There are some places in the wine world where vineyards are extremely difficult to harvest. To look at them, one might think vineyard work would be impossible.
These are locations where the grapevines are planted on steep hillsides. Germany’s Mosel region has the most labor-intensive vineyards in the world, rising up from the Mosel River. It seems as if they barely cling to the hillsides, and there’s absolutely no way that harvest machines can be utilized.
That means humans must be used to pick the grapes, and because of the steepness of those hillsides, it takes about seven times the amount of manpower to get the job done compared to flatter vineyard sites such as in California’s Napa Valley.
The vines in the Mosel are trained to grow so that people working in the vineyard can do so “horizontally,” rather than the more difficult “on the vertical” manner. Even so, it can be dangerous work, as numerous lives have been lost over the years when workers lost their footing on the tough topography.
Cruising on the Rhine River between Basel, Switzerland, and Amsterdam, Netherlands, steep vineyards are ubiquitous. As you can see from these pictures, some run all the way from the banks of the river up to the hilltop mesas, while others are planted in the backyards of small-village dwellers next to homes and churches.
For anyone who loves wine, these vineyards are sights to behold, every bit as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the dozens of castles that line the Rhine.
Looking closely into the rows of vines, one can see a few narrow walkways interspersed for workers to navigate. Many of the vineyards have installed simple but effective pulley systems to move the harvested grapes in baskets down (rarely up) the hill.
Is all the work worth it? The added labor certainly contributes to higher prices for many of the wines made in these regions. But grapevines planted on steep hillsides tend to be extremely “stressed,” and stressed vines produce concentrated, intensely flavored grapes.
And that adds up to wines with alluring aromas and complex flavors.
When he noted, “Without a struggle there can be no progress,” Frederick Douglass was not talking about steep hillside vines.
But he could have been.