« PreviousContinue »
taken in the growth of the vines, and a universal pleasure in their progress. Even the poor man, ill paid for his hard labour, prefers employment in the vineyards, although obtaining considerably less wages than by working in the mines of the neighbourhood. His daily pay is only 1s. 4d. ; his toil begins in summer at five in the morning, and finishes at seven in the evening, with only an hour-and-a-half's rest in the middle of the day.
The larger proprietors seldom engage their men by the day, but contract with some one to take charge of their vineyard for a stipulated sum, usually about 50s. per acre.
The vineyards are small, and in various localities. The ground is very unequal, and in a few minutes' walk, many varieties of soils are found. The best is on the hills in the Rheingau, consisting of hard gravelly clay and stones; the latter, by retaining the heat of the sun, diffuse warmth to the neighbouring earth.
The worst soil is a soft, yellow clay, on which the wine is generally abundant; but, owing to its being wet and cold, of poor quality. On the left, or Hessian bank, the soil is sandy, and there the grapes ripen earlier than on the heavy soils opposite.
There is now a conviction that wine made from grapes perfectly ripe is much the best; indeed, is so very superior, that the vintage is often delayed to such a late period of the season as to incur the danger of injury from frost, and still more so from continued wet, which rots and withers the grapes. In the best vineyards it is usual to gather the fine ripe bunches first, from which is obtained what is called the • Auslese,' or 'first gathering. Some owners of noted growths even pick out the faulty grapes from these fine bunches, in order to make the choicest wine possible. There is a very careful second gathering ;
and the remainder is used to make the general and common kinds. The grapes are usually gathered by women and children, who carry them to the intersecting footpaths, where men are waiting to receive them, who immediately throw them from the baskets into a small perforated tub, in which a boy treads and crushes them so that all pass through the holes into the larger tub below.
PRESSING THE GRAPES.
Sometimes the grapes are put into a wooden vessel, in which they are broken by means of heavy pieces of wood; and at other times they are placed in a cask similar to a churn, which reduces them almost to a state of pulp. When a sufficient quantity is thus prepared, large tubs, formed to be strapped to the back, are filled and carried by men to a cart brought as near as possible, upon which is a large cask with a funnel, into which are poured juice, skins, and stalks, which are then conveyed to the press-house.
By means of a large opening at the end of the cask, the whole flows into tubs, which are carried to the press, where the operation of pressing is effected.
The accompanying sketches will render the description more intelligible.
The pressure at first must be gentle, to prevent the overflowing of the juice, but it is afterwards gradually increased. The pure juice, without admixture of either skins or stalks, then passes out through two holes which are in front of the wine-press, and runs into a small vat underneath, and is thence conveyed by pipes into casks in the cellar. The colour of the juice is yellow; it is thick, and its taste pleasant and sweet. The casks into which it is passed must be well cleaned with hot water, and afterwards sulphured. After the
has been screwed down for about three hours, little juice remains, and it is loosened. The residue is a hard mass, but the action of the presses not being so strong at the sides as in the centre, the edges are cut away, collected and replaced under the press. This pressure has not much body and is seldom mixed with the others, being of very inferior quality.
It was formerly the custom of the larger proprietors to give their labourers a great entertainment at the close of the harvest. These festivities are becoming rarer every year, but instead, they receive a small present. It is often November before the vintage in the Rheingau begins, so that frost has frequently set in ; the grapes become frozen, and the skins of a reddish-yellow colour. It is believed that this does not deteriorate the quality of the wine, and that the saccharine matter and the alcohol cannot be injured by the cold.
There is no doubt, however, that the quantity is considerably diminished, and that the wine obtained from frozen grapes requires more time to become bright, and ripe for bottling.
The greater part are white, but a certain proportion of black are always to be found among them. Should the wine ferment before it is separated from the stalks, the colour in the black skins would be extracted, and, being mixed with the white juice, would give to the whole a pinkish colour, which is never liked in Rhine wine. Besides, the fermentation would draw out the bitter taste of the stalks, and impregnate the wine with it. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that the grapes be pressed as soon as possible; and on this account large proprietors employ three or four wine-presses at once.
With red wine the case is quite the reverse. The grapes must ferment with the stalks for nearly eight days; so that the red colour may be extracted as well as the bitter taste.
After the juice has been left quiet in the cask in the cellar for two or three days it begins to ferment, and continues working often for four weeks or more. Should the weather be so cold as to hinder the fermentation, the necessary warmth is supplied by means of a stove. It is important to notice whether it ferments fully at harvest time, for if not, it begins again in June, and therefore takes much longer to ripen.
A fermenting-machine instrument is placed upon each cask, by means of which the carbonic acid gas is prevented from escaping into the cellar. Before this was invented, it was necessary to burn straw in order to expel the gas, or a windmill was put in