communication

In Search for a Harvest Date

A harvest date has to be found. Yet the grapes seem to be unusually pinnikity in agreeing such a date. I have been through similarly indecisive situations with friends where weeks go by and no ‘mutually agreeable date’ materialises, but with grapes?

A change in existence awaits the grapes when our scissors approach, this is clear. But what is it they want to maximise on before that date? Three extra weeks of playing ‘Grand Theft Grape-o”, that they would not have had if the ‘grape pregnancy test’ had displayed ‘RIPE’ now? Or are they on the brink of offering up THE solution for the financial crisis, with Merkel travelling to a distant vineyard to hear them out?

Or are these just made-up excuses? Reminiscent of how friends might cancel on you (sorry, we can’t make next week, our babysitter broke his leg demonstrating how to jump into a puddle)… And the real reason…. could beeeeee…. that … sugar levels are yet too low…. and acid levels are yet too high….. (like in 2010)?

measuring sugar levels last weekend: 60 is not enough. Plus: it tastes of vertjus!

measuring sugar levels last weekend: 60 is not enough. Plus: it tastes of vertjus!

You decide. Admittedly, the picture offers a clue. Yet, as I wander through the rows, I sense there is some communication happening between the grapes: Exciting! –  I give them the benefit of doubt, thinking they want to communicate with me, let me know, genuinely, genuinely, why there’s nothing ripe in sight, with October looming round their corner.  I picture them gesticulating wildly in explaining their thwarted efforts and it puts a tear into my eyes.

But it turns out the efforts of communicating were not aimed at me, but on keeping ‘strike-breaking’ grapes in check, if the current lack of ripeness can be likened to a strike action, in the same way London underground staff might tackle the issue of, not sugar levels, but payrise.

It appears that a section of grapes on the western side of the vineyard had shown signs of ‘going for it’ and dressed up in some ripe skins. ‘Headquarters’ on the eastern side saw this and saw the ‘days left as grapes’ diminishing. So an order was put out to bring those western grapes back in line. But since the ripening process cannot be reversed, more drastic measures were needed….

What shall I say, … the grapes on the western side suddenly looked definitely different, but not the way we would all like: they looked like they had been replaced by Matterhorn-shaped mould cones. Just mould, – nothing grape-like left in them. An unparalleled sabotage act, blatantly inflicted by the secret service of the grape-government, infringing the right to be a grape, the right to ripen, substantial grape-rights infringed in a way we thought could only happen during a detention at Heathrow airport.

How the disobedience was spotted by HQ in the first place, from one end of the vine rows to the other, and how the ‘remediating’ botrytis-poison-arrows were carried to the western end, I will never know. The vine rows flow in gentle V-shapes, so you cannot see the end of the row from the starting point.  The western end only reveals itself once you reach the middle of the row, giving me a sense of mini-achievement every time I have to put some TLC down those rows.

But if the grapes are able to overcome those geographical obstacles and developed a water-tight communication system between the two removed ends – a communication system way superior to whatsapp, twitter, etc -, then all I have to do is infiltrate this system and ‘change the ‘system’ (in this case, the willingness of the system to offer up a harvest date and thus the willingness to turn into ripe grapes) FROM WITHIN. Easy!

If I am successful, anyone keen on poking through some sweet (- as you can see, I haven’t given up hope) mess, should be able to join us for a harvest, – possibly on 5 or 12 October. We’ll see!

p.s.: And if the idea of us communicating with grapes causes concern, rest assured that we spent the weekend doing some amazing communicating, entirely grape free, with visitors and resident artists at the Freitagsladen / Kleinsche Hoefe in Darmstadt, where we had a mini-wine-stall. The recycling art, water art, paper art, retro art, necklace art, etc is still buzzing through my head: it can buzz through yours every friday 12-19.00!

