Tag Archives: Monthly wine writing challenge

#MWWC14: Traditions, oh, traditions…


My Canadian buddy Bill of Duff’s Wines won the last monthly wine writing challenge and chose “Tradition” as his topic of choice. And since there’s some nudging going on here and on Twitter, and since my writing hiatus has become really ridiculous by now, I’ve decided to accept the challenge.

Part of my immediate uneasiness with tradition stems from the fact that I used to be a very traditional kinda guy, with a longing for stability that traditions help create, with literally thousands of books in my “library”, with a craving for arm chairs and for anything traditional, entailing everything this term evokes.

A marriage fallen apart later, with some lessons learned and others not, I developed a keen embrace for change, and a disdain for traditions. Maybe not for traditions, but for what they can encapsulate: An attempt by the past to bind us living. Don’t get me wrong, they can be a nice bridge into the past, connecting us and our forebears, and connecting us and other cultures. But they still require that you follow them, and following expectations is really not my strong suit (anymore, I want to add).

So I tried shedding traditions and bonds, wanting nothing to do with what loved ones held dear. Let me tell you this much: It’s a great way to make others around you and yourself miserable. We just cannot escape traditions, and maybe we shouldn’t. But I also don’t think we should succumb to everything that is held out as a tradition. Traditions need to fit to us, they need to be relevant to us, they shouldn’t only be a means for others to make us behave in accordance with their traditions.

A move across the Atlantic made me re-evaluate many traditions and what is considered “traditional” for a German living abroad. The beauty of being a transplant is that you get to choose the traditions you want to embrace, both from your own culture and from your adopted culture. Heck, it even gives you a chance to alter both of them, make them more compatible with yourself, and most will find it enriching. I experience being a foreigner in a foreign land as exhilarating, and it appears my input matters to those that matter to me.

So here are a few traditions that we’ve accepted, adapted, created, embraced, and incorporated into our life:

Boy, turkey can be chewy

Boy, turkey can be chewy

Thanksgiving: My hands down favorite tradition of American traditions. I don’t even like turkey very much, nor gravy or stuffing or pumpkin pie for that matter, but the idea of having a holiday, devoid of expectations for peace, tranquility, and unity, or the exchange of gifts, a holiday that solely revolves around spending time with people you love, eating comfort food. What’s not to love about this? We’ve added my German red cabbage recipe to the mix (GREAT combo, email me if you want the recipe), we’re now drinking Riesling with the turkey. We celebrate with friends, because our families are thousands of miles away. But when we spent Thanksgiving in Germany in November 2013, we celebrated with an all-German group of family. And it was a blast.

One of the many amazing wines we drink at our feasts

One of the many amazing wines we drink at our feasts

A big Korean dinner with Riesling when in Trier: For most of my wine-loving life, I was able to hang out with my good friend ManSoo and drink Riesling and eat his wife’s delicious Korean food on a very regular basis. Now, with an ocean between us, we make it a priority to meet for a long evening of Rieslings, reds, and food, a celebration of life and friendship, whenever we are home.

Feuerzangenbowle in Alaska 2014

Feuerzangenbowle in Alaska 2014

Feuerzangenbowle: Say it three times! A German mulled wine punch, over which a large sugar chunk is put, which is drenched in rum, and then lit on fire. As the spectacular flames sizzle along, the melting sugar drips into the mulled wine and “enriches” it in many ways. It’s a winter tradition in Germany, you watch the 1940s movie named after it, and drink it in the lecture halls of colleges…but I never embraced that tradition until coming to the US. Now, we try to throw at least on Feuerzangenbowle party every year.

Stunningly fresh

Stunningly fresh

Nina gets to open a 1987 for her birthday: While we lived in Germany, Nina used to throw big birthday parties at our large apartment, with us providing meat and cheese, and friends required to bring a wine they like. We’d have 15 to 25 people over, and it was always a feast. I asked Nina how it started that we opened an 87, and she gave me that look and said: “Um, because I wanted one.” And this fast became a tradition: Every year since, we have opened a 1987 Riesling from the Mosel, we are still drinking Spaetlese levels, and they still work fine. Every year I am concerned we need to move on to Auslese or higher, but the Spaetlesen are still kicking it, even from a bad year like 1987.

Just opened a double magnum to go with beef burgundy

Just opened a double magnum to go with beef burgundy

A beef burgundy dinner between Christmas and New Year’s: I like to claim that half of Alaska visited and stayed with us while we lived in Germany (the first visitors arrived literally the day we moved into our apartment). It was a great way of getting to know people from Nina’s parents’ church community, which has made me entering church at Christmas a feast of hugs and smiles. Which I like a lot. The first Christmas in Alaska, 2011, I offered to cook a meal for a full table of people, and my mother in law thought it would be great to invite those that visited us in Germany. At first, I thought it was odd that we would throw a dinner for people that visited us, shouldn’t they buy us dinner? But over the years, this has become a staple: I cook a beef burgundy for anywhere between 15 and 20 people (in case you’re wondering, that’s about 12 to 15 pounds of meat and 5-6 liters of wine), it’s one of the most joyous nights of our time there, and I don’t want to miss this tradition (this year we opened our first 3 liter bottle to drink with it).

In short, don’t discard traditions altogether, but choose and pick which matter, and create your own, because those will truly matter to you.

