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German Wine

This page covers a lot of information about German Wine and some of my unprofessional opinion for good measure.

It seems to me that if I spend time describing some of the food things about Germany, I should also address German wine and German beer in some detail. This German wine page is divided into the introduction below, a little History, a discussion of sweetness classes, wine classification, varieties, German Wine Regions (Anbaugebiete), sulfites, some untrue beliefs, tartrates, Acid in wine, bottle sizes, and finally some miscellaneous notes. (Click on the links above to go right to the section you want.)

Introduction: To qualify myself, I confess that I am no connoisseur of German wine or any other wine. I am perhaps to a wine connoisseur what a gourmand is to a gourmet. I like to drink but I waste little time with words like “fruity with a lingering earthy aftertaste.” Hey, if it’s drinkable I drink it. If it’s undrinkable, I just hope I can use it as a salad dressing. If it’s drinkable and inexpensive, more's the better. This is not to say that I would not like to become more knowledgeable at some point. By the way, here is a quote from the French author Edouard De Pomaine about the condition of being a gourmet: "For a gourmet, wine is not a drink but a condiment, provided that your host has chosen correctly." But, I think food takes up space in your stomach that wine, or beer for that matter, could otherwise occupy.

Per capita, Germans drink an average of 32 bottles of wine per year. Following the same logic I use for beer consumption (20% of the population are too young and 20% are either too old or they are giving their livers a well-deserved rest), if only 60% of Germans drink wine, they must consume 53 bottles per year, that’s one per week in my rough calculation. Keep in mind, that is in addition to the 35 gallons of beer these same people must consume. They need all the help I can give them.

Major misconception: German wines are too sweet and not worth much. Wrong! In the 1950's Several German vintners exported inexpensive white wine to the thirsty American market. You may have consumed some of these under names like Liebfraumilch or Zeller Schwartz Katz. These are Mosel wines from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region but they do not represent the wines produced in that region nor in the rest of Germany. Want to spend a lot on German wine? You can purchase a wonderfully balanced Auslese wine from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region for well over €100. Sure it will be sweeter than a Chardonnay from California but it will warm your heart.

History: Grape vines predated people in Germany. From fossil evidence, we know that wild grape vines grew in current day Germany 140 Million years ago. What we now consider the country of Germany is part of a landmass that has seen tribes of people wandering around for many millennia. Fossils of Neanderthals, a hominoid species closely related to us, were first discovered in the Neander River Valley near Dusseldorf. (In German, Tal” means valley and they string the words together into Neandertal. Some English speaking anthropologist Anglicized it into Neanderthal. I think he was just proud of the fact that he could pronounce the “TH” when German speakers couldn’t. Then later, I learned from Wikipedia that it was the Germans who changed the spelling of Thal to Tal - why? Because Germans did not pronounce the "h" so they changed the spelling to how they pronounced the word.)

Early humans also occupied Europe as long ago as 200,000 years ago. Some of them undoubtedly discovered that drinking distilled grape juice is more fun than eating grapes. How long this discovery took is not known but I bet it only took one season between discovering grapes and discovering wine, or I don’t know Germans.

The Romans conquered, occupied and colonized the river valleys of the Rhine, Danube, and Mosel as well as the land south and west thereof. They hung out for about 400 years beginning about 58 BCE. Besides trying to convert the restless natives first into the Roman religion (a pagan religion) and then into Christianity and imposing their systems of laws, culture etc., the Romans imported and cultivated grape vines.

One of the vines they planted was Falernian, a white wine grape capable of aging for up to 20 years. Its alcohol content was as high as 16%; high by today’s standards. They shipped wine in barrels and amphorae along the Neckar, Mosel, and Rhine river systems.

I was amused to learn that the Romans initially banned wine growing and wine exporting into Gaul (today's Germany and France) because the natives became so besotted from the drinking of it. You know, this besotting process continues today; I have witnessed it myself. Mind you, I wouldn’t allow myself to drink anything to excess; bikers just cannot do that because we have reputations to uphold. Since the Third Century, Germans have improved the quality, quantity, and diversity of wine but they were just improving on a science left behind by the Italians.

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Serving Temperatures: Everyone has an opinion on this issue. What matters most is your own taste. It is true that the colder the wine the less a person will taste but wine is to be enjoyed and if you like red wine served ice cold, go for it. If you want the opinion of one expert I came across, consider the following table.

