An August walk in the vineyards…

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I run a Facebook group for wine lovers in the American communities of Germany. I started the group when we lived near Stuttgart, and have continued it since we moved up here to Wiesbaden. Stuttgart is “German wine country”, but the Rheingau, which is where Wiesbaden is, could be considered “German wine world”. I had no idea, when we moved up here a couple of years ago, how much more of a wine region the Rhein area is compared to Stuttgart, which now seems much more like beer country to me. If you like German wines, or just want to see if you like them, this area is “must visit” territory. I used to dislike German wines, but I eventually found quite a few that I enjoy. Every year we’ve lived here (since 2014, anyway), I have found even more that appeal to me.

One of Bill’s co-workers, Nora, happened to befriend a trivia loving American lady named Jennipher Schwarz, who married a German man named Klaus, whose family is in the wine business. Naturally, Jennipher and Klaus have a special “in” to German winemakers, but Jennipher is also a chef who has extensive experience captaining boats, too. She’s a fascinating person, and I’m delighted that Bill’s co-worker met her at trivia night! They are both tremendous assets to my little Facebook group, which has grown by leaps and bounds since I started it in 2016.

Jennipher and her husband have a business called Winestones, and they run wine tastings, winery tours, and facilitate wine sales. Last night, they hosted a “wine walk” at Lunkenheimer-Lager, one of several family owned wineries near Ingelsheim am Rhein, a picturesque wine producing town about 40 kilometers from where we live. For 24 euros per person, we got to try generous pours of several wines and have some vegetarian fare…

A few months ago, when the pandemic was in full swing, Jennipher hosted an online wine tasting via Zoom. Bill and I participated in that and had a great time, but this was the first time we’d made it to one of the special wine walk events Winestones hosts. We tried several different wines, walked around the vineyards, and socialized in person for the first time in many months. About everyone in attendance last night, save for the vintners, were Americans who are part of the U.S. military presence up here, but Jennipher has said she gets all kinds of people at her events. Here’s a link to Winestones’ Facebook page, for anyone who happens to read this and would like to get in touch.

The weather was awesome, and Bill and I took Arran with us… I got lots of great photos, too. Here are a few of them.

The wine walk was up a slight hill, which afforded many beautiful views of the valley. Anyone who visits a winery and does a walk should expect to walk up hills, since grapevines are planted on them for maximum sunshine. Jennipher and Klaus helpfully explained some of the methods used for gathering the local grapes for delicious German wines. She showed us some vines that were planted in April of this year, and told us about a couple of vines that date from the World War II era. The older vines don’t produce as many grapes and are harder to tend, but the grapes they do produce put out very interesting wines for the discriminating palate!

I probably could have sipped wine and taken pictures all night, but unfortunately, it was getting cooler and darker… and all of that wine has to go somewhere. I needed to ladies room in the worst way. Nora and I, feeling our collective oats, headed back down the hill to the facilities. The rest of the group followed, and we went back into the tasting room for a little dessert, more wine, and more talk about wine, as well as a few inappropriate subjects. I’m sure the people who were sitting near Bill and me probably think I’m totally nuts, and I am. But I’ve also been mostly locked down for months and haven’t had anyone to talk to. Even when we took our recent vacation, our most engaging conversation was with the “Shaman”, the artist in Italy who identifies with Geronimo… and maybe the other artist we met in Bolzano. I am somewhat introverted (much more than people realize), but I do need human contact sometimes.

I really regret not participating in one of Winestones’ earlier events this year. What can I say? 2020 has definitely been an unusual year for us and everyone else on the planet. Jennipher says she may do another event in the fall. I hope she will, because now I’ve done two with her and had a blast! And for one of them, I didn’t even have to get dressed or leave my home!

And now that we’ve been to Ingelsheim am Rhein, we will have to go back. We noticed several other inviting looking “Weinguts” in the area, but I would also love to get some more photos. It really is breathtaking scenery. I have missed beautiful countryside views, since we left Jettingen in 2018.

