Karl Marx and Mosel wine

September 26, 2007

When I visited my hometown Trier recently, I also went to the place where Karl Marx, the most famous of our citizens, was born in 1818 (the Karl Marx Haus). What I did not know about him was his relationship to wine and the Mosel wine industry. From a leaflet collected at the tourist paraphernalia shop I learned that the parents of Karl Marx were vineyard owners along the Ruwer in Mertesdorf where they owned several parcels. It was quite common for bourgeois families of the times to acquire vineyards either for their own wine consumption and/or for investment and old age security reasons. The Marx family vineyard was found in the location “Viertelsberg” a medium quality terroir near the castle ‘Gruenhaus’. Today, the ‘Weingut Erben von Beulwitz’ produces a 2002 Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) wine with a Karl Marx label to commemorate this famous “son” of Trier. The wine is not exactly from the old Marx family vineyard but derived from vineyards nearby. Some time ago I had tasted this wine with some delicious venison (big horn sheep) which my mother had prepared for me.

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The label with Karl Marx

Marx himself was fond of drinking wine and appreciated the value of it. More interesting is the fact that among others the misery of the Mosel wine producers inspired Marx to study and research economic issues in general. In various newspapers Marx reported about the problems of the Mosel vintners. He criticized the Prussian government for its lack of support which in the end brought him into conflict with the authorities in the 1840ies which in the end led to his exile first in Paris, later in Brussels and finally in London.

After Napoleon lost the war and with it the once occupied lands west of the Rhine river, these territories were given to the Kingdom of Prussia after the peace congress of Vienna in 1815 and administered as the Prussian Province of the Lower Rhine. This marked the beginning of a golden age for Mosel wine producers since they benefited from tax-free export of their wines to Prussia. Unfortunately, the phenomenon was short lived when, with the introduction of the German Customs Union (Zollverein) in 1834, vintners from the southern German states were in the position to successfully displace their competitors from the Mosel. This in turn brought wine prices down. An unfavourable Prussian tax policy coupled with bad harvests led to the pauperization of many vintners at the Mosel. Marx was appalled by their suffering, criticized the government, violated press censorship requirement and in the end had to leave into exile.

In 1857 the Marx family sold its vineyards in Mertesdorf. But due to the efforts of the Weiss family (the owners of the Weingut Erben von Beulwitz, www.hotel-weiss.de), we can enjoy today a Pinot Noir depicting the face of Karl Marx on the label. These bottles can also be bought at the aforementioned shop (7.5 €/0.75 l bottle).

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Ruwer vineyards near Mertesdorf in spring

PS: I personally think that it is a pity that the wide adoption of his ideas in Eastern Europe, Vietnam and China for instance brought so much misery to mankind. Less emphasis on the collective and more on individual freedom would have gone a fair bit. Marx should have stayed with drinking and enjoying wine and give up writing in the first place, one is tempted to argue.

In a letter to the father-in-law of his daughter he mentioned that “a man who does not love wine will never achieve anything good for mankind”. Unfortunately, wine drinking is not a guaranty for such deeds as his own life showed.