  White wine 9 - 12 degree C or 48 - 53 degree F
  Rose 9 - 14 degree C or 48 - 57 degree F
  Red wine 14 - 18 degree C or 57 - 64.5 degree F

Sweet or Dry: German wines can be called trocken (dry) halbtrocken (half-dry), Lieblich (somewhat sweet), or Süß (sweet). I am being too literal with this translation. To me, a more accurate translation is very dry, dry, sweet, and very sweet respectively. Trocken is like a crisp Chardonnay or a tart Cabernet Sauvignon whereas Süß is like a dessert wine; the rest fall in between. What makes wine dry or sweet is the sugar remaining after fermentation stops, or is stopped. This residual sugar is measured in grams per liter (g/L).

Here is a quick guide to sweetness of German wine

  Trocken Residual Sugar: 4 g/L - 9g/L
  Halbtrocken Residual Sugar: 9 g/L - 18g/L
  Lieblich Maximum Residual Sugar: 45 g/L
  Süß Minimum Residual Sugar: 45 g/L

Residual sugar is an interesting property. It is impossible for a wine to have less than 1 g/L of residual sugar but it is quite common for wine to have more than 45 g/L. For example the famous dessert wine of France, Chateau d'Yquem has 100 to 150 g/L and one of the Tokaji from Hungry has over 450 g/L.

Sweetness is a function of the amount of glucose and other sugars or simply just "sugar" in the grape at the time of harvest. Once the grape is crushed, the sugar is attacked by the yeast and broken down into carbon dioxide (CO2) some of which becomes carbonic acid and alcohol. When the alcohol content is somewhere between 10% and 14%, the yeast dies, thus stopping fermentation. (If all you had to drink was wine, you would die too.) So, if the grapes have more sugar to begin with, there will be sugar left over after fermentation making for sweeter wines. Of course, sugar can be added but that does not happen often (see chaptalization below).

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Classic and Selection: Germany, since 2000, is undergoing a bit of a revolution in the way they classify their wines. Some industry members want to redraft how all German wines are classified to make it easier for the consumer to understand the label. To make a long story short, they would like to drop designations like Spätlese and Auslese in favor of a system incorporating the words "Classic" and "Selection." The final chapter on this issue has not been written yet so it might suffice to say that Classic wines will be a little dryer and perhaps less expensive than Selection wines. With one exception (Trollinger-Limberger Curvée from Würtemberger), Classic wines are wines of a single variety of grape. Selection wines are higher in quality than Classic wines. Classic wines will have the name of the vintner but not the specific vineyard. Selection wines will have both.

From my perspective, I don’t want any more help from the German wine industry to demystify their classification. It’s like asking the government to demystify the tax laws.

For QmP (see below) and Eiswein wine classifications, you might like to know a technical term. An Oechsle (named after the inventor, Herr Ferdinand Oechsle 1774-1852) is a measure of the residual sugar in wine “must” using the specific gravity of the liquid. This measure is taken at several points during the fermentation process. It is used as one of the primary criteria for grading wine. What do you suppose they use to measure Oechsle in the wine? Why an Oechslemeter, of course. This is no big deal for casual drinkers like me but it does explain why some wines are classed one way and others another. You may already know that “must” is the messy, awful looking stuff that comes out of the grape press. And no, they don’t stomp on the grapes with their feet anymore. I doubt that they ever did – it would make the wine taste like an old tennis shoe. Although I did learn that port wine (from Portugal) does sometimes use human feet to stomp the juice from the grape. They like that method because it does not release any bitter essence from the grape seeds. Some port producers use a machine that carefully replicates human foot pressure so you get all the benefits except the tennis shoe taste.

Tafelwein: Starting with the least expensive wine here are the basic classifications: Tafelwein: Table wine is basic blended stuff that the locals drink with dinner. These are frequently blended wines but if it says Deutscher Tafelwein, it must be 100% German. Tafelwein is even seldom shipped farther than the next city although Germans love to take wine-buying trips to their favorite Weingut (vintner) to purchase wine for their own consumption at home.

While Germany is divided into 13 wine growing regions for quality wine (Qualitätswein), it is divided into only four areas for Tafelwein. They are; Rhine-Mosel, Bayern, Neckar, and Upper Rhine. These wines are trocken or halbtrocken (dry or half-dry) and lighter in character than their high brow cousins. Try them; you might like them.