We may manage to get out for a bit today, too, so there could be another post in the very near future!

Coronavirus has you down? Have a virtual wine tasting!

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For the longest time, especially when we first lived in Germany, Bill and I avoided drinking German wines. During that first tour, from 2007-09, we had a few that we really didn’t like for one reason or another, and those experiences negatively colored our opinions about all German wines. We wrongly assumed all German white wines would be too sweet, and all German reds would be very light bodied and weird tasting. I’m so glad that we got to move back to Germany in 2014 and some people convinced us to try again. Since we moved back, we’ve become familiar with some of the best local grapes, like Dornfelder, Riesling, Lemberger, Spätburgunder, and Schwarzriesling. Now, we’re no longer afraid to try German wines!

Last night’s wines presented in the order we tried them! They were all delicious, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t describe them now. I should have taken notes! We paid 45 euros for these.

Those of you who read this blog regularly, may know how much Bill and I enjoy our wine habit. Since Bill and I moved from the Stuttgart area to Wiesbaden, we’ve been able to enjoy some of Germany’s best wines. Up here near the Rhein River, we’re in the heart of Germany’s wine country. In fact, when there’s no pandemic going on, our little neighborhood has a biweekly “wine stand”, which I’ve written about extensively. We were lucky enough to get to experience and enjoy that tradition last year. Boy, have we missed those days this year. We’ve missed a lot of things, thanks to the freakin’ coronavirus!

Bill set a pretty table for us.

Last night, Bill and I had a first time experience. We used Zoom Meeting to hang out with some members of Stuttgart and Wiesbaden Food and Wine Lovers, a Facebook group I created a few years ago when we were still in Stuttgart. Probably because of the pandemic, the group has really grown recently, and we’ve picked up some new members who know a lot about wines. A couple of them have been offering “virtual wine tastings” using apps like Zoom.

Although I started the Facebook group, last night was the first time I tried one of the virtual tastings. It was hosted by Jennipher Schwarz, a woman with a vast and fascinating background in food and wine, as well as boating. Seriously, I could listen to her stories about her seafaring life for hours! She’s a captain who has done all kinds of work on different boats around the world and has been everything from a chef to a deckhand! Now, at least when there’s no virus threat, she works on a boat that sails from Amsterdam to France and gives people bike tours. I hope to talk to her more about that, since Bill and I have been dying to do a barge cruise.

Because there wasn’t a lot of lead time before the tasting, Jennipher limited participants to those who live in the Wiesbaden area. She personally delivered the wines to us a few days ago, along with some instructions on how to prepare them for the tasting. We had a prosecco, two reds, and three whites, all produced by small, family owned vineyards. Jennipher’s husband, Klaus, grew up in the wine business, although he went on to become a tax preparer. However, he has lots of knowledge about the local wines we tried because they were made by people he’s known his whole life.

We ended up having twelve people participating, which I thought was a really good number. The Zoom app was easy to use, and we all had a really good time trying wines we’d never find at the local Rewe or Globus. The only thing that took some getting used to was knowing when to speak. Because it was harder to get non-verbal cues than it would have been if we’d been in person, we sort of ended up interrupting each other a few times. But we eventually got the hang of it. By the end of the night, we were laughing, bonding, and I was doing a lot of swearing, although I certainly don’t have to be drunk to do that! Another added bonus was that I could taste wines in my nightgown and no one had to worry about getting home safely!

Bill made some light tapas to enjoy before and during our tasting. In retrospect, we probably should have had more to eat before we started enjoying the wines. The tasting took a couple of hours, and by the time we were finished, I felt like I’d made some new friends.

Bill and I have been pretty bored, lonely, and despondent since the coronavirus came along. It’s put a hamper on our ability to travel, dine in restaurants, and go to festivals. When things are “normal”, Germany always has something going on– there’s usually a festival, but even when there’s not, there are vast arrays of activities and clubs to join. We had gotten used to being able to alleviate boredom with relative ease. Last night’s activity was a reminder that with a little creativity and ingenuity, we don’t have to be bored or lonely. And with a little self-discipline, we also don’t have to be hungover… Unfortunately, self-discipline was in short supply last night!

