2013

All our posts from 2013

“Don’t tell the bees!”

gescheine vineyard leaves grapesWhen I walk past a field (any kind of agricultural area) and see “some white mist” being applied to it (the application is less damaging to every creature around if you don’t see the mist, btw), my brain does an impressive job of not wanting to know what is being sprayed. We should know, of course. And choose not to walk through. How can we find out? Here, I had suggested big boards listing the chemical being sprayed. Another option: Ask the Ministry for Agriculture. But it is probably fair to say that the Minister for Agriculture in Austria has taken the opposite view: I read here that he is refusing to disclose data on how much Neonicotinoide is being used as pesticide by farmers in Austria. Scientists obviously argue over how damaging Neonicotinoide is to bees, but a decision not to disclose data? The reason given was “Amtsverschwiegenheit” (lit: “official secrecy”), suggesting the data was confidential, similar to banking information being a “Bankgeheimnis”. Picture a doctor or lawyer saying ‘sorry, can’t reveal anything about my patients/clients’ and then picture the agricultural minister shrugging his shoulders to the bees: ‘Sorry, can’t tell you what the farmers are doing!’

So, next time you walk through the white mist, be aware that protecting an “official secrecy” weighs in much heavier than the wellbeing of yourself or any other creature around.

Thinking in parallel years

This blog post tries to speak in pictures: Two collages showing how very different thoughts have to be applied, in parallel, right now, to the new vintage (2013), yet to develop its first leaf, and the 2012 vintage, just bottled: While the 2013 vintage currently needs the type of tlc that leaves the fingers full of mud (“Loess” is the type of ground conditions we are in) and the knees sore, the 2012 vintage has already forgotten what mother nature looked like, as it slips into the newly arrived “Green Feather Bag” (drawing of “Marzipan” and design by Sonja Schmitt). And thanks to an invitation to play boule, we had to ditch the vineyard work for one Sunday and take the new bag out for a picnic!

vineyard vines Weinberg Wurzeln

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2012 vintage approved!

If this isn’t a good omen, I don’ t know what is: On the day we got our official stamp of approval for our 2012 Silvaner, I was travelling (as they say in Trinidad), but in this case by train. The passenger next to me was slightly unusual, a beautiful macaw. If our Green Feather project can create a communal spirit in the same way that this beautiful bird brought people on the train carriage together, then I would be very happy. Ok, ok, the link is very tentative, granted. But how can you not write a blog post about this image that will stay in my mind: a blonde figure walking away on the platform pulling her suitcase, with this beautiful macaw riding on top of that suitcase. He clearly enjoyed travelling!

A look ahead to the spraying season

Agriculture is ugly. That was a thought going through my head as I cut the vines on a freezing cold Sunday morning, looking down onto a big human pile of sh… dropped right there. Funnily enough, the pictures in this blog are NICE pics from our first cutting session in the new vineyard, there is no ‘ugly’ picture of the encounter with the sh… on this blog. Nor are there pictures of big machines or, for example, a picture of the cleaning of a spraying machine in the vineyard. This is strange, since in the field is the only legal place to clean a spraying machine, yet it seems to outrage passersby so much, that I have been told they call the police.

Nice pictures on every vintner’s website, and on this blog, thus don’t reveal one big dilemma and potentially very emotional discussion: on the one side the strong ‘yeah, what else’-type argument that our surroundings (streams, drinking water, countryside) should be free of chemicals; on the other side the – well, also ‘yeah, what else’-type – argument from the farmers that they have to spray to protect their crop.
For me, it creats a deep unease about a process that should be the most obvious and natural: growing stuff. Obviously, wine isn’t essential, so you could get out of growing or drinking wine entirely and be done with that. But the big spraying machines covering several rows and the fog that they leave behind are equally used for essentials we eat every day.

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In fact, if the latest technology is used, you won’t see a big cloud of fog and the sprayed chemical will have a better chance of landing on the plants and not on your skin if you walk past, but the substance is still there.

“Just go bio and be done with it”, I hear you say. We are, and are almost there, actually. Our very long and meandered search for a new vineyard where we can do bio (which has just come to an end, yippeh!) shows how difficult it is. But this does not change that you might be walking or cycling past a spraying machine and not know what’s being sprayed, bio or conventional. Or that you only have one or two bio farmers/vintners in your area and are thus likely to come into contact with whatever conventional farmers leave behind. Or that you feel uneasy about copper and sulphur, if that’s what your bio vintner uses.

Whatever effort you look at, it’s easy to rip it apart. The cost of bio-certification, for example, is prohibitive to small businesses. So, if it is so difficult to convince consumers to pay for the extra labour that goes into bio products, how smashing will the reception be, if you tell them: ‘well, it’s going to be even more expensive, because the certification itself costs so much’.

But if I had to suggest one additional effort, it would be ‘spreading the word’, maybe even ‘spraying the word’ :o). At the moment, a chemical’s leaflet that lists the side effects and is delivered with the substance is in the hand of the farmer mixing up what he is about to spray. It’s not printed on the side of the spraying machine in huge letters. If it was, would we see locals walking their dogs in full protective suit?

I was told that one vintner said that he cannot not sit on his spraying machine in full protective gear with mask, as advised by the local body, as he would lose his wine-buying customers, if they saw him. The sight of a farmer on his spraying machine in full protective gear could be one way of conveying the gist of the leaflet on side-effects. Could such information thrown out to anyone living in farming areas, or visiting them as tourists, be so explosive? Imagine waking up in your holiday flat in June or July, a peak time for spraying, only to find your host, a vintner, going off to work in a gas mask. Would you feel like you were missold?

