As I took the train from Cologne to Trier two Augusts ago, I looked out at the miles of vineyards along the Rhine and Mosel and, seeing very few workers, never thought working on a vineyard would be a part of my life. Over the last eighteen months I’ve had the pleasure, luck and joy to work on the organic vineyard Dr. Frey in Kanzem on the river Saar. With one day to go before the end of my voluntary year, the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had warrant a moment’s reflection.
Our team, an unlikely collection from Berlin, the Eifel, southwest Italy, northern England and northwest Germany, sporadically found its way to Kanzem. The Frey team has hacked away hectares worth of weeds and cut kilometres of canes. The hand-shears, a trusty tool, always ready for the draw. On cold winter days, our lunch breaks took place by the fire in our break room with a tea in hand. In the scorching summer, we found shady spots under trees or beside the bully (our VW van) and eavesdropped on the crickets in the otherwise silent heat.
Twice I have witnessed the vines flare into floriferous life. A generous dozen of times I’ve too roughly tried to separate canes from one another and they’ve responded by flinging back and whipping me in the face, each clobber a not so gentle reminder to be respectful and calm towards the plants. Several times the weather has caught me by surprise, whether it was whilst wearing silly wellington boots in the depths of winter and leaving the vineyard in tears or forgetting sun cream on an unexpectedly warm day in February and spending the rest of the week looking rather lobstery.
On my very first day in January 2018 we cut the canes as the sun went down. I don’t think I’ll forget that feeling of a full day’s work exposed to the elements. I was tired, euphoric and couldn’t feel my right hand from all the snipping.
In autumn we picked an apple orchard clean and found one reminiscent of Aladdin Sane. In winter we capered about the vines in the snow. In spring we mowed the grass amongst the vines and we saw the other plants growing between the rows, a meter higher than the neighbouring conventional vineyards. The summer is in full swing and I’ll hopefully be able to come back to Trier and help out at this year’s grape harvest (Traubenlese).
As the months went by, I wondered why we were nearly invariably the only people out in the vineyards so I asked my colleagues where the other vineyard workers were. Organic vineyards require a considerably larger amount of hand work than non-organic vineyards that rely on machines or herbicides. As one of the few organic vineyards in the region, this meant we were often alone on the hills in our small group of three or four and were only noticeable by a bright red jacket or a rapture of laughter.
The vineyard, for all of us, is and has been a place of guffaw, (sometimes) blood, and occasional tears. There were daily smiles, words, trust, humour, randomness, kindness, seriousness and harmony. With a humongous gratitude, I thank the fabulous colleagues who’ve helped me not only to learn about wine-making, nature conservation and how the two interlink, but how they’ve helped me with my mind, my future, my past and my present.
And now for some pictures to consolidate the experience: