wine making

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

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 22.44.32

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.

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.

The First Green Feather Wine Fan Post

The first fan mail arrived!

The first Green Feather Wine fan mail has arrived! It’s from Jim (no relations), sent via Franz (with relations) and caused surprised looks from the parrot. Why? I suspect that they like nibbling on bottle corks so much that a parrot and a cork merging into must have looked to them like a glimpse of nirvana. Jim writes: “… ten out of ten for a marvelous wine” and “ …much better than a lot of so called professionally made wines”. This distinction might be correct in one sense, in that we are beginners, but Green Feather Wine is a professionally done wine, we cannot claim that such a nice wine came together in our bathtub. Green Feather Wine claims it needs a professional “Fass” in the same way as “hospitals need vas-es” (to quote one of my favourite John Hegley poem);  (“Fass” being the German term for “wine tank”,  in our case a stainless steel tank.)

Ein wein fass vor der Reining wird von Papageien geprueft

A stainless steel tank or “Fass” has an inspection.

All in all, a parcel (and email) that brought a big smile to my face, – many thanks, Jim!

Searching for a new vineyard!

What’s the opposite of a bio-vineyard? No vineyard, in our case.  We swapped herbicides for manual weeding; chemical fertiliser for manure; we got ready for the bio-battle against illnesses. The bio-certification-application was stamped and signed.  But what we didn’t know:  Our step-by-step efforts over the last two years were like blocks put onto a Jenga-tower.  And while the vintner we are renting from gave his nods to all the previous blocks we placed onto the tower, the last step, the prospect of certification, must have given him cold feet and he let the bio-tower collapse.

jenga turm spiel faellt zusammen

a jenga tower collapsing (Shutterstock)

This means we are on the hunt for a new vineyard, where we are allowed to do bio, ideally in the same area, Rheinhessen, near Mainz. Any suggestions, let us know.

If chemicals weren’t allowed to reduce the ground underneath the vines to a brown carpet, the vineyard would risk looking like the “Wild, wild West”, we were told. This seems to be the fear that made the bio-Jenga-tower collapse. I respect that fear and won’t call in the demonstration- or tree-chaining squat. After all, Mitt Romney has weird opinions, too. But it might just be that the very ‘brown carpet’ that the chemicals create are more likely to trigger associations of the ‘Wild, wild West’…

The memory that will stay in mind from this lovely piece of land called “Am Sprung”: Our vineyard had become the ‘talk of town’, we were told, because the vines carried so many grapes. The bio-jenga-blocks must have done some good, after all.

a search for a needle in a haystack

The search for a new vineyard is on. Will it be like searching for a needle in a haystack?