Vineyard Friends plant vines

Time to reflect on yesterday’s bank holiday when I was joined by a few friends to re-plant missing vines: When I left home this morning, my view of the wing mirror was obstructed by a little red dot: a pomegranate pip as it turned out, still stuck to the mirror, even after a few kilometers on the motorway. A nice reminder of yesterday’s fun action in the vineyard, the pomegranate pip left behind by two snacking parrots climbing around the car, with Marzipan observing our vineyard-hole-digging action from his most favourite perch ever: the steering wheel. Yes, they were also sitting between the vines conducting no doubt a very thorough “ground investigation” with their beaks on the soil that came out of the planting holes, but every parrot needs to take a rest from such strenuous tasks. And their most strenuous activity came at lunch time, as we sat down for a well-deserved picnic: climbing from one person to the next, the parrots tested which human offered them the best chance of getting a crumb of Astrid’s yummy cake; or, for that matter, shoes they could nibble on. (In fact, Frank’s shoes could no longer be nibbled on, the clay-like soil, “Loess” as it is called, had already been the last nail in his shoe coffin.)

gepflanzete rebe hochstamm

Foto by Frank Rein

If you picture what we did all day long to plant 62 vines, you might have in your head the kind of image of a local politician smiling into the camera with his or her foot on a spade to mark the thrive in new development in the local area. Yes, we did that, 62 times, just without the suit and the cameras. (in fact, Jula did take amazing pictures, but my camera could not muster the energy to record them. )

But this day was about so much more than that: a very special day of ‘things’ coming together in an amazing way: ‘people’ coming together in a remote field based on instructions scribbled on a map; ‘plants and equipment’ coming together, ie reaching Darmstadt ahead of the bank holiday (-it was very close).  Time and time again I observed a beaming sensation written into faces looking up while arms moved through soil in zen-mode; and the same sensation voiced several times during the day (“Das ist sooo schoen!), even as our energy faded.

By then we had also driven almost 300 l water and 500 kg planting soil up the hill, had “sucked for England/Germany/Austria/Lörzweiler/Darmstadt” to make the water flow from the big tanks stationed in the car into the smaller containers and had chatted with various passers-by.

It was a day on which I felt supported, by the Lörzweiler community as well as by a digging and planting group of friends. A neighbouring vintner took one look at my planting water set up, disappeared and came back with some essential accessories that smoothened our operations, eased our backs. And whether you like management speak or not (our workflow of digging/root removal/planting soil/fungus/plant/pole/ties/watering/closing-up-the-hole could have easily filled 40 powerpoint slides, never mind the parrot-related in-between-steps), it is a fair conclusion that as a team we “stepped up to the plate to streamline our workflow”  :o).

So much for the many content ‘ahhhhhs’  on the day, which continued over a drink in barely-can-speak-mode, once the last spade was squeezed into a seemingly puffed-up-t0-twice-its-size Kangoo (or Kangaroo, as the car was renamed, thanks to Sam 😮 ). The big question now remains whether the 62 plants sitting right now  in the “wellness pools” we have created for them will appreciate the TLC they received from us. “Success rate” (Erfolgsquote) is the term used on agricultural forums, when they discuss how many plants they had to ‘RIP’ out the following years, due to frost, or because the roots did not manage to penetrate the hard ground surrounding the “wellness pool”. This may sound like a long wait for the last and 41st powerpoint slide to be drafted on yesterday’s venture, but if I can post pictures in 2 years’ time, of leaves and grapes on those new vines (“Hochstämme”), then llka, Astrid, Jula, Frank, Sam, Claus and I will know that the sore muscles were all worth it. Will we then still remember the awning we had to set up to find cover from the rain? The worms (earthworm/Regenwurm) we accidentally cut in halves with our spades? The 30-year-old root-block we capitulated on (“Close the hole again, we’ll never get this one out”)? – We will have to see!

traubenwickler falle einbindig

There is a scientific explanation as to how this moth count (“einbindiger Traubenwickler) from the pheromone traps relates to the health of our grapes in autumn, – I am just not sure you would want to hear it :o)