Some of the participants last night have also volunteered to visit the winery today and do some work. Bill and I would join them, but we have other plans, as Germany cautiously begins to reopen. We’re going to visit Birkenhof Hofheim and pick up some produce! Hopefully, my travel blog will come back to life as things progress!

When the Wine Stand delivers…

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One of the things we have up here in Wiesbaden that we didn’t have in Stuttgart is the bi-weekly wine stand. Starting in March and running through October, my community allows clubs to do fundraisers in which they sell wine and food to people who congregate in the Dorfplatz. Of course, this year, that’s not possible due to the coronavirus and the need for “social distancing”. They did have one wine stand in March, but Bill and I didn’t attend because the weather was terrible.

Last week, as I was walking Arran, I noticed a sign posted on the gate of our local restaurant, the Alt Breckenheimer Stübchen. That restaurant is within stumbling distance of our house, although we’ve only managed to eat there once, because it’s always packed.

Ten euros a bottle for wine we could have been drinking at the wine stand.

A local winery was advertising for their “wine stand”, which would have been held last night, since today is a holiday in Germany (Labor Day/May Day). Schools and businesses usually close and people take long walks. Some folks observe the night of April 30/May 1 as Witches or Walpurgis Night (WalpurgisnachtHexennacht). They light bonfires and prepare the Maypoles, which in some areas, people dance around to celebrate spring…

I have not seen this in person yet… but I liked the video made by the Reflections Enroute channel.

Well… sadly, none of this is happening this year. Even Germany’s beloved Oktoberfest in Munich has been cancelled, as has the Canstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. And we’re not having wine stands with the local Breckenheimers, either. But Bill and I did get to try some rustic local wine, which we ordered after I saw the flyer advertising it at the Alt Breckenheimer Stübchen. Last night, two chilled bottles of white wine were brought to our home. We drank one of them, then switched to an Italian red.

Bill says he thinks this wine might be what’s known as a “Landwein”, which is basically wine made by farmers. They’re usually tasty, but kind of rustic. We went to a Landwein tasting a couple of years ago, when we still lived near Stuttgart. I know the people who delivered this yesterday live nearby and either bottle the wine or produce it. They held one of the wine stands at their place last year, but we didn’t attend that one. I think we might have been out of town.

This was pretty good. It had the slight taste of apricots.

The weather was kind of yucky yesterday anyway, so I doubt the wine stand would have been too popular even if we didn’t have the virus. I was glad to see the rain. We really need it.

The added bonus to the wine delivery was that I could listen to music and pee with ease. When we do the wine stands, we either pee at the Rathaus or at home. If we pee at home, we might as well stay there. I do miss the wine stands, though, because it’s a fun way to practice our terrible German and meet new people. I enjoy watching the neighbors who have known each other for years congregating and hanging out. I’d love to see this kind of thing in the United States… once we aren’t so worried about contagion.

Germany, by the way, is doing pretty well in the coronavirus fight. Well… it’s doing better than the United States is, anyway. I miss being able to go out to lunch and tour places… I definitely have the itch to travel and to get a new dog. But in our case, the lockdown isn’t so bad. At least Bill and I still like each other. I’m also getting pretty good at giving him haircuts.

I’m amazed by how weird things have become, but Germany is starting to loosen the restrictions somewhat. Hopefully, there won’t be a huge wave of infections, now that the playgrounds and churches are reopening. Not that Bill and I hang around those very often anymore…

Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part five

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After lunch, parking the car, and a short rest in the hotel room, we were ready to head to the Wine Expo. Because he knew we were going to be tasting a lot of wines, Bill decided we’d take a taxi to the convention hall where the expo took place. We had gotten tickets to the event– six euros, which includes a wine glass for tasting– was the official price. However, I don’t think we paid for the tickets, since once you go and buy wine, the vinters send them out. Someone gifted Bill with them and he printed them off at work.

