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Vineyards – a landscape worth exploring

In Germany, courses with a strong academic focus are available for those wishing to become a nature guide specialising in hillside vineyards. For the first time this year, Luxembourgian students have enrolled. Here is an interview with a recent graduate, Michèle Mannes, a wine-grower on the Häremillen estate.

Vineyards are still classified as a cultural landscape. They have been planted on the Moselle since antiquity with a history spanning two millennia. For the past seven years, the Dienstleistungszentrum Ländlichler Raum Mosel (DLR Mosel, the equivalent of the Luxembourg Wine Institute) has been researching and promoting these environments. The DLR has already trained 143 nature guides specialising in vineyard biodiversity as part of the “Living Hillside Vineyards” project.

The DLR also promotes “beacon sites” (Leuchtpunkte) through publications, a short film and events. This year, the village of Sommerau on the banks of the River Ruwer, which joins the Moselle at Trier, was selected. Next year, to reflect cooperation between the two countries, it will be the turn of Palmberg, the magnificent terroir near the village of Ahn in Luxembourg.

For the first time this year, the Luxembourg Wine Institute has joined forces with its German colleagues to promote cross-border development. Luxembourgian students attended the course delivered in Temmels (opposite Grevenmacher) and three of them have graduated – Michèle Mannes, Jutta Kanstein (a guide with the Regional Tourist Office for the Luxembourg Moselle, who is already guiding walkers around the Palmberg vineyard near Ahn) and Albert Hoffmann.

I designed a 5.4 km circular walk around Ehnen, which demonstrates how work in vineyards has changed over the years.

The reasons for Michèle Mannes’ interest in the course are fairly self-evident. A trained landscape architect, she currently works as a wine-grower with her father Max Mannes (Häremillen estate in Ehnen). “The classes were very interesting and pitched at a high level, especially the ones on geology, botany and wine-growing,” she acknowledges.

As part of their assessment, candidates could design their own biodiversity-themed guided walk. “I designed a 5.4 km circular walk around Ehnen, which demonstrates how work in vineyards has changed over the years,” she explains. “First, I guided the group through the Wousselt terroir with its old terraces and dry-stone walls. The land here has not been grouped and attracts uncommon flora and fauna including lizards, grass snakes and wild bees.”

She went on to show the walkers other biotopes. While some of these have been shaped by man others have developed due to abandonment. For instance, fallow vineyard parcels provide havens for numerous other species. Further on, oak and beech trees have reclaimed abandoned terraces.

When the walkers reached the Rousemen terroir, they were shown a more intensive form of wine-growing made possible by land consolidation, which enables work to be mechanised. “This place illustrates the principle of premiums for landscape conservation,” explains the wine-grower turned guide. They encourage wine-growers to cultivate only one in two rows and grow flowers, which attract insects, in turn prompting the return of birds.”

I’m sure that wine-growers will increasingly get on board

Having made their way back down the banks of the Goustengerbaach, the hikers found themselves in an area of wetlands, where salamanders and hart’s-tongue ferns can occasionally still be seen, much to the amazement of the German visitors. “This is a rare and protected species in Germany,” says Michèle Mannes. “And there are a lot of them here, so they were really surprised and took plenty of photos!”

New houses are being built on former vineyards here, certainly the most visible sign of modernity. Many very well-positioned parcels have been replaced by houses in a variety of different styles, which ultimately do not blend in well with the landscape…

Michèle Mannes believes that there is a bright future for this approach of allowing visitors to immerse themselves in a place in order to understand it. “The number of wine-growers offering guided walks has skyrocketed in Germany,” she points out. It’s beginning to take off here too and I’m sure that wine-growers will increasingly get on board as it is in everyone’s interest. It is in our interest as it increases our visibility and also in the interests of visitors, who leave having had a very enriching experience and met new people.”

“We meet a producer on all our vineyard walks”

Training of tourist guides is also taken very seriously in Luxembourg. “It starts with national training organised by the Regional Tourist Offices, the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce and the Luxembourg House of Training,” explains Nathalie Besch, tourism coordinator at the Miselerland Regional Tourist Office. Lecturers teach budding guides about Luxembourgian history, geography, cultural landscape and geology as well as legislation on the profession, the country’s tourist institutions, and planning and execution of guided tours in the field. Once they have passed the theory examination, future guides can enrol on regional courses organised by the Regional Tourist Offices in partnership with various regional stakeholders. Candidates work on general topics with a focus on the region and other topics that relate to specific aspects of the various regions. On the Moselle, the emphasis is on geology, cultural heritage (due to the region’s museums and millennia of historic heritage), architecture, local traditions, and, of course, wine. Anne-Catherine Mondloch (manager of the Wine Museum with a degree in sensory analysis) gives a seminar on oenology, while Serge Fischer (head of the wine-growing department of the Luxembourg Wine Institute) teaches students about the Moselle wine-growing region. This year, future guides even took part in the grape harvest accompanied by Robby Mannes (wine-growing department of the Luxembourg Wine Institute). After completing all the courses, candidates take a theory and practical examination before becoming certified tourist guides with the Luxembourg Moselle Regional Tourist Office.”

Twenty-eight guides are currently accredited for the Moselle. They believe that showing people around the vineyards is essential: “We meet a producer on all our vineyard walks. We either take visitors to a cellar or wine bar, or, if there is sufficient time, wine-growers meet us in the vineyard to introduce themselves and offer tastings of wines and crémants part way through the walk.  We sometimes also enjoy a meal together!”, says Nathalie Besch.

[Footnote] Details of all services offered by the Regional Tourist Office and an events calendar are available on the website: www.visitmoselle.lu.

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