Landwein: Landwein is a step better than Tafelwein, and available in many grocery stores in Germany. These wines are not exported outside the EU. When in Germany, this is what I drink. An inexpensive Landwein will cost €3 per bottle. If you are familiar with French labels, both Tafelwein and Landwein are the equivalent of Vin de Pays. You will find the region of origin and the variety of grape on the label. Landwein can come from any of 19 regions, which are simply subdivisions of the four regions for Tafelwein.

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Qualitätswein: This is equivalent to France’s “Vin d'appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC)” and meets with all the EU standards. This is the minimum quality of wine you need to give as a gift when you are invited to a friend’s house for dinner. The vast majority of all wines produced in Germany are of this classification. This classification is broken down into sub-categories as follows: QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) and QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat).

QbA: This is region specific. A region is an Anbaugebiet and two regions are Anbaugebiete. These are good wines but it is legal to add sugar to these wines in a process called chaptalization. Chaptalization is only done before fermentation and then only when the vintner knows that there is not enough natural sugar to produce the required alcohol content. Some QbA wines have added sugar but most do not. These wines vary from dry to semi-sweet.

QmP: QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat): Again, these are better wines than the QbA however, no sugar can be added. In fact, the only thing that can be added to this level of wine is other wine (sometimes done to blend the taste). Either the grape has sugar in it or it becomes a dryer wine. A special number is added to the label of each bottle testifying to its authenticity and official examination as per the wine law of 1971. These QmP wines are further broken down into the following five sub-categories: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese. Then, not on the hierarchy of the five previously QmP wine but sometimes thought to be is Eiswein. Eiswein is in a class by itself.

Kabinett: These wines have a minimum must-weight of 70° Oechsle. Each step on the rung indicates a better quality wine that is probably slightly more expensive than the previous rung. They are good accompaniments to food and they can age ten years or more.

Spätlese : The word Spätlese means late harvest. It is one step up and must have a minimum 'must' weight of 80° Oechsle. Spätlese wines have more complexity and may age between 25-30 years. Some will say that the “Classic” replaces this classification. Then again, many do not agree.

Auslese : Auslese (selected harvest): Harvested after Spätlese, producing even riper fruit (90° Oechsle), is Auslese. Some will say that the “Selection” replaces this classification. Or not. It seems to get curiouser and curiouser.

Beerenauslese : Beerenauslese (select harvest berries): This wine and the next are frequently served as dessert wines or consumed by themselves just for their quality. With a minimum must weight of 120° Oechsle) and a deep golden coloring, they are made from individually selected overripe grapes which are frequently botrytis affected. At 20 years, many have just begun to reach their peak.

Eiswein: Eiswein (ice wine) Talk about late harvest wine, German Eiswein grapes are harvested while frozen sometimes as late as January, thus the name “ice wine.” The grapes must not be infected by the botrytis mold and the Oechsle of BA (120°). Eiswein normally is not affected by botrytis (noble rot).  Prior to 1980, Eiswein was not considered part of the QmP Hierarchy however,  that has changed now.

Trockenbeerenauslese: Trockenbeerenauslese (dry berry selected harvest): The ripest (Oechsle minimum of 150°, higher than Sauternes) and rarest of the Prädikats in the QmP category. Trockenbeeren refers to dehydrated grapes shriveled by botrytis (noble rot). Age these wines 30 years and more.

