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In vino historia: Historic Vineyards as Sites of Cultural Heritage

June 30, 2010

Plans for a bridge and new motorway in Germany’s Mosel Valley have started to get under way. The bridge, originally planned in 1969, is intended to increase accessibility to the famed Mosel Valley and the many vineyards in the region. The owners of those vineyards, however, vehemently oppose the building of the bridge or the motorway.  Their disapproval is based on three main points: aesthetic destruction, excessive tourism, and ecological damage.

The Mosel Valley is dramatically beautiful.  Covered in forests, the mountains transition into landscaped vineyards.  The planned bridge will dwarf this idyllic scenery, as parts of the bridge will be higher than some of the mountains. The natural beauty of the area, which plays an important role in tourism, is part of the essence of the Mosel Valley. And while one of the main reasons for building the bridge and motorway is to promote tourism through greater accessibility, this too is problematic.  When initially proposed in 1969, better infrastructure was certainly necessary and would have been useful.  Today, however, the region is not lacking for tourists.  Vintners are worried that an increase in tourism would not be sustainable.  This concern over an increase in tourism ties in with the third concern: the environmental impact.  The increase in motor vehicle traffic would create higher levels of CO2 in the air, no doubt affecting the delicate grapes.  Additionally, parts of the forest, which provide water to the vineyards, will have to be cut down to make way for the bridge and road.  This will also dramatically alter the growing climate.

While clearly problematic, this is not the first time in recent history when a major West European wine-growing  region has been threatened by development.  In 2004, the French government approved a project to create a major motorway through Bordeaux.  The road network was to have cut through the renowned Medoc region, destroying viticultural land in Margaux and Bourg.  Due to heavy protesting, the French government shelved these plans for the “Grand Contournement” in 2007.

Both of these instances, in Bordeaux and in the Mosel Valley, raise important questions as to the role of historic vineyards as part of Europe’s cultural heritage.  How should these sites be treated? Are there ways of preserving them, while also promoting tourism to stimulate the economy? What is their cultural worth versus their economic worth , and are these two always at odds? It will be interesting to follow the story of the German bridge in the Mosel Valley, to see on what side the vineyards come up.

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