrier dramatically encloses the western slopes, which are topped with woodland providing a very useful shield against cold winds. This hard, white stone betrays the origins of this area which, over 200 million years ago, was covered in shallow lagoons, whose accumulated sediment and sand transformed into limestone. The area is scattered with marine fossils, remnants of this ancient landscape that formed today’s rich terroir. The entire Fels lies on the border of the vast, Natura 2000-protected Machtum/Pellembierg/Froumbierg/ Greivenmaacherbierg region, which also includes the Palmberg terroir (Ahn).

Beneath the cliffs, limestone scree has mingled with the soil for an eternity. This mineral presence, which can also be seen in the dry-stone walls supporting the terraces, combined with the geometric beauty of the rows of vines, creates a very scenic landscape that also happens to be an ideal ecosystem for growing vines. Its prowess is evident from the names of the wine estates that cultivate the land. Here, you will only find prestigious producers, including Clos des Rochers (Grevenmacher), Château Pauqué (Grevenmacher), and Domaine Alice Hartmann (Wormeldange). Domaines Vinsmoselle also produces one of its finest Rieslings here.

This terroir is also a rarity in Luxembourg, since two of its parcels form terroirs in their own right, namely Groärd, an isolated area in the south, and Paradäis in the north. These subdivisions, which are synonymous with high-end wines, are invariably mentioned on labels. The name “Groärd” (which translates as “grey earth”) holds the key to the terroir’s special qualities, since its seam of loamy yet relatively poor clay-limestone soil is unique in the local area. In contrast, loamy, stony clay soil is found in Paradäis further to the north. 

The Fels was consolidated in the 1990s, with almost all the vines planted between 1995 and 2004. It is during this period that the terrace walls were rebuilt in dry stone. Some older parcels have survived, mainly in the north (towards Paradäis), where the oldest vine stocks (mainly Elbling, Auxerrois and Riesling) were planted in the early 1950s.

The Le Clos des Rochers estate (in Grevenmacher) cultivates approximately 5 hectares of land on the Fels, which has given it expert knowledge of this terroir. Its manager, Antoine Clasen (who is also CEO of Caves Bernard Massard) cannot hide his admiration for these vines, and particularly those in Groärd on which he has a monopoly. “It’s the king of the Moselle in my opinion!” he proclaims emphatically. “The Fels is our most calcareous terroir and the one that produces the most filigree, mineral wines.”

Marc Weyer, who supplies grapes to Le Clos des Rochers, describes the characteristics that make the Fels so special: “Firstly, the soil is very stony and fairly poor with little topsoil, which is perfect for grapevines. Secondly, it is south-west/south facing, which is ideal, since the cliffs store heat during the day, which they release at night. And finally, the slopes here are very steep with an average gradient of between 25 and 35%.” However, this all comes with one drawback – young vines can suffer from a shortage of water during very dry summers. It takes them ten to twelve years to develop a sufficiently extensive root system to cope with hot spells. 

Groärd wine is highly distinctive with a scent of stone and lemon, which keeps coming back year after year, regardless of the quality of the vintage.

At the bottom of the hill, closer to the Moselle, the gradient decreases and alluvium deposited during ancient floods enriches the soil. Although the risk of drought is minimal here due to the river’s proximity, spring frosts can bite very hard.

As you would expect, Riesling thrives in this terroir. “It offers magnificent flavour attributes, with citrus notes, minerality, and great finesse…,” confirms Antoine Clasen. Le Clos des Rochers also produces a highly sophisticated Riesling from its vineyards on Palmberg near Ahn (about 5 km further south as the crow flies), a lieu-dit with similar geological features to the Fels. Although his heart is torn between these two gems, he knows which way it leans: “These are two absolutely magnificent terroirs, but in my view Groärd has even greater depth and tone. Groärd wine is highly distinctive with a scent of stone and lemon, which keeps coming back year after year, regardless of the quality of the vintage. Although somewhat disguised by fruit aromas in more recent vintages, it always ends up coming out after three or four years.”

This notion of passing time is crucial to appreciating wines produced here. Although still very good when consumed early, they should really be left several years to achieve their full potential and class. “The longevity of Groärd wines is remarkable – they keep extremely well. I recently opened some bottles from 2004, and in a blind tasting everyone thought they were from 2011 or 2012.”

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