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Wine Grape varieties

German variety English variety if different Type Comments
Blauer Silvaner Blue Sylvaner Red
Red Dornfelder   Red Beaujolais-like, Heroldrebe x Helfensteiner
Frühburgunder Early-ripening Pinot Noir Red
Heroldrebe Red Portugieser and Lemberger
Lemberger Blau Fränkish Red Not a Gamay
Portugieser Red Not from Portugal but from Austria. Also Bleu Portuegais
Regent   Red A hybred: Silvaner x Müller-Turgau with Chambourcin
Schwarzriesling Pinot Meunier Red Meunier
Spätburgunder Late-ripening Pinot Noir Red
Trollinger Schiava or Vernatsch Red From North Italy
Spätburgunder Weißherbst Rosé
Bacchus Hybrid of Silvaner, Riesling, Muller-Thurgau White
Faber White Weissburgunder x Müller-Thurgau
Freisamer White Silvaner x Ruländer
Gewürztraminer and Traminer Gewürztraminer White Gewürztraminer means spice
Grauburgunder Pinot Gris White
Grüner Silvaner Sylvaner White From Austria but called Johannisberger in Switzerland
Gutedel White Swiss = Chasselas
Huxelrebe Chasselas White Gutedel x Courtillier Musqué
Kanzler White Müller-Thurgau x Sylvaner
Kerner White Hybrid of Trollinger and Riesling
Mariensteiner White Silvaner and Riesling
Morio-Muskat White Silvaner and Weissburgunder
Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner) White Bred by Dr. Mueller from Thurgau, Switzerland from Riesling and Gutedel
Muskateller Muscat White Very old variety
Nobling White Hybrid of Silvaner and Gutedel
Ortega White Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe
Perle White Gewürztraminer x Müller-Thurgau
Reichensteiner White Müller-Thurgau x (Madeleine Angovine x Calabreser Frohlich)
Riesling (Klingelberger) White Originally brought to Germany by Romans, perhaps from Wachau in Austria
Rieslaner White Silvaner x Riesling
Ruländer Pinot Gris or Pinot Grisio White
Scheurebe White Hybrid of Silvaner and Riesling typically dessert wine
Weissburgunder (Weisser Burgunder) Pinot Blanc White

Note: Red wines can be made to be rosé wines by altering what goes into the fermentation process. For example, Heroldrebe is frequently made into a rosé wine. In Italy, many German reds are sometimes sold as rosé because of their light color. The trick to make a red wine lighter is to remove the red wine skins before fermentation.

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Wine Regions (Anbaugebiete): There are 13 different wine growing regions or Anbaugebiete what the French call appellation. They are: Ahr, Baden, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen, and Württemberg.

Ahr: Along the Ahr River which flows into the Rhine just upriver (south) of Bonn. While both red and white wines are produced today, this area is the home of red wine in Germany which is mostly consumed in cGermanyountry. Ahr has only 1,300 acres under production.

Baden: This region is Germany's most southerly region, 41,000 acres in size, on the east side of the Rhine between Basil Switzerland and a little north of Heidelberg. In addition to Kaiserstuhl area close to Freiburg, which is probably the most famous of the sub-areas, the Baden Anbaugebiet includes these sub-areas: Bergstrasse, Bodensee, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Kraichgau, Markgraeflerland, Ortenau, Tauberfranken, and Tuniberg. White wine grapes produced here are Ruländer, Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer and Riesling and Spätburgunder for red wine.

Franken: Centered upon the upper Main River, Franken Anbaugebiet grows mostly Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau wine that tends to be dryer than those of other regions. Wine from Franken is bottled in a distinctive squat, green flagon called a Bocksbeutel. This region contains 15,000 acres.

Hessische Bergstrasse: Continuing north down the Rhine River and centered on Heppenheim is the Hessische Bergstrasse Anbaugebiet which grows the same type of grapes as in Franken but they tend to be a little sweeter, perhaps because the vineyards are more directly oriented toward the south. Only 1,000 acres makes a small Anbaugebiet.

Mittelrhein: Continuing north down the Rhine from Hessische Bergstrasse and between Mainz and Bonn is the Mittelrhein Anbaugebiet. Mittelrhein simply means Middle Rhine. Mittelrhein soil contains much clay and slate, as does the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. The harshness of this soil stresses the vines causing them to yield wines of high acidity which is desired by many. The majority of the grapes grown here are Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Kerner. Most of the production is consumed locally or sold to visitors. This region is also small with only 1,700 acres.

Mosel-Saar-Ruwer: This Anbaugebiet includes the northern part of the Saar River and the Mosel River from Konz to Koblenz including the valley of the Ruwer River. In my opinion, this is one of the prettiest regions in Germany and certainly one of the best areas to ride bikes. Sub-areas here include names I have been familiar with since I started drinking German wines almost 50 years ago. They have names like Bernkastel, Piesport, and Krov. Just thinking about these names starts my mouth to water. This is one of the larger Anbaugebiete with 32,000 acres. Mainly a white wine area, some vintners have been producing red wine grapes in the last 20 years. Bottles from this region are normally green with long tapered necks.

Nahe: The Nahe River flows into the Rhine at Bingen and this 12,000-acre Anbaugebiet is along the Nahe and its tributaries. Most wines are white coming from Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Silvaner grapes.

