Thursday September 28th – Day 6, Urzig, Wehlen
Thursday was devoted to some localised sightseeing and some serious wine tasting and buying that saw us range up and down the river as far as Urzig and Wehlen (about 3k in either direction from Zeltingen) after a morning of museums.
The morning started with another run though, this time up to the older and much more attractive bridge at Wehlen. As I was setting out the mist was clearing (much earlier for once) and the vineyard workers were already out and about everywhere I looked, so again it was a good way to start the day.
After breakfast we set off to see if there was anything interesting to see at Kloster Machern, just on the other side of the river from Zeltingen. There’s been some sort of religious community on the spot since at least 1084, but the official foundation of the convent was in 1238, when an order of Cistercian nuns arrived. The parent house was Himmerod Abbey, which is nearby, and given the vineyards it owned, it was obviously a very high status establishment. It now fulfils a number of purposes, including a brewery, a cafe, a wine shop and associated restaurant, a chapel and baroque hall that are often used for weddings, and a museum covering toys, icons and a gallery space.
We started by nosing in the chapel. It’s very tiny but you can see why people would want to get married there. It’s lovely and light and I’m guessing it also helps that you would have to keep the party relatively small!
We couldn’t get into the baroque hall because it was closed off, so we walked over to the museum assuming we’d be in and out in half an hour. The lady on reception was wonderfully enthusiastic, and very keen to tell us that the entry ticket we’d just bought would get us money off several other local museums, and then she turned us loose. The toy museum is utterly brilliant with all sorts of toys, building blocks, model trains, tin cars, teddy bears, you name it. Some of it took me right back to my childhood!
There’s also a Lego exhibit that apparently gets replaced at the start of December every year. If it’s always as good as this year’s, then it’s well worth the effort. It made me want to start building there and then.
The museum apparently contains more than 2,000 toys and it certainly felt like it. There was just so much to interest us. The dolls on the other hand are more than a little disturbing, especially the older ones from the 1850s. To go with the dolls,, there are also miniature shops, a bakery, craftsmen’s workshops, an apothecary and a selection of kitchens.
After you get bored with dolls and toys, then there is also a vast collection of icons from Russia, Romania and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian ones in particular are very strange, with a very European look about them that is unexpected in the extreme, as is the almost rigid formality of the designs with”evil” characters shown only in profile so they couldn’t put the evil eye on anyone. It was while we were nosing around the icons that I recalled from the distant recesses of my mind that the Ethiopian royal family used to claim descent from the Queen of Sheba and King David, and that sort of explained some of it.
We suddenly realised we’d been in there for a couple of hours and so we took a look at the art works around bridges and then decided we needed fresh air and coffee.
We tried the vinothek but there was a coach party in and we couldn’t get any attention even by standing right in front of the two waitresses, so we moved to the cafe attached to the brewery instead. We had been planning on trying some wines as well, but that went by the board too in favour of coffee facing the Zeltingen bridge, which doesn’t look much better from a distance.
After we’d refreshed ourselves we took a look in the distillery that occupies an old cellar in the building, and after some deliberation bought a bottle of vineyard peach liqueur and one of Riesling grape liqueur, and a couple of jars of wine jelly.
Feeling slightly light-headed we drove to Urzig and stopped off at one of the vintners there, the Mönchhof, another possession of Himmerod Abbey and one of the oldest wine estates in the Moselle. Apparently there is documentary evidence from 1177 which shows that the abbey owned vineyards in and around the village of Ürzig. These days they still own the Ürzig Würzgarten and Erden Treppchen vineyards and a core part of the Erden Prälat vineyard, and apparently all their wines are produced within 1km of the house.
Even though they were theoretically closed for lunch the man we spoke to was more than happy to talk us through some of their wines and let us taste them, and we came away with a couple of 6-bottle cases to go with the one we’d already got from Trier. He also informed us that it we were looking for their wines in the UK, we’d have to go to Costco. We loaded the boxes into the car and decided we’d best stop off back at the house.
It was nice to take a lunch break and we ate some of the leftovers from the previous couple of days, reasoning that if we wanted to taste any more wines that afternoon, it might be a good idea to try and absorb some of what we’d already had (spitting helped but you’re still going to end up with some alcohol in your system no matter how much of the mouthful you don’t actually swallow). It was quite busy in our quiet little street when we set off back out, with tractors disgorging grapes into the cellar of one of the local wine makers.
We then decided to go towards Wehlen, as we’d got the address of a wine maker there from the lovely sommelier at Victor’s Fine Dining and we were keen to see if we could buy the same wines we’d had at dinner that night. We couldn’t find any sign of it, so we meandered through the tiny town to see if anyone else was around who might have wine for sale. The problem we were encountering was that most people with any connection to a vineyard were out in it harvesting this year’s grapes, and there was no one left over to handle sales. Just as we’d almost given up we spotted a sign outside one of the houses offering wine for sale, and also signs of life. And elderly man was in the garden presiding over sales of apples, and it turned out he and his wife had previously run a vineyard that was now in the hands of one of their two daughters. As they had retired they had limited stocks of wine left, but at such good prices that we promptly tasted and then bought two separate case from two vintages, and were treated to a family bickering session over the apples to boot.
From Wehlen we went a little further to Graach where we found the Weingut Kees-Kieren, where once again there was someone around to discuss wine with, and to taste and think before buying. Again we had an interesting chat, and ended up with two more cases. We were now in possession of a healthy selection of wines from the most highly rated section of the river, described by the Wine Society as follows: “the villages of the Middle Mosel which have the best-exposed sites (steep slopes facing south are privileged this far north) and soil to match (typically, crumbled slate which conserves the sun’s warmth) are in the villages of Piesport, Brauneberg, Wehlen and Erden. Very good wines, too, are made in Trittenheim, Dhron, Lieser, Bernkastel, Graach, Zelting and Ürzig, in particular.”
We were running out of steam, or at least sobriety, so we turned the car round and went back to Zeltingen, where we decanted the boxes into the cool basement room of the house, and then took a short walk down the street to yet another source of wine, this time one of the temporary “strausswirtschaft” wine bars a mere hundred metres or so from the house at the Weingut Ackermann. Apparently such establishments have been enshrined in law since the time of Charlemagne, and they can open for up to 16 weeks a year, selling the winemaker’s own product, along with simple dishes, in the Moselle most likely zwiebelkuchen, a glorious onion tart. The wine being sold here varied from some gorgeously complex Rieslings that will mature in the bottle over the next few years and an eminently quaffable €5 a bottle “beste Schoppen” contender. We took a box of the basic wine as well as a lovely Zeltinger Sonnenuhr for laying down, and hauled them away to the house. We were done for the day. It only remained to clean up and head out for dinner.
Tidied up and considerably more sober, we set out for our pre-booked table at Saxler’s. First though we stopped off for a pre-dinner drink at the end of the road from us to the river at the new cafe Unikat. A pleasant glass of wine and we were ready to move on to eat, but I’ll cover that in a separate post.