Rewilding the Vineyards

Ah, German wine, German women, and German song. It’s in “The Song of the Germany”. The third stanza is about a blooming land and is used as the anthem. The second is the one that applies to the Rhine.

How strange for a Middle European Beer-Drinking Country! But here’s to noble deeds.


Ah, the ancient traditions! The deep knowledge!

The time-honoured fidelity of the traditions of the riesling grape in the heart of the old volcano on the Rhine Plain!

Aww. Let’s have a closer look.

A goat pasture! That’s what there was here until sixty or seventy years ago. Goats. Hawthorns. Berries. Dogwoods. Roses. Butterflies.

The butterflies are gone now, perhaps because these hills are hayed these days, and the chain between butterfly larvae on the bushes and adults in wildflowers was broken. Or maybe it was this sort of thing:

Or just that most of the orchids are gone. You have to really hike to find one.

Efforts are now being made to save the remaining insects. You can spot that on the slope in the centre of the image below. The goats are grazed up high, among the bushes. Vertical bands of grass are left unmown on the slopes below.

It might make you sneeze.

And the grapes? Well, there was a culture of grapes here before the 1950s: low volume production for household needs. The hills were terraced for fields close to the villages. Narrow terraces, that you could dig out by hand. Then came mechanization. Bulldozers, actually. If you look below, you can see some of the resulting terraces to the right. They are monocultures, intersected by occasional slopes, thick with feral grapes and grass. There’s not a lot for the insects there.

Here’s another view, across the heart of the volcano.

It is pretty fun to drive around with a bulldozer. Note the terraces on the hill behind, to the left. They continue right up under the trees. This was fruit and vegetable land. The forests are new.

Better are the older terraces, and new ones made in their style. You can see some one of them in the centre of the image above. It has been cut into the 70-year-old terrace, on the principle that with plantings like that about 70% of the land is left wild, with the grapes growing in, essentially, a wild environment. Here, too:

All kinds of terraces here, including some narrow ones, and if you have a sharp eye, some ancient terraces now gone to grass.

It’s not really wild, of course. There is, after all, the herbicide Roundup (the air here stinks of it, actually, sigh), which destroys bumblebee abilities to keep their brood warm in the cold…

…and there is, as I said, a refrain to this song:

The push is to slowly eliminate monoculture terraces, so that grapes will be growing in a grassland, with birds and insects doing most of the work.

Bee Habitat in the cut slopes.

Let’s hope for success, because right now it’s not as if these plantations are particularly healthy. There are a lot of misses in the grape rows here.

It doesn’t matter too much, because the price of wine is in the marketting, not the growing, but, still, apart from that being a waste of land’s potential, look below:

These are not healthy plants. I really couldn’t figure out if this was the result of damaged canes or a little enthusiasm on the Roundup application. Maybe both.

Don’t get too excited about all that grass, though. That’s cheatgrass. No insect with any self-respect will have anything to do with that stuff. I tell ya, returning an environment to health after the mechanized and chemical successes brought on by the early 20th century and its wars isn’t an easy thing. Still, some are trying. Here’s an experiment with unpruned vines and none of the crop reduction down to a couple clusters or so per plant that is the style in the usual vineyards on the Kaisterstuhl:

These grapes are given experimental cover crops, to see if the big terraces can be brought to life again. There is rye, for green manure:

It is then tilled under and replanted with flowers. These will bloom mid-summer, to keep the bees alive throughout the long, hot season.

Successive plants, it is hoped, will do the trick.

War has a long, long tell, but here, in an organic vineyard, it might be being put to rest. Either we pay for the continuation of a mechanized Earth, or contribute to a living one. The technology for both exists.

Next, let’s look at how these things play out in the Okanagan. See you then, eh.

4 replies »

  1. Harold, I saw a scene in a Knowledge-Network-broadcast movie about Armenia/Turkey, that reminded me of some of your comments about vineyards. This one showed a hillside with vines, none of which were trellised; the hillside was not terraced. The old person tending the vineyard said something about it being an ancient “vineyard,” planted hundreds of years ago.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.