“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” ~John 15:1-8
On Monday, September 28, 2015, we had the opportunity to see the passage above from Jesus’ teaching lived out in a working vineyard which became “even more fruitful”. We set out at 8:30am with our German friends into their vineyards to harvest Silvaner grapes, a white wine grape special to Germany. The Silvaner grape varietal, dating back to the early 19th century, was the most popular grape grown in all of Germany in the mid 20th century. Today, Silvaner grapes are fifth in plantings across Germany, well behind Reisling, Müller Thurgau, and Spätburgunder, with only 5% of the annual grape harvest across Germany, with only 13,000 acres nationwide. Originally from Austria, Silvaner produces an excellent dry, white wine, most commonly grown in the Rheinhessen and Franken regions of Germany today.
Our Silvaner day began with a brisk and cool wind, with warm sun with clear skies, perfect weather for a day in the vineyard harvesting Silvaner grapes. Our friends told us that most years, Silvaner are harvested in the rain, as they are the last to be harvested, often in early to mid-October. We headed up to the first vineyard on Seelenberg, with stunning views out across the valley to Freiburg and the mountains of the Black Forest. We began our harvest day at around 9am with a traditional toast of Kirschwasser. Then, we put on our gloves, and each received a pair of harvesting clippers. The first task was to remove the blue netting put up to keep birds (starlings) from gobbling up the grapes before harvest. Then, row by row, we gathered in the grapes, filling our buckets with grape clusters upon clusters, with our friends taking the buckets to the slide to go into the vat behind the tractor. We moved to the second Silvaner vineyard by 11am, stopping for a coffee break with traditional meat and cheese sandwiches.
In mid-afternoon, I took a photo break to capture the elegance and beauty of these grapes, with sunlight causing these speckled grapes to glow like little green worlds. I noticed in between the older grapevines newly planted vinestocks, planted earlier this year. Our friend, the Vinzer, told me that they planted 130 new vines within this vineyard to fill in the holes left by vines which had died. Their harvest will be “even more fruitful” in two years when these newly planted vines within this vineyard begin to bear fruit.
By the time we had collected the remaining Silvaner grapes, we had four full vats, with a fifth vat 1/3rd filled. We were back home by 3pm, celebrating the finish of harvest with a beautiful lunch of open-faced oven baked sandwiches, topped off by coffee and home-baked cake, all at our family friend’s home. Our friend delivered the grapes to the Winzergenossenshaft Botzingen, the local winery co-operative who produces most of the wine in this town of 5000 people (including 380 grape-growers and 900 acres of vineyards). When he returned, he brought delightful news: we had picked over two tons of grapes: 2149 kilos to be exact, which converts to 4735 pounds of Silvaner grapes, or 2.4 tons. Not only did this weight of grapes beat our harvest total from last week of Spatburgunder grapes, which totaled 1500 kilos (3300 pounds), but it also beat the record for amount of grapes harvested from these vineyards, which go back three or four decades.
The sugar levels of this year’s Silvaner harvest were also were excellent, at 90 Öchsle. The Co-op base level of ripeness for sugar levels was 78 Öchsle. Anything above that level was awarded a higher price per each point higher. According to “Wines of Germany” website (see http://www.germanwineusa.com/press-trade/ripeness.html), “German Wines are categorized by the degree of ripeness measured in natural grape sugar upon harvest. These ripeness categories are determined by the sugar content in the grapes, which is measured in degree Öchsle. The Öchsle requirements for the respective categories vary by growing region. Riper grapes not only have more sugar but more extract and flavor in the grape, hence a more expressive wine. The higher the ripeness of the grapes used for the wine, the higher up in the pyramid the wine will be categorized.” The higher the degree Öchsle, the higher the price paid at delivery.
All in all, this was a most excellent day in the harvest fields of Silvaner grapes in southern Germany, with great weather, superb harvest, with dear friends. What a gift to see the teachings of Jesus from John 15 lived out before our eyes in the harvest vineyards of Kaiserstuhl, in Botzingen, Germany. We seek to become “even more fruitful” for God’s glory by abiding in Christ’s love, allowing Jesus’ words and Jesus’ love to abide in us, and by letting God, our Vine-Gardener to prune and tend our lives according to God’s good, pleasing, and fruitful plan.