wpid-house-its-not-lupus-its-never-lupus

It’s NEVER Lupus!

The bites and scrapes are starting to add up. Skin is so exposed with the heat, and mine is extra sensitive, as I’ve discovered it responds poorly to copper sulfate spray, so each new lump and bump comes with a whole host of paranoic wonderment: is it a mosquito bite? Is it an allergic reaction? ….. Is it lyme disease? …………….SKIN CANCER?? (In a dark corner of my room, I KNOW there’s a spider rubbing at least three of his legs together, saying: the Precious tastesss ssssso much better with a dash of fear.) Just kidding… said spider has been satisfyingly vanquished. It made the mistake of hiding behind the bathroom door in plain sight at a time when my roommate and I had enough liquid courage to construct a strategy and take it out. Even though we could see hairs on its legs. (That’s Madame Dragonslayer to you!)

Three little maids from wine school are we; Taking down spiders with unfettered glee.

Three little maids from wine school are we; Vanquishing vermin with unfettered glee.

As we rid ourselves of cobwebs, both literally and figuratively, we’re enjoying our last few weeks of outdoor work. There are distinct pros and cons, one consequence being that I am glued to my weather app to try and dress appropriately for the day. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s this: if one forgets one’s raingear it is sure to rain.

Varying degrees of cloud cover, ranging from clear skies over Turckheim (acceptable), morning fog over Turckheim and Winztenheim (acceptable), to ominous looking rainclouds.

Varying degrees of cloud cover, ranging from practically clear skies over Turckheim (acceptable), low-lying clouds over Turckheim and Winztenheim (ideal), to ominous looking rainclouds (not again!).

For the first time, I get to work at the village of Thann, which hosts the Rangen Grand Cru – the southern-most Grand Cru in Alsace, and certainly our southernmost parcels. It’s a little further away from the main winery, so a separate team is there to take care of these parcels. They show us the ropes – most of which we’ll need to hold on to later due to how steep Rangen is! We need to figure out how to do our work one-handed as we often need the other hand to steady ourselves on the trellis wires.

The wines here are incredibly special – the soil is volcanic rock and sedimentary sandstone. Not that I’ve tasted a lot from this area (yet), but the 3 or 4 I have tried seem to have a signature scent of smoke or gunflint, coming from the volcanic heritage. These are truly heritage wines – the winegrowing history in Thann dates back at least to the 12th and 13th centuries, and figuring prominently in the winelist (..? maybe just the jugs?) at the imperial court or as gifts to visiting emissaries. There’s a little chapel in the middle of our parcels, dedicated to St. Urbain the patron of winegrowers. Because it’s surrounded by a wall, it’s called a Clos, and the surrounding parcels are responsible for Zind-Humbrecht’s famous Clos St. Urbain Rangen Grand Cru wines. I’ll give you a tip though, some of our parcels are declassified, and cannot be sold as Grand Cru, despite being immediately adjacent to the more premium plots. Zind-Humbrecht’s Thann wines are a third the price of the ZH Rangen Grand Cru while still conveying the typicity of the appellation.

Our steepest parcels are in the Rangen Grand Cru, overlooking the town of Thann. The neighbours use a helicopter to spray. The Eye of Sauron?… close: the Witches’ Tower keeps a lookout over the town. Believe it or not, these are steps up the side of the hill, but you have to look closely. The chapel at the centre of our parcels – the famed Clos St Urbain, named for the local patron saint of winegrowers. On early mornings, the sun rises slowly over Thann. We check out the angle while the guys rappel down… er.. spray the parcel below us.

Speaking of early mornings, there are a few 6 am starts in there. We typically begin the day a little earlier when we’re trying to beat the heat, which usually means we’re starting work just as the sun’s coming up. As we’re normally in bed before sun-down, it’s nice to see the sun rise every once in a while. As you can imagine, it’s quite beautiful. We often see hot air balloons in the early mornings, and I’m willing the bet the views are even better from above. So now there’s a new bucket list item to check off before leaving Alsace!

A few of the early mornings afford sunrise views of the winery, where we meet to start the work day.

Getting an early start: biking through vineyards to work, morning sunlight at the winery. Thann sits in the shadow of the mountain, while hot air balloons float over Turckheim.

While we’re mostly doing the palissage (tucking the vines in, in case you forgot…. I CAN’T EVER FORGET), because of the mildew, there are a few extra activities to take care of. We’re also trimming the tops of the rows, as necessary – cutting the tops of the vines actually encourages more growth in the vine. This is a particularly useful method of combating downy mildew, as this will encourage fresh growth of uncontaminated leaves that haven’t been affected by the rains earlier in the summer. Mildew isn’t the only challenge on our hands, though it is the most prominent.

What's eating Gilbert's grapes? the dark, dried-up berries are signs of downy mildew, thanks to all the rain we enjoyed the last two months. This vine has two different diseases: apoplastie on the left (like a heart attack,, the pathways for food and water are choked, so the vine dies) and esca on the right. These greyish berries are a sign of powdery mildew, a recent sighting in the vineyard. These leaves, though colourful and already putting me in mind of Thanksgiving in Canada, are likely a sign of nutrient deficiency. Finally, not a disease, but this split berry shows that the seeds are fully formed early in the maturing process.

What’s eating Gilbert’s grapes? The dark, dried-up berries are signs of downy mildew, thanks to all the rain we enjoyed the last two months. This vine has two different diseases: apoplastie on the left (like a heart attack,, the pathways for food and water are choked, so the vine dies) and esca on the right. These greyish berries are a sign of powdery mildew, a recent sighting in the vineyard. These leaves, though colourful and already putting me in mind of Thanksgiving in Canada, are likely a sign of nutrient deficiency. Finally, not necessarily a disease, but this split berry shows that the seeds are fully formed early in the maturing process.

Funny-looking berries aren’t the only things we see in the vineyard… The signs of biodiversity abound:

Seen in the vineyard: a giant grasshopper, four baby birds nesting in the vines, a leaf shaped like a chapeau de fée (fairy hat), and a tiny snails that is trying to beat us to the (grape) punch.

Seen in the vineyard: a giant grasshopper, four baby birds nesting in the vines, a leaf shaped like a chapeau de fée (fairy hat), and a tiny snail that is trying to beat us to the (grape) punch.

And finally, we move on from palissage to effeuillage, or deleafing. Deleafing consists of pulling off the leaves that are around the grape bunches, to let them breathe, and minimize the chance of contamination by mildew. This can be back-breaking work, particularly in the pinot noir parcel, as our pinot noir vines are much shorter than the others.

Some visual aid to help with the deleafing briefing; grapes are looking good, even if we have to bend over to check them out. Somehow the rows seem longer than ever! But on the plus side this is the view from my bathroom.... And the odd tasting is thrown in there for good measure (if you look closely you can see that the tasting room overlooks the barrel room).

Some visual aid to help with the deleafing briefing; grapes are looking good, even if we have to bend over to check them out. Somehow the rows seem longer than ever! But on the plus side this is the view from my bathroom…. And a tasting is thrown in there for good measure (if you look closely you can see that the tasting room overlooks the barrel room).

And that wraps up the month of July! August has lots in store for me, including a visit to Strasbourg and the beginning of bottling in the cellar.

Looks like we have our work cut out for us.

Looks like we have our work cut out for us.

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