harvest

Herbst (Autumn)



Herbst.

An important period in a vintner’s yearly cycle. Unless you believe that cutting the vines in winter has more influence on what you harvest than the harvest itself.

Herbst.

A staccato mention of “Herbst” (and the other seasons, Herbst-Winter-Fruehling-Sommer) is part of the theatre play that Nick is part of at the moment, – a tale on how to remember a friend that is no longer around. On at the Mollerhaus Theatre in Darmstadt and in various schools.  There’s another theatre link: Green Feather Wine can be enjoyed at the Zuckmayer play (Carl Zuckmayer being from Nackenheim in Rheinhessen and thus neighbour to the grapes that made it into Green Feather Wine; Carl Zuckmayer probably ringing a bell in the Marlene Dietrich-context, if not otherwise) “Die Fastnachtsbeichte” at the Neue Buehne in Arheiligen.

Herbst. Winter.

The play gives you an idea that our autumn season was different (see below). As for winter, our wine will be at the Bessunger Christmas Market/Weihnachtsmarkt 2017:

Forstmeisterplatz, Darmstadt, Dec 1-3 and Dec 8-10. Till 8pm. (Fridays from 4pm; Sat/Sun from 2pm)

How was our autumn different? We took stock. I tried to learn new skills in a big vineyard (hence the red wine pic; – even the vineyards looked pink), we both got the chance to let it all sink in. Only when the wine hasn’t been such a prominent feature (feather, the spell check wanted to say, funny) for a few days, could I take it out of the fridge and taste it with an open mind, as opposed to the burdened-with-worry mind I adopt so easily.

“We did that?” – And: can I enjoy the “We did that?”.  And: can I enjoy the many more questions about our wine, thanks to a very touching write-up by journalist Franziska Neuer in this publication.

Germany is very focused on qualifications, so doing something to a high standard without the obvious qualification is alien to many people.  I can respond by throwing in lots of details about thiols; by recalling the longing for a glass and a pipette in a restaurant to cuvee the different raw reds together; or by simply learning to enjoy when Green Feather customers are happy and excited about the bottle I hand over to them. We hope to do this many times in Bessungen. See you there!

 

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)

Harvest. Botrytis. And…

…a highly financial day in the life of a Mini-Wine-Producer/Blogger:

Financials? The suspense! I know!  Did we invest in pumps, filters, a press even? No. I just followed Jimmy Wales’ request and gave a tiny amount to Wikipedia. Why? My appreciation for their no-ads rule is growing, as the battle of my ad filters against pop ups intensifies, never mind those freaky ads that remind  you of a google search you did yesterday (that’s soo yesterday).

But I can’t help but think that my “yes, I’ll sponsor”-click had more to do with wine and botrytis. But the basics first: Botrytis, a fungus, can turn the grapes into something very desirable (Noble Rot) or that has to be discarded (Grey Rot). But how do you illustrate the two? My “yes, I’ll sponsor”-click was made, I think, in honour of a fairly good illustration of the latter in its German entry, headed “Grauschimmelfaeule” (“Grey Rot”). Two things I love about this page:  It has a picture of a grey rot affected tomato plant that will put you off tomatoes for a long time: it looks like someone did a meticulous job of knitting a jumper round a tomato plant made out of some very bizarre grey wool. But it also lists the latin names: Botrytis cinerea or Botryotinia fuckeliana. Nothing to add to this.

That Botrytis “f…”s with the grapes is something Frank, Boris, Pascale, Hans, Astrid, etc will remember from our own Green Feather harvest, since we we spent a good deal of our time cutting out the rotten bits from each grape (see min 0.44 in the video). So, the idea that Botrytis can, on the one hand, create “Noble Rot” (“Edelfaeule”, “edelsuess”, in German), something that gives sweet desert wines such a special note that the price sky-rockets, but also create the bad rot, the “Grey Rot”, is hard to get one’s head round. This page is a good read on the subject.

