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A look ahead to the spraying season

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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!

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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

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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!

Suche, Weinberg

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Wir bedanken uns schon mal auf diesem Wege fuer die Anregungen, die wir von Lesern der Allgemeinen Zeitung nach dem gestrigen Artikel bekommen haben und noch bekommen werden. (In dem Artikel ueber den Greenfeatherwine Blog wurde erwaehnt, dass wir nach einem neuen Weinberg in Nackenheim und Umgebung suchen.)  Und wir haben ueber Eure Emails gleich noch viel mehr ueber Rheinhessen gelernt.  Keep it coming!  Sollten wir tatsaechlich schon bald in einem neuen Weinberg schneiden und binden, erfaehrt ihr das dann wieder hier.

“Seek and you might …”: This is a quick thank you for the emails we have received after yesterday’s article in the Allgemeine Zeitung in Mainz.  Keep the suggestions coming!  And since our project so far is about the Silvaner grape, here‘s an article I stumbled across in the post-email research (article made available with the permission of VivArt Mainz).

Glas Green Feather Wine

A happy, sunny New Year!

Harvest. Botrytis. And…

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…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…

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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):

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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.