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By ‘spraying the word’, I mean that if a few basics were shared, those not in the business but affected by it (because they buy, because they live there) would know what to look out for:

1) Create an understanding for the main substances used. For example, if systemic herbicides are designed to get to the inside of a plant, what does it do, if that same product tries the same with your own skin?
2) Discuss in each village at the beginning of the spraying season what residue-levels in the water system should cause concerns and where updates will be published. Arrange an active monitoring of such levels.
3) Convey an understanding for best practice: (i) If the moths (LBAM) are killed when laying eggs, you might have less fungus to fight later on. (ii) if the calculation of the mixture is done correctly, the spraying mixture should come to an end as you reach your last vine, thus leaving no residue.
4) Convey an understanding for “PIWI”s, ie grape types that need less spraying, as well as resistancies to chemicals that have developed.
5) Have signs on the spraying machines or in the fields what is being sprayed and how often.
6) Present the information in a digestible way.

For the time being, it seems to me that the lack of ‘spreading the word’ suits those still applying conventional chemicals. If you speak to a vintner and find out that in June/July they are out spraying almost every day, you realise how big the impact on the environment could be.

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If I had to summarise my learning curve, it would go as follows: Everyone out there trying to make a living in agriculture, or in wine more specifically, is fighting pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. That’s the little catapillars that lay their eggs and eat the grapes, any fungus that makes the grapes rot away, as well as the weeds that need to be removed in different ways, one being the chemical one. You would think that, if the chemicals used end up in our drinking water, alarm bells would go off, more so than if horse meat was found in lasagne. So I set off on an internet search, in an ideal world wanting to find information as specific as ‘in the months of x, y and z, village p reached leves above the legal limits in its water areas, due to the chemicals sprayed in that period’. I was surprised how difficult it was to find digestible information on the internet, on the damage left behind. See results from measurements in 2008/2009 (“PSM-Wirkstoffe in Oberflaechengewaesser” from authorities in this region, – unfort, the pdf does not link), these samples from 2012 and this information from 2002 (if you take into account that it’s old).

However, I think the much bigger impact on what vegs/fruits I will buy from now onwards (and that doesn’t even include looking at the drinking water and the immediate impact on your skin from whatever is currently sprayed) comes from throw-away comments from people in the business. One went like that: “A vintner has a chance that by the time the produce (ie the wine) is tested, some of the chemicals left on the grapes have disappeared, but anyone in the business of selling fresh fruits, when you can’t get the chemicals off through washing, – poor sods.” So, maybe an educated peek behind the scene, – travelling there, asking questions -, is what it takes to change one’s buying habits.

SPRAY THE WORD!

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Filtering: All blurry to me, gov!

Hier geht’s zur Kurzfassung auf Deutsch.

The 2012 wine is coming along very nicely and had to be tested whether it goes cloudy in heat: We had to test whether your nice 2013 summer wine would suddenly look ‘faulty’ (ie, cloudy), if we enjoy hot temperatures that we can only dream of at the moment, and if we didn’t ‘stabilise’ it.

To kill the suspense: The little protein-flakes did appear in good numbers, as soon as the bottle was put into the oven. So, in a common, if unwelcome decision, bentonite will be applied to the wine to stop the flakes (below) appear.

The test task was seemingly thought up by Sisyphos, since our original test bottle was cloudy, due to the yeast that’s still floating in the wine. So, we had to filter that bottle to make it look like a squeaky clean bottle we were about to serve up, only to push it to go cloudy again.

And so the task became a good training session in filtering: what reference point do I use to check that the wine, after the filtering, looks as clear as you would expect it to be when you buy it. I used a big yellow “A” on a hot chocolate tin: how clearly can it be seen through the glass, after the first filtering, and after the second?

The pictures from our little test-filtering thus serve as a demonstration of a topic that could be discussed well into the night: What is the expectation of the customer? How clear and free of bits does the product have to be? Is what vintners apply to the wine driven by that expectation? And is filtering detrimental to the taste? (The last point being the reason why many high-quality wines are left to clear on their own accord, something we are not yet able to do, – but look out for updates on this.)

Looking forward to discussing your view online or in person.

How clear is that wine? (First Filtering done)

How clear is that wine? (First Filtering done)

One Filter Run (on left) vs Two Filter Runs (on right)

One Filter Run (on left) vs Two Filter Runs (on right)

How clear is the letter “A” on the tin behind the glass?

Vergleich durch s glas

Compare from Top (No Filtering) to Bottom (Two Filter Runs)

Same question: How clear is the letter “A”?

Vergleich-von oben

As above, from Top (No Filtering) to Bottom (Two Runs)

The finished filtered – and very clear looking – bottle hits the heat: radiator (followed by oven):

Clear, - but not for long.

Clear, – but not for long.

Shortly afterwards…., – clarity has all gone to pieces:

The heat adds snow flakes to the wine, - not the best effect on a summer evening.

The heat adds snow flakes to the wine, – not the best effect on a summer evening.

Happy New Year

The Parrots’ approach to the New Year seems to be: Secure your bottle tops early. (Is there a hint in there, I wonder? Bottle tops instead of corks this year?) If you want to watch two minutes of Marzipan and Erbse (two male caiques) playfighting, check out the video below (barely any sound, just some content gurgling noises).  How would you describe those moves? Karate? Feather-shoulder-stands? Contact-improvisation?  Who knows.  But if it put a smile to your face, then it served its purpose: Happy New Year!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq5jAhlv_SA&w=560&h=315]