So we got the cab, and I made sure Bill took the cabbie’s card, because I sure as hell had no plans to hoof it from the exposition. We walked into the huge convention hall, after my purse was given a cursory once over by security. We picked up a couple of wine glasses for tasting wines… and off we went. As I mentioned before, this event is attended by winemakers from all over France. It was PACKED with hundreds of labels from Alsace to Corsica and everywhere in between. Okay, so I didn’t see any wines from any of the overseas departments like Reunion Island or St. Barts… but mainland France was very well represented.

We stopped at one booth featuring wines from the Loire Valley. I wanted to try some, since I visited the Loire Valley in 1997 with my sister. I have yet to get there with Bill, but I have fond memories of the time I spent there years ago with Becky. We bought two cases there… probably too much in retrospect, given how many people were there. What can I say? The salesman was charming.

Then we stopped at a booth with wines from the southwest, not too far from Basque Country in Spain. The guy at that booth was even more charming, and we bought eight more bottles from him. Since we had no personal trolley nor our car with us, we arranged to pick up the wines the next day.

Then we walked to the other side of the expo, visited the restrooms, which were free of charge (a rare sight in Germany, but the French must realize that when you gotta go, you gotta go). We bought some Chateauneuf du Pape– a small enough order to carry with us, a bottle of cognac, a few bottles of Gigondas, and some Pommard from Beaune. Finally, we stopped at a booth with wine from Languedoc, which is one of Bill’s favorite wine regions anywhere. We arranged to get the Languedoc wines the next day, too. The lady who sold them to us spoke no English, and our French is non-existent– but wine is an international language. As we walked through the convention, I took a picture of the places where we stopped to try wine. It made it easier to find them on Sunday.

Word to the wise. Hilton Strasbourg is located right next to the convention center. I considered booking there, too. If we go back for the wine expo, maybe I will book there. It’s not even a five minute walk away. We did duck in there when we were finished shopping and a kind staffer called a cab for us. We were able to carry about ten bottles with us and arranged to get the rest on Sunday, when we would be bringing the car.

One thing to know for other years… if you intend to buy a lot of wine, it may be worth it to bring your own dolly and bungie cords. You can use the “trollies” at the convention, but you’ll have to wait in line to get them. There are “chariots” for sale there, but they’re not very big and they’re a bit flimsy. We ended up buying one on Sunday and making two trips to the car with our modest haul of about 44 bottles. There is a coat check in the hall, too, but I would recommend dressing lightly. There are a lot of bodies in there and it’s pretty warm.

After a couple of hours at the expo, we were tired and overwhelmed, and Bill was fretting over how much we spent. It turned out we didn’t spend as much as he thought, and he put most of it on his debit card, anyway. Still, by early evening, we were wiped out and ready to head back to the hotel. We were still full from lunch and not interested in going back to the city for dinner. So we went back to the hotel and settled in…

A couple of hours later, Bill used an app to order Lebanese food which was brought by Deliveroo, a delivery service. One other thing I noticed in Strasbourg is that it’s one of six French cities that has Yea! Citiz, a rental car service that allows you to order a car like you’d order a bike. You stay within a certain perimeter and park the car in certain areas. I noticed one of their cars as we were milling around the city. I watched a cheesy 80s era movie starring Kristy McNichol and fell asleep early, with visions of wine bottles dancing in my head.

Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part six

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Sunday morning, we had breakfast and headed back to the wine expo to pick up our wines. I was a little nervous about how we were going to pull it off, since the venue had few parking spaces locally. Bill found a parking garage a short distance from the convention center… short distance, that is, if you’re not carrying a lot of stuff.