Botrytis on tomato plant Grey Rot Noble Rot Wikipedia

image by Rasbak from Wikipedia shared under GNU Free Documentation License

During our own harvest we got to know each BUNCH of grapes, putting it into the ‘sweet’ bucket, or the ‘not so sweet’-one. That felt like a lot of attention given to each grape. So, how crazy is it to give that kind of attention to each individual BERRY? The effort involved in doing a “Beerenauslese” (“berry selection”) or a “Trockenbeerenauslese” (“dry berry selection”) appears in an entirely new light, after our harvest!  If we were JUST doing an “Auslese”, ie a selection, ie separating the sweeter grapes from the not so ripe ones, then the idea of doing that whole process for individual berries is just staggering: Imagine the long line of vines in front of you and you are standing there with two buckets, one for the berries with exactly the right type of Botrytis (or dried up), the other for the rest. That’s obviously what explains the price, – and what a bummer if after all that effort the fermentation then does not go well….

If you have heard of the French sweet wine “Sauternes” (I giggled my way through this 2011 harvest report) being made with Botrytis, but not yet of the German variety, here are some vintner sites that offer Beerenauslese: these were mentioned in a magazine’s recent tasting: coming from south Germany, Rheinhessen and Austria; I myself remember tasting a very nice Beerenauslese at Wittmann, one of the top White Wine vineyards in Germany (and a bio-dynamic one, too).

But before I consider shelling out for a Beerenauslese, as for financial commitments today, I thought I’d stick to sponsoring (Green Feather’s very own) Nick’s “Movember”-efforts of growing a moustache in support of prostate cancer awareness.  And create my very own wishlist for 2013, which includes taking part in a harvest for a Beerenauslese.

What a difference two weeks make…

If you remember the autumn images from the previous post, the vivid colours, the red and yellow leaves dotted or splashed over the vineyard and its surroundings like bits of chilli and pumpkin in our pasta-lunch today, then you might understand that it took me a while to take in the change in scenery today. Yes, I knew the leaves would have come off, given the temperatures over the last week, but to witness such a sudden change back to the Pale season, the first season described in The Year in Colours, was quite a shock, – I hope you’ll enjoy the pictures below!  In stark contrast to the vineyard, the transformation in the cellar, from juice to wine, is anything but sudden (which is good!): the bubbling in the air lock is gradually getting less, we are crossing our fingers for a few more days to hope for a smooth end to the fermentation. In the US this coming week, it’s not so much a question whether Nov 6 will go smoothly, but what the results mean for the next four years: expect us to be on election results watch during one of our early morning fermentation checks.

Green feather vineyard autumn

The Green Feather Vineyard only two weeks ago ….

… and today, the fallen leaves exposing a few grapes left behind

Eiswein

In neighbouring vineyards, some harvest fun is still to come, …

Beerenauslese

… as is here!

Green Feather Harvest (2):

And for those of you that found the fog pictures in the last post a bit too subdued, this is how the Green Feather Vineyard looked shortly after the harvest:

Silvaner Grapes Green Feather Vineyard Harvest

Here’s a little autumn tour, starting at our vineyard….

rhine vineyard

… to the Rhine…

… to a neighbouring vineyard….

… back to the river, and….

Green Feather Silvaner harvest Vineyard

… back to the Green Feather Vineyard.

A Berliner writing on Veltliner

This post starts with a lie: I wanted to post a quick note on Silvaner, but it refused to rhyme (or almost rhyme, in the case of Veltliner, an Austrian white wine variety) with my current location, a hotel room in Berlin. And so Silvaner got ditched from the headline, a familiar fate, as this article (in German) explains (see the second half of the interview). It’s such a nice summary of Silvaner wines in Germany and how the author, Stephan Reinhardt, got into Silvaner wine, that this paragraph at least should be translated into English. Maybe it will have a dramatic effect and we’ll all start ordering these Silvaners from Franken, Roter Hang, Kaiserstuhl, etc. Or at least people will no longer think, – “Silvaner?? They must have made that one up.”

white wine fermentation yeast 2012 German silvaner

The first 2012 juice bubbling away: but a taster suggests it’s way too early, the grapes need more sun.

There is another ‘endangered species’ of German white wine, if the same author is to be believed: the semi-dry (halbtrocken oder feinherb, in German) ‘Riesling Kabinett’. In this article he explores why this amphibian (light, mixed with a hint of sweet, neither entirely dry nor heavy-sweet) is such a rarity and pictures us as readers putting in so many repeat orders for ‘Riesling Kabinett halb-trocken’ that the vintners suddenly break with old habits and drive their harvesting devices out into the fields at exactly that time when sun and grapes agree on ‘Kabinett’. As for our own grapes, their sugar levels currently stand at 65 (Oechsle), so they still have some talking to do with a friendly sun.