And then... there were grapes. If you've ever put a glass of German Riesling or a sweet Federweißer to your lips, you would know our delight when we arrived in the Mosel Valley for a photo shoot, only to find the annual grape harvest in full throe.
"Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken." -Ludwig van Beethoven
I always wanted to be a woman of the earth, my hands in the soil. I never thought I could do it, or more likely deserved to know the secrets of the green thumb. That was reserved to those who grew up around crops and seasons, edible flowers and artisanal jams. But the sweet gratification of plucking a mature grape right off the vine with my hands alone, well, that seems to be the real music of life.
In the Mosel Valley, the Weingut craft is no exception. Grapes are picked meticulously by hand. The terraced hillsides, impossible for a machine to attempt, are some of the most labor-intensive vineyards in the world. They also account for the regions lustrous wine quality- machines simply can't distinguish a bad bunch of grapes.
Along the 'Wine Route' in a town called Minheim I imposed myself on an unsuspecting crew of workers harvesting for the Klaus Junk vineyard. We spoke in German which is always entertaining for anyone within earshot. I started cozying up to a woman with a big smile, to see if she'd show me a thing or two about the grape process.
Jokes all around, mostly at me, they offered me a bucket and said, “Du kannst arbeiten mit uns!”, You can work with us! All burst out into the hearty German laugh that I’ve come to adore living here.
We moved on down the river. We were shooting a boat for a cruise company, and I spent the afternoons crouching in the vineyards, posting up earnestly with Michael's heavy D-800 as if I were waiting on a snow leopard or some other rare mammal to appear instead of a slow-moving boat.
During our breaks we would stop in the bevy of Winzerdörfer or wine villages that have been there since the Middle Ages (and have incredible Christmas Markets if you go in December). In this case, we had happened upon the Mosel Valley during it's annual "Wine Festival Weekend" (not to be confused with the beer-focused Oktoberfest just a few hours east in Bavarian part of the country). Clearly, Germans love their festivals revolving around libations- or anything worthy of a fest, come to think of it.
In Bernkastel-Kues, throngs of touring river cruisers strolled the cobbled streets and storybook houses with to-go glasses of Riesling in hand. It was no later than 10 in the morning. The unfortunate aspect was that I wasn’t that keen on drinking wine this particular weekend, I was taking a small hiatus. But I knew no German would let me get away with my Californian excuse referencing detoxes and yoga. A glass of Federweißer, a sweet sparkling wine, was diligently thrust into my hands and I knew there was no getting out of it. There was only surrender. That, and a slice of the region's famous Apfelstrudel.
But to sip a glass of Federweißer, it’s like drinking the landscape. The glistening, gliding river along the green stretches and antediluvian castles on every bend exude something Zen-like in me and I feel as if I'd worked out all of life's most philosophical problems, all while sitting next to a mustachioed Bavarian. It's no wonder most of their harvest is distributed and consumed regionally, and at 5 Euros a bottle what can an innocent bystander do but take home a case?
That’s the thing I love about Europe. Living here allows me to be in a circadian rhythm that I completely ignored my entire life, ironic that it would have made everything so much better had I paid attention.
Maybe I'll go back to that vineyard next year and ask for a bucket.