There was a guy selling little wheeled “chariots” made in China. We bought a blue one, which helped us a little. The guy warned Bill about not putting his wallet down, since pickpockets abound. I laughed at that and the guy said he was being serious. I didn’t explain that back in December, we were victims of a tire slashing scam at a French rest stop. So unfortunately, we are all too aware that there are crooks in France, although fortunately no one managed to steal from us after vandalizing our tire.

Our “chariot”. It says Paris on it, but it’s really from China. You can take the pouch off and it will take five boxes. With the pouch on, it will take three.

Saturday night, Bill managed to break one of our souvenir wine glasses, so we only had one with us yesterday. We stopped by the Loire Valley guy’s booth, got our two boxes, which took up most of the room in small wheeled chariot we bought. Bill decided to take the Loire wines and the wines from the Languedoc to the car while I waited. When he came back, we were going to go pick up the wines from southwestern France and get out of there. It wasn’t quite as crowded as it was Saturday, but I wasn’t sure how long I could take the crowds.

We hadn’t really intended to buy more wine, but I spotted another booth that was offering Pommard wines from Burgundy. We discovered Pommard a few months ago, when we went to Beaune on our way to Nimes for Christmas. Although it’s not a cheap wine to purchase, the flavors are wonderful… spicy, complex, tasty reds are my favorite. So although it was a splurge, we ended up buying another box of six wines. Then we bought three more from Corsica… all of which fit nicely in our new chariot. We took it all back to the car at the distant parking garage, marveling at the huge hauls some other people had. One lady in the wine group I run said she bought 131 bottles!

All in all, I enjoyed our visit to the wine expo. If we’re still here next year and don’t have somewhere else we want to see even more, maybe we’ll go next year. We did have a good time, and I really enjoyed Strasbourg! I can see why people make day trips from Stuttgart, though. If you stay the weekend, you can wind up with a huge haul. One other useful but of information– the wine expo is dog friendly. I saw at least two people with their four legged friends with them. I’m not sure I’d want to bring Arran to such a chaotic place, but if you are inclined to bring your dog with you, apparently it’s alright to do so.

After our wine expo adventure, we went back into Strasbourg for lunch. I was thinking maybe we’d go to a restaurant outside of town, but Bill parked at the museum near Petite France, a charming area of Strasbourg where all the tourists hang out. We parked and walked toward the area, catching the aroma of garlic outside a Venetian restaurant called Marco Polo. Once again, according to reviews, it’s a mediocre place. We managed to have a good time, anyway.

A slender woman invited us to sit down and we ordered a couple of large draft beers. The menu consisted mostly of pizzas and pasta dishes. I thought I’d order grilled fish, but I would up with tagliatelle con salmone. Bill had basil pesto risotto with grilled shrimp. I had read that the service in this place is mediocre, but we didn’t have that experience. And the food, while nothing earth shattering, tasted fine. I’d go back, although I think next time we go to Strasbourg, we’ll make an effort to make reservations at some of the notable restaurants.

We took a brief walk around Petite France to burn off lunch. It really is a cute part of town. In some ways, it reminded me a little bit of Tuebingen in Baden-Wuertemberg, Germany, although I didn’t see any punters.

After a little more walking around, we went back to the hotel and I guess I was more tired than I realized, because I was soon sound asleep. I took a nice long nap while Bill did some reading. Then, we ordered room service from the hotel and I watched yet another crappy 80s era movie on YouTube starring Kristy McNichol, and her brother, Jimmy. I guess we’re getting old.

Our drive home was pretty uneventful. After we checked out, we headed back to Germany in the rain. The border was maybe ten minutes from our hotel, and we were back home well before lunchtime. I think we’re going to have to visit Strasbourg again, even if it’s just for a few hours. It really is a very charming city and it has a different vibe than Germany does, even though it’s so close.

As for the expo… we learned a few things about that, too. I think if we go back, we’ll bring a nice heavy duty dolly and several bungee cords with us. Maybe even one that folds up. I don’t see us buying 100 bottles or more at a time, but I could have done with a few more stops on the wine tasting trail. I also think I might plan well in advance and maybe even stay at the Hilton, even though where we stayed this time was very charming and service oriented. For serious wine buying, you can’t beat the convenience of the Hilton! Besides, we’re HHonors members and could use some points.