Pfalz: The region west and southwest of Mannheim is sometimes referred to as the Palatinate Region by English speaking peoples, this 59,000 acre Anbaugebiet is one of the largest in Germany. It is also home of some of the sweetest wines. Vines include Müller-Thurgau, Kerner, Silvaner, and Gewürztraminer but some of the sweet wine grapes like Muskateller are also grown here. If it is a red from this area, it is probably from the Portugieser grape.

Rheingau: On the right bank of the Rhine between Mainz and Lorch through what I and others call the prettiest part of the Rhine lies 7,700 acres of vines in the Rheingau. The most common vines are Riesling but Spätburgunder is also grown for red wines. Bottles from this region are usually brown with stubby necks.

Rheinhessen: On the left bank of the Rhine, or more correctly on the plateau above the Rhine and between Worms and Bingen is Rheinhessen. One of Germany’s largest Anbaugebiete with 65,000 acres or Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Silvaner vines. To me, this region is a misnomer because the state of Hesse is on the other side of the Rhine River. Before 1945, Hesse extended to both banks. Oh well. Nierstein is one of the sub-regions of this Anbaugebiet and among other wines and brandies they make Alte Gerhardt, my favorite German brandy which they call Weinbrandt.

Saale-Unstrut: The small 1,000-acre, wine-growing region Saale-Unstrut is the northernmost of Germany's wine regions. The first American rootstocks in Germany were planted in the region in 1887 after the phylloxera disease affected vineyards there. This Anbaugebiet is centered on the community of Freiburg.

Sachsen: Also one of the smallest Anbaugebiet with only 750 acres of mostly Müller-Thurgau and Weissburgunder vines is Sachsen. This region is between Meissen and Dresden along the Elbe River.

Württemberg: This region lies along the Neckar between Tübingen and Heilbronn and along the Enz near Pforzheim. It includes 27,000 acres of vines and includes red wine grapes of Trollinger, Lemberger, Spätburgunder, and Portugieser as well as white wine grapes of Riesling, Mller-Thurgau, Kerner, and Silvaner.

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Sulfites: What about sulfites? (Sulfite, sulfate - a rose by any other name would smell the same. I guess one is a sulfur compound while the other a sulfur compound. I do not know the difference.) All wines contain sulfites, OK, OK, not 100% of wine because due to accidents in nature, there actually is the occasional bottle that is completely sulfite free. But nearly 100% of all wine contains sulfites. It comes from two sources: First it occurs naturally in the fermentation process; Second, most producers add just enough to keep the wine from spoiling or oxidizing.

Not commonly believed facts: "White wines have almost twice as much sulfite than red wines." And, 99.75% of people are not allergic to sulfite and have no reaction to the presence of sulfites in their wine. If a person is asthmatic, there is a 5% chance that they may have sulfite sensitivity. But asthmatics are only 5% of that population and so we are talking about a maximum of 5% of 5% or 0.25% of us.

I know several people who insist that they get headaches from drinking American red wine but they do not get the same when they drink European white wine. Given that there is no difference, on average, in the sulfite content of American and European wines, and that white wine (on average again) has twice as much sulfite as red wine, these people must have a problem. Their problem stems either from drinking too much wine or in misidentifying what caused their headache. They may be victims of hysteria - believing in something that is not reality. I suspect the former. I believe that when people drink too much wine, their memory and judgment are impaired. Heck, they should not drive either. But that has nothing to do with sulfites, it has to do with being drunk.

For nearly 200 years, wine-makers have been adding some sulfite to wine as a way of keeping it fresh. The amount is controlled by local laws in most countries. But more than anything, no wine producer would knowingly add more sulfite than was necessary to keep the wine from spoiling or oxidizing. A few producers voluntarily abstain from adding anything to wine except wine. That is all well and good and they should advertise that. It helps sell their product to people who think that all additives are bad.

I understand that since 1988 the US Food and Drug Administration, in an ill-advised attempt to protect folks allergic to sulfa drugs, has required that wines sold in the USA contain the words "Contains sulfites" if the sulfite level is more than 10 parts per million. Naturally occurring sulfite in red wine is about two to three times that level. So, nearly all wine sold in America must have those words on their label. I do not know what the laws are in other countries but I know they are different than US laws. So if you find a bottle of wine in Germany that does not say that it contains sulfites, that’s not because it is free of sulfites, it is only because it is free from the governmental requirement to say that it contains sulfites. It is a silly law anyway. The public would be better served if the label just said what the likely level of sulfites is. To require producers to say that wine contains sulfites is akin to saying that air contains gasses.