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Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 3: Time to vote

The third Monthly Wine Writing Challenge has come to a close, and there have been 15 entries. The theme for this month was “Possession”, and while everyone seemed to struggle with it, the outcome has been pretty great. I wrote about ownership structure in German vineyards (yeah, I know, way to go to not win a popularity contest), others approached it from the angle of owning wine, or how to handle your possessions, or wine glass possession-obsession, the field is wide open.

The voting has now begun over at Sally’s blog My Custard Pie. Head on over, if you haven’t, and help pick a winner…

Also, I really liked Sally’s introduction which she wrote because her blog is more set in the food blog scene, and I think she does a great job of explaining one of the differences between food and wine writing:

“With food writing, if the prose doesn’t get your attention, you usually have the addition of drool-worthy images to stimulate the imagination and the salivary glands. Wine writing has a whole different set of challenges and usually appeals only to a very distinct group of readers. How do you pitch your information so that you keep the attention of people who know very little about wine as well as wine geeks? Conveying the experience of tasting a wine so that it resonates without tipping over into wine bore pomposity is an art. Yes, wine writing as fraught with potential pitfalls and hurdles as an overgrown vineyard.”

Go vote until Saturday by following this link!


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MWWC #3: Possession


Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3

This post is part of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, which is now in its third round. Sally of My Custard Pie wrote the best piece last month around the theme trouble (this is what I could muster) and threw out the next challenge: Possession. Find the full info on the contest here.

I am a lawyer by training. And sometimes, this training, and the way of thinking it teaches you, can be a curse. So, when I read the theme for this month’s wine writing challenge, possession, my head got stuck on the legal meaning of possession. You see, the law distinguishes between ownership and possession. It is an important distinction, but in colloquial language and understanding, it often gets completely blurred. Now, ownership is a much better right to have, because it gives you exclusive rights over something. Possession, in contrast, only gives you a derived right. Derived, because the thing we are talking about belongs to someone else…

Why did my head get stuck on this distinction when we are talking about a wine writing challenge? Because possession, just like ownership, plays a huge part in the German wine growing world. I remembered a video I watched last year, posted by Denise Medrano, in which Ernst Loosen of the fabled Dr. Loosen winery takes a group through their vineyards in Ürzig, the Ürziger Würzgarten. It’s a long video, and rather boring at times, but what struck me was what he talks about from time mark 4:20 or so until minute 6. That part is not boring!

Ernie is talking about who “owns” which part of the vineyard, and as you can see, it is really tricky. In the most remarkable sentence he states that seven single vines (yes, single vines!) are bordered by four different wineries. What he does not mention is that some of those vines are not even owned by the wineries that work them, the wineries merely have legal possession: they leased the vines.

So much better than Hollywood

So much better than Hollywood…yet who owns these vines?

When you think of wine estates, many imagine the large, sprawling wine estates in the New World, where one winery owns hundreds and hundreds of acres of vines, all in neat rows, belonging to that one winery. The situation in a lot of Germany is different (and not just Germany, I think it is similar in other European wine growing countries): Wine has been grown for 2,000 years. Families have split, and with them ownership over land was split. The Catholic Church had huge holdings, which were later dismantled. But quite a bit of that land is actually still owned by the Church. But most bishoprics have given up making wine themselves.  Add to that the decline of active wineries in Germany because many cannot make a living, and there is a sizable amount of land under vine that is owned by persons that don’t even make wine.

What do you do with these tracts of land? Most of the land is in steep hills, or in areas that cannot be developed in another way for legal or geographical reasons. But the land might actually be quite valuable. And some people are not interested in a full payment to transfer ownership, they rather get a yearly rent (in money or even wine) and retain ownership. According to statistics by the German statistics office, over 60% of agricultural land under production is leased, not owned! In Rhineland-Palatinate, home to the large wine regions Rheinhessen, Palatinate (Pfalz) and the Mosel, 66% of all agricultural land is leased (I couldn’t find data just on wine).

This leads to a lot of possessive relationships in the vineyards. These are regulated by contracts which stipulate the exact duties (how does the possessor need to take care of the vines? Who is responsible for replanting when the vines grow old and tired? etc.) of lessee and land owner. A short research on Google revealed contract forms by two bishoprics leasing out land under vine. These contracts are many pages long. The contracts run for a set number of years, and it is common that after the end of the lease, the vines are rented to another wine maker…so the one who tended them for, let’s say, 20 years from one day to the other loses the right to use to these vines…

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

Roter Hang viewed from Nackenheim southwards to Nierstein

These relationships are beneficial for both parties, though. Take my friend Stefan Erbes of Karl Erbes. His family has been making wine in Ürzig since the 1960s, yet the most fabled of vineyards in the neighborhood was out of reach: Erdener Prälat. That tiny little parcel of land actually has seven or eight wineries tending to the vines in it, although ownership might be more obscure. Last year, Stefan was able to lease a teeny tiny bit of vines in the Prälat, and since the vines are already in place, he will be able to make wine from this top trophy vineyard for the first time this year already. On the other hand, the current owner does not lose his or her stake in this piece of land which, very likely, will continue to grow in value.

Well, this got us on quite the tangent, and is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of possession. But I just thought it was an important piece of information about German wineries. That the land they produce their wines from might never have actually been owned by them. Some of them are just possessors…

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