And finally, I think it might be time to look for another wine rack for our house… I guess I’ll do that while Bill enjoys his latest TDY!

Strasbourg’s annual wine extravaganza! Part two

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Now that I’ve described the hotel, on with the rest of the trip. I was actually kind of dreading trying to find dinner on Friday night. I used to wait tables, so I know what dining out on Valentine’s Day can be like, both for wait staff and patrons. We were unable to make dinner reservations anywhere special, so I had a feeling dinner would be spectacularly un-special. And that’s what ultimately came to pass…

But before dinner, we were keen to visit the The Historic Wine Cellar at Strasbourg Hospices. My German friend, Susanne, told me about this historic wine cave, which was created in the year 1395. The cellar was used for storing wine, but it was also used for storing other perishables like grain. Today, visitors can visit the caves free of charge and pick up a bottle or two of wine. Very old wines are stored there now, including three historic barrels dating from 1472, 1519, and 1525. The barrel from 1472 even still has 350 liters of wine from 1472 in it– the oldest in the world aged in a barrel. It’s only been served three times in five centuries:

  • In 1576 to Zurich, when the Swiss proved that they could come quickly to help their friends in Strasbourg.
  • in 1718 for the reconstruction of the main building ravaged by a fire two years prior.
  • in November 1944 to General Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, liberator of the city of Strasbourg.

In 1994, the wine was tested by local oenologists who determined that even though the wine is over 500 years old, it’s still wine, and in fact, has “a very beautiful bright, very amber color, a powerful nose, very fine, of a very great complexity, aromas reminiscent of “Vanilla, honey, wax, camphor, fine spices, hazelnut and fruit liquor …” I wonder how much longer they’re going to age it and what made them decide to keep that particular wine for so long!

Bill and I took a taxi to visit the museum, because Bill thought maybe we’d be tasting some wine there. Alas, wine tastings are only done for special events. However, we did enjoy some beer after our visit to the cave. Here are some photos of the museum.

We really enjoyed our visit to see the historic wines. If we had driven to the museum, we probably would have picked up a few bottles of their current wines, too. Maybe if we go back to Strasbourg, we’ll stop in again. Incidentally, the cave is closed on Sundays and public holidays. If you visit, you can either read the signs, as we did, or get a headset, which will provide more information and stories about the history of the wine cave and its relation to the historic hospital complex. It doesn’t take long to see this attraction. We were there maybe a half hour, and that was because we were reading everything, taking pictures, and going slowly. It’s still pretty cool to visit there, though.

After our visit to the museum/cave, we decided to find ourselves some beer in town. We didn’t have to walk far before we reached our first destination, a bar called La Taverne des Serruriers/ La Schloss Brasserie. More on that in the next post.

Meeting an old friend in Mainz…

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In the spring of 1998, I was 25 years old and living with my parents in Gloucester, Virginia. Six months earlier, I had come home from a two year stint in the Republic of Armenia, where I had served as an English teacher with the Peace Corps. While I will never regret spending those years in Armenia, I came home with a pretty serious case of clinical depression. I was broke and having a hard time finding a job that would pay enough to get me launched out on my own. I also came home to some significant family issues, which made my living at home a burden to my parents.

I spent the first few months home working as a temp, mostly at the College of William & Mary in various capacities. In the spring of ’98, I found myself working in William & Mary’s admissions office. That was an eye-opening experience, but it didn’t pay enough and the work was incredibly tedious. My parents were eager to have me get out on my own and I was eager to leave. I didn’t get along with my dad, who had his own issues with depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcoholism. My mom was at her wits’ end trying to keep their business going, which they ran out of their house. Dad had gone to rehab the day after my return from Armenia. Dad’s rehab ultimately wasn’t successful. He and I fought a lot.

