Zeller Schwarze Katz Hike

1863. The USA was at the peak of the Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation. The Siege of Vicksburg. Antietam. Chancellorsville, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. The Battle of Gettysburg with over 50,000 casualities, the most of any battle in the Civil War. All household names to war buffs and historians. Meanwhile, in a wine cellar in the little hamlet of Zell, Germany, wine merchants were engaged in their own life or death battle. Trying to decide which wine barrel to purchase. This one, this one, or that one. They didn’t have to decide whether or not to put a musket ball into the brains of a fellow countryman, but it was a tough choice nonetheless, made even more difficult considering their inebriation. One could almost imagine the tension rising, a bead of sweat rolling down a bald forehead, though not quite like the tension of hand-to-hand combat with a bayonet. But tension nonetheless. Choosing the right wine is an important duty. One unfortunately that these brave… or rather indecisive men could not agree upon. It is during these crucial moments in history where fate intervenes. A tactical error which turns the tide of battle. In the case of the wine merchants, it was the sudden appearance of a nigrum cattus. A black cat.

Schwarze Katz

The black cat climbed onto one of the barrels and hissed like a good black cat should. The buzzed wine merchants took this as a sign and chose that barrel. The people of Zell celebrated and wine from the area became associated with the Zeller Schwarze Katz. A legend was born and Zell wine had a face. Meanwhile, somewhere in the US South, a black cannonball hissed thru the air… dozens of shrapnel pieces still intact, just seconds away from fulfilling their limb-shredding purpose. Today the US Civil War is in history’s rearview mirror (even if it’s social implications unfortunately are not), but 1863’s other offspring, Zell’s Schwarze Katz is still very much thriving as the main driver of the town’s tourism. The symbolism is everywhere.

When visiting Germany’s Mosel Region, Zell in my opinion is the best place to visit to instantly immerse oneself into the wine culture without too much effort. Zell wines, regardless of the weingut they come from, all have the black cat on the wine bottle label. As a beer guy, pretty labels are a key part of choosing a wine, and the wines of the Zeller Schwarze Katz have them. I know this is absolutely no help to wine lovers. My palette can distinguish the difference between a Westvletern 12 and a St. Bernardus 12 but with wine, I am hopeless. So give me a cool damn label.

Love these wine labels

But if you are going to visit Zell, probably skip it in December, unless you don’t mind eating at the Greek restaurant or traveling to another town for dinner. Zell seems to shut almost completely down although luckily a few of the wine shops remain open. (In December, I’d recommend Bernkastel-Kues instead).

Behind Zell, the vineyards of the Zeller Schwarze Katz ascend steeply, defying gravity and making one admire the skill it must take to maintain and harvest them. Roads and paths weave thru the vineyards making a great addition to a hiking route. In December though, grapevines are nothing more than brown sticks in the ground. But thanks to a particularly sunny day, you could almost imagine a sea of green.

Hike Details

Distance13.2 km
My Moving Time2h 47m

It’s Not Just a Wine, It’s a Journey

The Bachturm (a former city gate tower)
The charm of these old walls and steps
The Mosel takes one of its many bends
The Schwartze Katz welcomes everyone
The sunny side and the impressive gradient of the vineyards
An old shed which I think was used for collecting rainwater and to provide a shelter for workers.
The path weaves up to towards the top
At the top of the vineyard
The not-so-sunny side.
Back into the glorious December sun
Collis-Turm a great spot to picnic in nicer temperatures
Each of the different weinguts is marked
There are multiple ways up/down. Either use the winding path or the more daring shortcuts
The most color on the hike was this one spot which still hinted of Autumn. Love those wine labels.
Zeller Schwartze Katz

Final Words

This hike marked my final adventure of 2021, yet there are still remnants of 2021 still to share. However, as I turn my attention to 2022, we find ourselves facing a new pandemic. One of autocracy and war. Traveling will once again be less palatable and unpredictable as the world watches Ukraine fight for its life. A life that for all is tenuous and precious. It sometimes hardly seems fair that I enjoy my beer or wine adventures without ever having to defend my home. I cannot understate how copiously appreciative I am of that and for those who do. On a lighter note, it is places like Zell which flows along thru time like the Mosel itself, barely making a dent in the world’s consciousness, doing what it does, growing grapes and making it’s black cat wine, where the most pressing social concern is wondering how life is here for the white cats.


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