I am not the only one who knows this stuff. Check out The Organic Wine Company or better yet, type in "sulfites in wine" in your favorite search engine.

Tartrates: Have you ever opened a bottle of wine and noticed crystals on the cork? Or noticed gritty sediment as you pour the last of a bottle into a decanter? In German, these are called Weinstein or Tartrates in English. They actually connote later harvest and longer aging and are harmless to your health. The wine, on the other hand, can be harmful if you drink too much, are pregnant, operate vehicles, or discuss religion or politics. A friend of mine learned not to discuss divorce settlements while drinking wine.

Acid in Wine: Tartrates actually are built from acid molecules crystalizing and clumping together. When they are heavy enough they settle to the bottom of the bottle. I guess they could also settle to the bottom of a blatter filled box of wine too but I have never heard of that happening.

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Bottle Size: Apparently size does matter - especially in wine bottles. One of the readers of this site asked if I knew the German names of the different size bottles used for wine and Champagne. The German names are similar to what we use in English. The etymologies are probably Latin, Greek, or Arabic - I do not know. There re a few name differences between Champagne bottles and wine bottles so this list may not be accurate for Champagne. Anyway, here are most of the possibilities.

Liter Bezeichnung English
0,187 Dinky Split
0,25 Piccolo / Viertel-Flasche
0,375 Demi / Halbe Flasche Half Bottle
0,50 Französischer Pot Half Liter
0,75 Normalflasche / Imperial Bottle
1 Literflasche Liter
1.5 Magnumflasche Magnum
3 Doppelmagnum Double Magnum
4.5 Jeroboam Jeroboam
6 Methusalem Methusalah
9 Salmanazar Salmanazar
12 Balthazar Balthazar
15 Nebukadnezar
18 Melchior bzw. Goliath
20 Solomon
26, 25 Souverain oder Sovereign
27 Primat
30 Melchisedech
45 Demi-John
98.5 Adelaide

If you know the names of the blank spaces above, share them with me by feedback.

Who would buy the smallest bottle at one eight of a liter? One swallow and it is gone. Now you have to dispose of the glass. Now a 98.5 liter bottle, that is going to be hard to put in your pocket.

I did not list the 0.2 bottle size because it seems to only apply to Schnapps bottles. When I get to drink Schnapps, I want more than 200 milliliters, I want a Schnapps glass full.

The question for the day, just to see if you are a wine snob or not, is: What is the name for the indentation on the bottom of the bottle? Send me an e-mail if you need to know. If you do not know, just drop back 5 yards and punt.

Other Miscellaneous Notes: In June, while riding along the Mosel (or Moselle if you prefer), we noticed people of all economic walks of life working the vineyards as we rode past. We saw many people of retirement age with twine and pruning shears in hand. Some of the men seemed dressed nice enough for office work with nice pants and jackets, and some of the women wore dresses. Perhaps these are tourists who work the vineyards for fun and profit. An inexpensive adventure vacation perhaps.

About May 15, the vines start to grow. By June 20, vintners need to start the “dropping” of the shooters. These shooters will not bear fruit in their first year of growth and most are not needed for vine health so they are “dropped” in the summer long before the grapes ripen. Too many of these shooters sap energy from the vine. The workers prune off or drop all but two or three vertical shooters. These retained shooters are tied to the trellis or wires with twine so they grow horizontally.

We also see younger people, some with darker skin as if they come from the Mediterranean regions of Europe or Africa. They are doing the dropping or snipping the long shooters. We noted that not only were some of the Mosel vineyards very steep, actually reported to be some of the steepest in the world and that says a lot. We were taken by how the vines were worked. One vineyard was being renovated. A yellow caterpillar crawler type tractor was moved vertically down the hillside while being anchored at the top of the row of vines (or in this case future vines) by a large winch machine that played out cable to the tractor. If the tractor were to try to drive sideways across the hill, it would certainly tip over but because of the winch-break system of the machine at the top, it is capable of moving up and down in a vertical fashion. My guess is the slope is 55% or steeper, almost too steep for a person to climb without stairs. I cannot imagine how a person without such a winch arrangement to help, can possibly “drop” the shoots or pick the grapes.

