Luxembourg’s main claim to fame is its tax system. People are less familiar with its vineyards, some of Europe’s most northerly, that are also among its oldest. Its history of winegrowing, spanning from the Celts to the present day, is fascinating. But just what lies behind winegrowing in this tiny state located in the heart of the European Union? Read on to find out more about the unique vineyards in Luxembourg’s Moselle region.
- An ancient history
- Small and magnificent
- Three-pronged industry organisation
- Varietal range: whites, Pinot noir and disease-resistant grapes
- Crémant du Luxembourg celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
- A clutch of organic producers
An ancient history
The Moselle valley has a 2,000-year-old tradition of growing wine. The Celts, Gauls and the Romans grew vines here before the monasteries took over in the Middle Ages and extended vineyards until they covered a large part of the country. The harsh winter of 1709, however, made winegrowing once again the exclusive prerogative of the Moselle. By the end of the 19th century, 90% of vineyards were earmarked for the Elbling grape, which was exported to Germany to be blended with the local wines.
It was only after the customs union agreement with Belgium (1922), the foundation of the Wine & Vine Institute in Remich (1925) and the creation of the National Brand (1935) that winegrowing was diversified and expanded.
Since the 1980s, the ‘Moselle Luxembourgeoise – Appellation contrôlée’ designation has been introduced, followed by the advent of the ‘Crémant de Luxembourg’ appellation, and subsequently that of the Late Harvest, Ice Wine, Straw Wine and ‘Barrel Wine’ labelling statements.
Small and magnificent
‘A river runs through it’ is most definitely an appropriate epithet for Luxembourg’s wine regions such is the serenity and beauty they exude. The river in this case is the Moselle, bordered by Luxembourg’s vineyards along a 42-km stretch, opposite Germany. The river wends its way through a magnificent vineyard landscape. Unsurprisingly, the Grand Duchy’s Moselle valley, the country’s main wine region, is also one of its main tourist destinations, located just 20 km from the capital city. From Schengen in the South to Wasserbillig in the North, some 340 farmers grow around 1,280 hectares of vines, 90% of which are planted to grape varieties used to make white wines.
Three-pronged industry organisation
The Luxembourg wine industry is managed by three types of producers. As Philippe Schmitz, sales representative for Domaines Vinsmoselle, explains, “the country has a great tradition of co-operatives”. Domaines Vinsmoselle combines the country’s six co-operative wineries and 450 winegrowing members. Together, they account for 61.70% of producers. This year, they are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their first co-operative winery, the oldest in the Luxembourg Moselle region, Caves de Grevenmacher.
52 independent winegrowers joined forces in 1966 in the Independent Winegrower Trade Organisation (O.P.V.I.), and account for 23% of producers
The vintner-negociants, who founded the Federation of Vintner-Negociants in 1928 and have promoted sparkling wines since the 1920s, represent 15.30% of producers.
Varietal range: whites, Pinot noir and disease-resistant grapes
Of the 1,280 ha of vineyards across the Luxembourg Moselle region, 90% of grape varieties are white. Rivaner (Müller-Thurgau) leads the way with 21.6% of vineyard acreage. The variety produces light table wines. Next come Pinot gris and a Luxembourg speciality, Auxerrois, with around 15% each. These are followed by Riesling, the ‘king of white wines’, which covers 12.8% of vineyard area. This late-ripening variety is less prone to fungal diseases and withstands noble rot particularly well. As for Elbling, which used to be the majority grape, its acreage is constantly on the decline.
Luxembourg is increasingly turning to Pinot noir. Currently, one tenth of vineyard area is planted to this red Burgundy variety. According to Claude François, journalist and editor of the VinsLux guide, and also an astute observer of Luxembourg’s vineyards: “Almost all winegrowers produce Pinot noir and ferment it in wooden barrels. The finest Pinot noir vintage to date is 2018, followed by an equally excellent 2020. But in virtually every vintage since 2014, good Pinot noirs have been produced”.
Disease-resistant grapes like Cabernet blanc
Luxembourg wine producers, including the Domaines Vinsmoselle co-operative and small growers like Domaine KOX, are starting to produce wines from resistant grapes like Cabernet blanc, a cross between Cabernet-Sauvignon and a disease-resistant variety created by Switzerland’s Valentin Blattner in 1991, mirroring the tack taken by their French counterparts.
Crémant du Luxembourg is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year
Claude François continues: “Nowadays, everyone makes Crémants du Luxembourg. It is the driving force behind our wine industry”. That was in 1991. Currently, approximately three million bottles are produced annually. Some of the locals like to claim that “the best labels can certainly compete with the finest Champagnes”!
A clutch of organic wine producers
Organic winegrowing is gradually gaining traction, currently representing 10% of vineyard management among independent winegrowers. Others are testing organic techniques in some blocks. A case in point is the resistant Cabernet blanc grape variety by Domaines Vinsmoselle. There is still a lot of room for improvement. “Winegrowers who work more conventionally are generally environmentally-friendly too and are introducing sustainable farming techniques”, admits one observer.
By Anne Schoendoerffer