Michael & Eva had a huge collection of CD's and we listened to
lots of German music and lots of old favorites. Every night they
offered us a different kind of wine, usually from Michael's vineyards...
we tasted every night, but neither of us can drink alcohol.
(One hilarious thing I noticed in Germany... there are several
different brands of toilet paper that have the name printed on
each sheet. One is called DANKE, (Thank you) Which is a weird
thing to have on TP... but on the other one, every single sheet
says DM. That is the name of the currency, Deutchmark, it's
like putting a dollar sign on TP. I finally had to ask if it was
a joke or something, and they showed me a drugstore called DM...
I thought it was very funny.
We didn't actually work every day. There were days that they
needed to press the grapes we had picked, and since the weather
was good they wanted to wait as long as possible. We wound up
working 9 out of 18 days. The other days we went exploring
The first day off we took a daylong walk through the vineyards
from town to town (each with a 1000 year old church) and discovered
a 1300 year old castle which robbers had used to raid the
towns from. It is so cool that you can walk through these little
villages, you are in a town, churches, stores, houses, ATMS, and
then you pass a wall or a road or just an imaginary line and
you were in vineyards! And then you can walk for 20 minutes
and come to the next town! (We got lost at one point because
the Autobahn was not on our extremely accurate topo map. Michael
said that was because the people didn't want the Autobahn to be
built and they were so annoyed about it that they just didn't
put it on the map!)
We spent a day exploring the town we were in, Eltville, and its
two or three castles, markets and pedestrian streets. It was
a very pleasant little town with walking along the River Rhein
and lots of wine (of course).
Another day we explored Wiesbaden (a town with baths... but
we didn't go, unfortunately) and another day Mainz... I expected
Mainz to be very interesting, but it wasn't... mostly because
the center was damaged very heavily during the war... Wiesbaden
was a wonderful town, partially because the Americans spared it
because they wanted it for a base! In all the places we went
to we were looking for wool pants for me, but found nothing!
We had a couple of those terrible travel days where nothing goes
right, missing trains, paying too much for tickets, wandering around
hungry... one day we went to the little town of Ruedesheim... seemed
like a good idea, but it was tourist hell... disneyland of the Rheingau!
We took the ferry across the river to Bingen which was nice, but
rushed back only to find that the cable car over the vineyards was
closed early! Arrrgg.
On another of our days off we went to Darmstadt. My great great great
grandfather Joseph Michael Host Jr. emigrated from Darmstadt to Wisconsin.
We did some research at the city archives and explored the town. It
is a wonderful city, with a large university. We sat by the woog
(swimming lake) and walked to the Russian Orthodox church. Nicholas II
the last Czar of Russia married a princess from Darmstadt and so they
built a church for when he visited. It is gorgeous, extremely elaborate.
We also learned in this town that a great, cheap snack in Germany is
to buy a liter of organic milk!!!
There were crosses and other monuments throughout the vineyards, because,
as Michael said, "wine makers are very superstitious!" So when ever
there is a good year, they erect a monument.
The quality this year was amazingly high, and every evening Manfred
and Roland would come upstairs and tell us the quality numbers.
The quality of the grapes is measured by the sugar content (the highest
that normal green grapes can have is 100, purple grapes can have more).
The first few days they were pretty happy to have numbers around 77.
But they kept going up every day. 81, 85, 90, 93, 97, 102, 107!!!!
Everyone was extremely excited. In fact, one of the workers in the
press, on that second to last day (107) asked if we had done a SELECTION
(that is, pulled out the best grapes into a separate bucket). We
On the very last day of the Harvest we went out early in the cold
to start cutting. Each pair only had to cut 3 lines -- but they
were long lines. Michael had decided to do a selection that day.
He had only done one once before, 12 years ago, and it failed and
he lost it. This meant that instead of just throwing everything into
our bucket, we had to look at it and choose which bucket it went
in. It took a long time. The first row was more than 3 hours!
It was a very long day, but as the day wore on (and on and on) everyone
was excited. It was the last day of harvest, a day for celebration,
and we were getting an amazing quality in both the normal and the
selection. Towards the end of the day I put down the shears and
took a turn as the putetrager. It's hard work -- this day was on
flat ground, but some days were VERY STEEP... I had this heavy bucket
on my back that people poured grapes into. It wasn't much heavier
than my backpacking pack at home, but when I emptied it I had to
basically turn upside down into a truck while on a ladder! The first
time I tried it I got my head pinned between the bucket and the
grapes! The puntetrager got VERY sticky and messy... I couldn't
figure out how those Arminians stayed so well groomed! (Did I tell
you that they kept telling us that the grapes back home were better?)
Finally, right as the sun was touching the horizon, about 6:30, we
started our 'control'... that is walking the lines to get any
we missed. When we got to the trucks they were all decorated with
grape vines and leaves on every surface! Everyone was happy and
crowding around. Then Michael grabbed Cheryln and said, LOOK,
there is another bunch, you still have your shears, will you get
it? She walked over to get it, and found it just hanging on the
wire, she looked up to ask what was going on, and everyone started
Michael announced that the person who cuts the last group is called
the Herbstmuck (roughly translated: Autumn slowpoke) and gets to wear a crown of grape leaves (which they
placed on her head) and has to ring a bell all the way home riding
in the spot of honor on top of the harvested grapes while everyone
cheers. She also can drink as much wine as she wants and as Michael
said, "since we are a small winery, we chose her!" They broke out
the wine and everyone drank. We drank Hirt Albrect grape juice.
Cheryln and I climbed aboard the decorated truck and sat upon the
huge 1500 liter take of the SELECTION grapes. The three vehicles
then drove slowly out of the vineyard honking and cheering, with
Cheryln ringing the bell. People came to their windows and waved
and cheered as we slowly drove through town. It was one of those
experiences that I couldn't believe was really happening!
When we got back to the winery, the wine came out again, sparkling
this time, and they put Cheryln on the Barrell with the Hirt Albrect
name and she made a speech about what a great harvest it was (and
how the employment office never showed up!) and then had to kiss
Michael on the cheek. She liked her crown so much that she wore
it to dinner that night! It was fantastic.
The next day we did laundry, packed and got ready to leave, we
took some wine and grape juice with us. My hair had gotten kind
of shaggy in the past couple of months, so Cheryln cut it VERY
short for me.
We had worked 9 days and slept and ate all meals at Michael's house
for 18 days... we were amazed that he actually paid us for this