There are many thousands of acres under cultivation and obviously, the care and feeding of a vineyard is arduous work. But we occasionally passed a vineyard that had gone to seed. We were told that if you let a vineyard go even one year without care, the vineyard is worthless as a wine producer and has to be replanted. We learned that the wine business is not as profitable as it was a couple decades ago. Because the work is hard and the profits are low, many young people are not following in their parents' footsteps tending the vines. They opt instead for easier, perhaps more profitable, work in the office buildings in the cities. If there is no one left to tend them, the vineyards languish. Other normal circumstances can cause a vineyard to go untended for a year or more, such as death or illness of the owner.

All vines grown in Germany today are grafted to rootstock, which at one point came from America. Some but not all American vines are Vitis Labrusca which is different from the European Vitis Vinifera vines. The Vitius Labrusca is resistant to a parasite Daktulosphaira Vitifoliae also know as root lice, which causes phylloxera. In 1881, Germans discovered that for years vineyards had been under attack by this disease-causing diminishing harvests. Europeans learned that grafting their vines to American rootstock helps resolves the problem. Every fall, vineyards along the Mosel are inspected for the root lice mentioned above. If found, that vineyard must be ripped out, remediated, and replanted.

As recent as 1993, it was illegal to raise red wine grapes in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region but that has now changed. We saw a few red wine vines and understand that they are becoming more prevalent reflecting the ever-changing tastes of the wine consuming public.

We also noticed little cryptic signs with only a 0 or an X or a 0 sometimes with a strike through it. These signs are markers for helicopters who spray the vineyards for pests.

Did you know that grape vines are self-pollinating? They don’t need bees. How do they do that? I have never seen a vine flower but that may just reflect on my poor powers of observation.

As in France and some other European countries, irrigation of the vines is not allowed during the growing season. Apparently, the idea is that if Mother Nature wants it to be a good year or a bad year; don’t mess with her.

About yeast: Like beer, wine is made using the auspices of yeast. Yeasts are not like people (except in a couple ways noted below) yeasts are a sort of a plant; a sort of a single cell, mushroom-like plant. Yeasts are many and varied (about 600 different kinds) and they are everywhere. Home bakers, like my neighbor Lee, make sourdough bread starter by setting a mixture of water and flour on the counter for a few days until the wild yeast that floats around in his house (yours too, by the way) have – ah – contaminated the mixture and start procreating. Unlike people, this procreation is through a process called budding. A single yeast cell buds or creates a bulge on its side. That bulge breaks away and quickly (in about 8.2 seconds) becomes a new cell. A cell can do this about 14 times before it is too old to multiply anymore. In people, this age is about 40 for females but in yeast (yeasts can be considered all females) it is about 2 hours after starting life as a bud. Like people, yeast needs to have the right conditions to procreate. They like the temperature to be warm and comfy. Unlike people, they do like company when they do their thing. In one gram of yeast, you have 30 billion individual yeast cells, and each one can have 14 daughters, and each of those daughters can have 14 daughters and so on and so on. They do all this in 2 hours or so, well mathematically speaking, that is one humungous number of yeast cells. All the while they are happily eating all the sugar they can. (For those of you interested in big numbers, I think the American number is 4.78 octoquardragintillion. In German, it is 4,78 Quattuorvigintilliarde. Of course, this parenthetical is so anyone Googling these words will find this page.) Even if there is an ugly yeast cell among them, it can still procreate because yeast does not need a partner to have offspring. They do not have to wait until closing time either – unlike people.

Think of the wine-making yeast as a bunch of employees. Sort of like volunteers, they come already attached to the skin of the grape when you harvest the grapes. You don’t have to pay them but you do have to feed them. They eat the sugar in the grapes and their waste products, partially akin to our own waste products, consist of gas (CO2) and ethyl alcohol. I say partially akin because our waste products do not contain alcohol that I know of. It is that alcohol that we wine drinkers enjoy so much.

Except in the making of sparkling wine, the gas (again, like people's habits) is discarded but the other waste product, alcohol, is retained (unlike people who discard all waste). The alcohol is the key difference between grape juice and wine. To compare yeasts to people again, if we lived in a confined area and did not get rid of our waste, we would eventually drown in it. Well, the same thing sort of happens to the previously happy yeast plants. Once the alcohol level reaches about 10% to 16%, the environment is too toxic for the yeast to continue doing what they so happily did before and they die. Yup, they turn belly up. Pond scum! Tot! toes up! Gone to that great pile of flour and water in the sky. Do yeast have a heaven? In their passing, they have created a little heaven on earth for us living organisms.

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