Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beautiful Grapes (Germany #19)

BACHARACH--2,000 years ago, this walled Roman city located at the foot of steep mountain walls was a Rhine Valley stronghold. For generations, it thrived by controlling the wine trade on the river through its customs house. Grapes still grow abundantly on the adjacent dizzying slopes and are used in fine Riesling wines produced here.
Arriving at noon from Cologne, we embark on a mobile wine-tasting slash walking tour of the town, which if you ask me is by far the best way to do it.
Every house in Bacharach has a wine cellar. The one we visit is more like a dark mountain cavern; nonetheless wine is still being made there, and by the most modern of methods. Our guide, a personable young woman who is both a Bacharach native and novelist, says one family now does most of the wine-growing, with Polish workers coming for a few weeks every September and October to harvest the grapes.
 Although Bacharach (pop.  900) relies on wine and tourism for survival, the season is short. There are not enough year-round jobs for the town’s young people, who thus must look elsewhere for employment. Knowing this makes me glad I’ve come and will spend some euros; a place so historic and beautiful deserves to survive and must be preserved.
And beautiful it is. Our tour takes us along a stone-walled stream running through the town. At one point, we come to a spot known as “Painter’s Corner” featuring a wonderful view of nearly vertical hillside vineyards. The name is a tribute to J.M.W. Turner (1775 - 1851), perhaps the most famous English Romantic landscape artist, who once painted it; a copy of his work still hangs in the town.
Our walk ends with a fine spread of sausages, cheeses, breads, and wine at Weingut Karl Heidrich, the oldest wine tavern in town (established 1505). When I learn how inexpensive their excellent Rieslings are (4-6 euros a bottle!), I decide to purchase four bottles. A fellow tourist warns that shipping to the U.S. will cost 45 euros, but we can take this much home in our suitcases--and we do.
When I wonder aloud if American composer Burt Bacharach has any connection to this town, Joachim asks if he is of Jewish descent, explaining that many German Jews took on the names of their towns. Later, I learn that Bacharach, son of Irma and Bert Bacharach (a well-known syndicated newspaper columnist), is indeed of German-Jewish descent.
We depart from Bacharach by taking an hour-long boat ride down the Rhine, which cuts through this high mountain valley. Stretches of woodlands and cliffs line both sides of the river, along with picturesque towns. Impressive castles perch on high bluffs. Grapevines grow everywhere.

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