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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

in vino veritas

The wine hills are alive with the sound of harvest….

There is an old saying, “never praise the vintage before it is in the cellar”. This has never been more true than for this year’s grape harvest in Rheinhessen. Germany’s largest wine producing region, oddly enough, is a grape-shaped area on the map; cupped protectively by the Rhine on almost three sides, descending deep into the Rhine plains.

Harvest has just come to an end here, due to an unusually cool spring. The grapes were late-bloomers, and tough to raise during the difficult spring and summer times. But they came through in the fall with great promise. The vintners, and their families who labour the year round, tending and harvesting, now hurry up and wait until spring to see the grapes’ full potential in next year’s vintage.

Of the 136 communities in Rheinhessen, only three do not have vineyards. Comprising 414 vineyards it is 26 hectares of pure grape, and “liquid Hollywood” as British wine critic, Stuart Pigott, describes it. “Rheinhessen is the dream factory of German wine-making; no other region comes up with such a multitude of marvellous novelties that exude this amazing aura.”

On the steep slopes, under the watchful eye of castles and cathedrals, the grapes are still harvested by hand. Workers, tied on cables, work with small grape scissors, adeptly slicing off the plump bundles. Otherwise, most families have a machine looking similar to a star wars sand robot (although great guy vehemently rebukes this comparison), which ‘walks’ over the rows of vines, shaking them steadily and quickly so that the grapes (minus leaves) drop into its basket.

Like harvest time on the Canadian prairies, the traubenlese (grape harvest) is an all-consuming time for the families fortunate enough to earn a living from their wine. Our favourite family-run wine taverns close, the sweet smell of fermenting maische-brei (mash), tucked away into stainless-steel tanks to develop a good buzz, wafts gently out of each vintner’s pore, and we wait.

Waiting. The ancient Roman, Alkaios von Lesbos (interesting name), who coined the phrase every worried girlfriend knows is true, “in wine lies the truth” must have made a stop-over in Rheinhessen. Under the innocent influence of the silvaner, gewürztraminer, dornfelder, pinot or the wunderkind, riesling; that grow in every direction the eye can see, one can’t help but be completely dedicated to truth-tellling. Right? Of course, this is also church sanctioned; with one of the most indulged upon wine fests happening courtesy of Hildegard and the nuns up on the hill beside the Rochuskappelle. This is one tradition I’m still waiting to see happen in Canada. A little more truth-telling can’t hurt there either. Until then…prosit (cheers)!


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