Wine Mythology II

June 8, 2007

You might remember my entry about the Celtic god of wine and the vintners in the Mosel river valley, Sucellus (the good striker: the prefix “Su” meaning “good”, and the Celtic word “cellus/cellos” meaning “striker”). In Jakarta we have very talented stone masons. They usually work with soft white stones. Well, I showed them my picture of Sucellus (from Kinsheim) and they produced a replica. Unfortunately, I did not explain to them who Sucellus was. I did not explain to them how powerful he was and how he was loved by the Celts and how he was worshipped in the Southern and the Eastern parts of Gaul. – Traces of him are found from Geneva to Lausanne, from the Mosel river to places in Alsace and even in York in England. He was also part of Lusitanian mythology which was heavily influenced by it’s Celtic and Roman invaders.

My beardless Sucellus

So instead of a middle-aged man with a curly beard, I got back a handsome young Sucellus without these insignia of the Celtic forest god. Fortunately, the long-handled hammer (or mallet) was depicted rightly. He also holds grapes as in the original. The only un-bearded Sucellus in this world is now in my possession and I will put him up in my small winery on Two Hills vineyard to remind me of my Celtic heritage and all the many people before me who enjoyed growing grapes and making wines.

I try to imagine 10.000 years from now when to some archaeologists’ surprise, a statue of the Celtic god is found far from Europe in the rolling hills of Two Hills vineyard near Glenburn, Victoria. Then finally also Australia will be on the map of the Celtic god searchers of the universe.

The Treverer

February 4, 2007

The first time the river Mosel is mentioned in a written document is the account of Gajus Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico, IV in 55 B.C. where he describes his battle and the subsequent victory over two German tribes, the Usipeter and Tencterer. Around the same time we also learn about the original settlers in the Mosel river valley and around Trier, the Celtic Treverer.

“The Treverer are cleverer” sounds a line in a popular song of a local rock music group called “Leiendecker Bloas”. But not only that. The Treverer were feared by the Roman invaders as well.

Treviros vites censeo. Audio, “capitales” esse; mallem, auro, argento aeri essent.

This is what Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote to a friend during Caesar’s war against the Treverer in about 55 B.C. In a free translation that reads as “better avoid the Treverer; they go for your throat. I wish those guys would rather work as silver and gold smiths”. The Romans in fact had some troubles in controlling the Celtic population of the Mosel valley. In 69/70 A.D. the Treverer revolted against the imperialists from Rome but were defeated again. The Roman general Petilius Cerealis did not lose his composure in battle despite the fact that his cavalry was already wiped out, his camp fortification destroyed and the walls overrun by the fierce Celtic fighters from the Mosel.

But over the decades that followed the Celtic swineherds were transformed into vintners and the people thanked the god of wine – Sucellus – for this. The Treverer were known to be hungry for fame, quarrelsome and rowdy. They were also known to be big drinkers, more so than even the Germans. The many drinking competitions they held are ample proof of their favourite pastime. The ones who could not drink were despised as weaklings. That people could call themselves lucky if they got away alive from those fierce drinking competitions, was a common notion. That’s how it was: The good old days. These times have long gone and modern man does of course some drinking here and there but we are all more or less domesticated in some way or another. We go to work 5 days a week. We do sports in our free time, watch TV, send sms and e-mail, write blogs and so on.

Joseph Roth in “The Radetzky March” describes the changes at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century but his description can certainly also be applied to earlier times and ages.

Everything that grew took long to grow
and everything that ended took a long time to be forgotten.
Everything that existed left behind traces of itself
and people then lived by their memories,
just as we nowadays live by our capacity to forget,
quickly and comprehensively.


Terra Sigillata bowl found in Trier (Karl-Josef Gilles: Bacchus and Sucellus, Briedel 1999)

Vinum vires is what the Romans said, wine gives power! My suggestion for the day: open a bottle of your favourite wine and enjoy the Sunday.

Bene tibi sit “Wohl bekomms” or To your health, salute, cincin and so on

Reading tip: Edgar Christoffel: “Mosel und Wein – Stimmen aus zwei Jahrtausenden”, Trier 2003

Of Droughts and Bushfires

January 12, 2007

Today, I climbed from the heavans and my meetings with the celtic gods (remember Sucellus?) down to earth again. And a hot earth it is. From The Age ( I learned about the progress of the bushfires in Victoria. 950.000 ha of forest have already burnt down, which according to The Age is almost as large as Jamaica (it has a bobsled team). Mt Buller where it burns is only about two hours away from our vineyard in Glenburn.

Some years ago I went skiing with my friend, Timo Meyer, Australian of Swabian origin, and his and our children for a day of racing down the hills. Timo is a vintner and a very sought after winemaker at Gembrook Hill Vineyard ( He is famous for his very fine palate. Timo made our second vintage of Sauvignon Blanc which in the end got us the bronze medal at the Singapore Wine Show. He has also his own vineyard at a very steep slope which is called “Bloody Hill”. His wines can be bought at Yarra Valley Dairy (

The picture below has been taken by Andrew de la Rue and it shows the fire raging near Mt. Bulller village.


We are suffering under the drought for some years already. Because of the higher altitude of our vineyard loaction in Glenburn, we normally receive sufficient rain. Years ago we enlarged the old dam and built a new 13 megalitre storage. This kept us going. It did not rain much this winter (June to August on the southern hemisphere). I have never seen our big dam as low as in July/August 2006. Margit and I, we are of course a bit scared that some fires might break out in the nearby forests. Many of the fires are deliberatly lit by arsonists, others are ignited by lightning. The temperatures are high at the moment and together with the strong northerly winds, they make firefighting dangerous.

It has been a strange year so far. First, many vineyards were hit by two waves of late frost which destroyed in some places all the fruit at the vines. We at Two Hills were lucky. According to Steve Sadlier our friend, who manages our vineyard, we lost about 20% of the Sauvignon Blanc, 60% of the Pinot and about 40-50% of the Merlot. Some vineyards in the neighbourhood lost up to 60-70 % of their fruit, others lost everything. As a consequence the Victorian wine industry is suffering tremendous damages. Demand for fruit is strong. If we had only more of it. The old agricultural law prevails, that the economic value of a bumper harvest is usually lower then the one of a meager year. The frost damage will have lasting effects. Also the 2008 harvest will be lower because of the frost damage last year. Second, comes the drought and the fires. If Kinglake National Park start to burn, we will be in trouble.

Below some pictures of Two Hills in winter 2006. Isn’t the place beautiful?

Winter on Two Hills 1

Two Hills Vineyard

Winter on Two Hills 2

Winter on Two Hills 3

Sauvignon Blanc in winter

Wine Mythology

January 11, 2007

There are various mythical stories about the god of wine in different cultures. For the Greeks it was Dionysos, for the Romans Bacchus and for the Celtic Treverer in the Mosel river valley it was Sucellus. Sucellus was not the god of the wine consumer as were Bacchus and Dionysos, but the god of the grape and wine producers, the vintner, the cooper, and the winemaker.

The picture below shows this Celtic god as he is usually depicted, with a sledge (or long-shafted hammer), grapes and some barrels. The statue was found in 1976 in a Roman villa near Kinheim in the district of Bernkastel-Kues, 50 km from Trier downriver on the Mosel ( You can see it in a wonderful book by Karl-Josef Gilles with the title “Bacchus and Sucellus” . The book gives a wonderful insight into grape and wine cultivation along the Mosel river during Roman times.