As I mention in Part 1, I recently made the decision to leave my job as a lawyer in the City to follow my passion for wine. The first stop on my wine adventure is a month’s work experience at legendary German winery, Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff. Here is my write-up of my second week in the job:
After a tough but thoroughly enjoyable first week bottling wines from the 2011 vintage, I returned from the Easter break well rested and hoping to spend some time in the vineyards.
Following a short team meeting, I was given the nod to join the vineyard crew for the day which came as excellent news. The only downside, with the prospect of an eight hour day ahead of me, was that the weather was looking extremely ominous. Catching the eye of oneof the team, I gestured to the sky. His response was simply to shrug and say “April macht was er will” (April does what it wants). Not quite the reassurance that I was looking for but, reminding myself that I had not come to Germany to work on my tan, I grabbed my rain jacket and saddled up for the day’s work.
Before I joined the others up on the slopes, one of the lads gave me a quick guided tour in the van of the vineyards owned by Weingut Dönnhoff to help me get my bearings. Dönnhoff owns plots in a number of vineyards in the Nahe region and the majority of these are situated around the villages of Niederhausen and Oberhausen. The best sites are fiercely steep and south facing so that the grapes can soak up the maximum amount of sunlight as possible.
The vineyard where I spent much of the week was the Niederhausen Hermannshöhle, regarded by many as one of Germany’s finest vineyards. The first thing that struck me as I worked up and down the rows of vines was how steep it is. The slopes have a cramp-inducing 40% steepness in places and this certainly does not make the day’s physical labour any easier. I daresay I will have no excuses for not looking good in a pair of shorts when I return to the UK in May!
Although the grapes are usually harvested in September and October, a lot of time and energy is invested at this time of year in making sure that the grapes grow healthily and achieve the required levels of ripeness without any problems. Some of the tasks in which I was involved included training the vines around a wire high off the ground (to avoid damage from Spring frosts), fertilising young rootstocks (to promote healthy growth) and spraying the vines (to keep pests at bay).
At the risk of taking on the appearance of a mountain goat, I was relieved on the Friday to be working on one of the flatter vineyards towards the town of Bad Kreuznach. The morning’s work was much of the same – “vineyard management” – but for lunch we all went to a local Wirtshaus (or pub to you or I). After a cursory glance at the menu, it appeared that the general consensus was that the schnitzel platter was the thing to go for. Not wanting to break rank and ever the fan of a good schnitzel, I got in on the act.
To my delight, a few minutes later no fewer than three schnitzels arrived in front of me together with chips and a token side salad – just the ticket after a week in the vineyards. Although I managed to polish them off, it was definitely a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. Feeling like I was about to burst at the seams, one of the lads mentioned that I would be spending the afternoon scaling the seemingly vertical face of the Hermannshöhle. Thankfully he was only joking but the look of fear in my eyes must have been evident for all to see!
On Saturday morning I woke up to a beautiful sunny day. I decided to walk through the vineyards to the neighbouring village, Niederhausen, home to Weingut Jakob Schneider. The previous week I had tried a bottle from Jakob Schneider and was very impressed so I was looking forward to doing a tasting of his wines. I was not disappointed. I was shown warm hospitality and the wines a delight, something that is becoming somewhat of a recurring theme during my time in Germany.
I have no clue what next week has in store but hopefully next weekend I will be able to visit some of the other top wineries in the region. Crossing my fingers that this beautiful weather is here to stay!