MONSHEIM, Germany (DTN) -- The threat of a U.S. government shutdown couldn't have been further away for me this morning. I spent several early hours in a vineyard talking to a German winemaker.
Verena Schottle patiently answered questions from the U.S. journalists. The vineyard was a stop prior to BASF's global news conference Oct. 2. Monsheim lies near Worms, southwest of Frankfort on the river Pfrimm, which empties into the Rhine River.
It's a quaint village and tourists are something of a novelty here. The farm and vineyard is larger than most -- 185 hectares (about 457 acres) support grapes and about 250 hectares (617 acres) grow crops such as sugar beets and different kinds of cereals. Schottle said the farm has about 33 workers with 20 of those laboring in the vineyard. She estimated about 10 to 12 hectares (24 to 29 acres) of grapes are used to make 100,000 bottles of wine. The remainder of the grapes raised is sold to a cooperative.
Schottle studied viticulture at an agricultural university to come to this place. She grew up helping her grandparents mind a fruit farm. "I did not have to work as a child, I just always loved it," she said. Now, her favorite time to work in the vineyard is winter. "Because it is so quiet," she said.
We talked of soils and fertility, downy mildew and weed control. Grape harvesting machines toiled in the distance as winter cereals (rye and wheat) were being seeded nearby.
There was a discussion about rabbits that can damage young rootstock and the necessity of fungicides to keep the diseases at bay. Ironically, one fungus that must be diligently controlled early in the season is actually desired later in September and October. Botrytis cinerea is a fungus that affects many wine grapes and causes them to shrivel into moldy raisins. As the mold penetrates the skin, it draws the water inside the grape and evaporates. Schottle said this concentrates the sugar in the grape to make a very sweet wine.
We talked of the cover crops that are sown between alternating rows of grapes to give the tractors a place to run. They appear to be a mix of brassicas and grasses, though I couldn't identify them. I could identify a few other plants, mainly horseweed, what appeared to be black nightshade, and some amaranthus species. Weeds, too, connect farmers across continents.
Elderberries were ripe in the fencerow.
Harvest is running two to three weeks behind this year. An abundance of rain in the spring and lower temperatures are responsible for the delay. Everything about the weather, the soil and the soul of this place influences the final product.
Wine is personal and Schottle's pride and passion for the work was infectious. In January, after the harvest is done and the wines have had time to age a bit, the local growers get together to sample and discuss what they might do better. Neighboring farmers are friends and they help each other solve problems, she said.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.email@example.com
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