From the Vine

Adventures in Deutschland

*We are lucky to have a passionate and educated staff at UG, and we want you to be able to get to know them better. Part of the way we’ve done this is to put Staff Picks up around the store. We’re also bringing back the weekly staff blogs which were so popular last spring. First up is Yoko with a story about working harvest in Germany!


The more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn, and that is how I see wine study. Once I learn 10 things, 100 more things appear in front of me and once I learn these 100 things, there will be 1,000 more things to learn and this continues infinitely. The study of wine is more than just learning viticulture (growing grapes) and vinification (wine making) but also history, geography, climate, biology, chemistry, culture, legal structure/system, economy, agriculture… the list goes on. Being an extreme case of Gemini, I am always looking for something new and exciting, and it is the nature of wine study that motivates me to get up in the morning, hoping to discover something I did not know yesterday. On the other hand, I used to feel like I was swimming in the ocean filled with books and study materials, not knowing where I was heading, but continued to swim so that I did not drown. Then there was weakness, which made this swimming process more difficult. In my case, my weakness was the wine of Germany from the day one. Since “the best way to conquer fear is to confront it”, I decided to get my hands dirty and headed to Mosel, Germany in the fall of 2011 to work for the harvest for 6 weeks.

Although I had done a harvest in Champagne in the previous year, 6 weeks of vineyard and cellar work in Germany was not easy. Our days started with breakfast while it was still dark outside, off to vineyards picking grapes from around 8 AM till 6 – 7PM, and then back to cellar to start pressing grapes. After dinner, we often returned to the cellar to prepare yeast to start the fermentation as well as to separate botrytis affected grapes for making sweet wines. Being there soaked in rain, covered in mud, sweaty, freezing, falling down, getting cut, suffering from aches and pains, and also sharing meals and wine with others to cerebrate each day’s hard work, I learned how hard people work with nature to create a glass of wine. I used to think wine study was to read as many books as possible and pack my brain with knowledge, but this experience taught me how to genuinely appreciate wine with my heart.

Another important thing I learned was my definition of great wines. Pretty much the entire time while I was in Mosel looking at steep slope vineyards where everything must be done by human hands, I wondered why in the world people choose such a painstaking work to make a living. One afternoon towards the end of my stay, the answer came to me and it was passion. It was the passion for wine, craftsmanship, family, history, and culture. “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion” said professional dancer Martha Graham. And I think the same is true for great wines. Great wines are great because they are made with passion and care. They are the kind of wines that can speak to you by expressing their identity of where they are from (= terroir) and what kind of life they went through (= vintage)

Recently my German friend Thorsten, whom I met during my 6 weeks, was in town showing his wines. He is the 5th generation of the Melsheimer family from the village of Reil in the middle Mosel. 50% of their vineyards are small, very steep, and slate dry stone wall-supported, and they are certified as historical cultural landscape called “Kulturlandschaft” in German. To showcase true expression of Riesling from various sites, vineyards are farmed biodynamically and the wines go through very slow long fermentation process by their own natural yeast. Just like a graceful perfume, his wines are so complex with layers and layers of intriguing components and every time when I take a little sniff, different notes are jumping out of a glass and playing a game with my mind. Even though we were physically at the South End store, these wines took me back to the beautiful Mosel! If you are curious, we just picked up 3 of his wines – sparkling Riesling made in the traditional method (Riesling & bubbles, what is not to love?), Spatlese (made from riper grapes) and dry style in a half bottle. For me, these wines are the perfect reflection of things I learned in Deutschland – how to appreciate wine and my definition of great wine. Prost!