Date: 15 October 1999

Subject: Herbstmuck

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 area.

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 Eltville 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 Luisenplatz in Darmstadt 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 had not!

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 cheering.

Michael announced that the person who cuts the last group is called Hirt-Albrecht Wine 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 experience!




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