One day, after a terrible row with my dad, I marched myself over to The Trellis, at that time one of the best restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was then owned by renowned Chef Marcel Desaulniers, who has written many cookbooks and used to have cooking shows on PBS. His partner, John Curtis, owned several businesses in Williamsburg and had himself been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s. My mission was to get a job that would pay more so I could GTFO of my parents’ house and get on with my life.

My eldest sister had worked at The Trellis in 1980, when it first opened. She graduated from William & Mary in 1981 and had gone on to do bigger and better things, including joining the Peace Corps. She went to Morocco from 1984-86. I had followed in her footsteps, but unlike my big sister, I wasn’t finding success. Although I had never worked as a waitress before, all three of my sisters had waited tables. I figured if they could do it, so could I. I liked working with food and was giving some thought to going to culinary school. When I was in Armenia, I had done a number of food related projects and had even once been employed as a cook.

The Trellis had a reputation for being a great place to be if you wanted to make bank, but it was also an extremely demanding work environment. I had applied to work there once in 1994, but the manager passed. I worked in retail for a year, then went to Armenia. In 1998, I was determined to get a job at The Trellis. I was mostly motivated by my rage at my dad and the need to stop living in his house. That must have been the magic that was missing the first time I applied, because that time, I got hired. Or, it could have been that they simply needed warm bodies. In 1998 and throughout my time working at The Trellis, they were always hiring because they were chronically short staffed! A lot of people were hired, only to quit or be fired in short order.

I had a really hard time learning how to wait tables at The Trellis. Marcel Desaulniers had been a Marine and he ran his kitchen with military precision. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have experience waiting tables, though. In fact, the management preferred people who were brand new to waiting tables. That way, there weren’t any bad habits that had to be remedied. But it was difficult getting the hang of the job. I remember it took a few weeks before I was finally at ease with the job itself. And then I had to learn about the food!

The menu changed seasonally, and all of the wait staff had to demonstrate their knowledge. There were daily specials, which we had to recite from memory. We were tested on the menus and learned about wine and liquor. Everyone started working at lunch, which was fast paced and required a lot more work to make cash. As a waiter’s skills improved, he or she would be promoted to “Dinner Cafe”, which was even worse than working lunch. It was basically a hybrid menu that included certain lunch and dinner dishes and patrons were seated on the terrace or in the “cafe” area. The money was nominally better, but the work was just as hard. Finally, when menu tests were passed and table maintenance skills were high enough, the waiter would get dinner shifts and start making good money.

It was a lot to take in, and I felt like I was back in college. In those days, I was strictly a beer drinker and I knew nothing about wine, fine food, or liquor. I remember fumbling with the wine tool, trying to get accustomed to opening bottles of wine with style. I got yelled at all the time by the powers that be, which was hard on me. The job was physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. There were a few times when I felt like giving up and trying something else.

Even though I was crippled by depression and anxiety, I was determined to succeed. I just thought about how much I needed to have my own apartment and reminded myself that waiting tables is a very portable skill. After many weeks of hard work, I did eventually make it to a venerable dinner waiter position and even trained some people. But there were many meltdowns along the way… and at first, quite a few people thought I might be one of the many people who didn’t make it through the first week of training. I worked at The Trellis for about a year and a half before I left to go to graduate school.

One of the captains working at The Trellis in 1998 was a guy named CW. I was immediately impressed and inspired by him. He was hardworking, funny, and kind. However, he was also very detailed oriented and task directed. I liked and respected him immediately, especially when I learned that when he started at The Trellis, he took the bus all the way from Norfolk, Virginia to get to work. There were times he missed the last bus home. Still, he showed up to work every day on time and busted his ass to provide great service and make money. He was tough when he needed to be, yet compassionate. CW was a fine role model.

CW left The Trellis a few months after I started working there. I remember his farewell at line up one day. He announced that he was going to work at Kinkead’s, a legendary (and now defunct) restaurant in Washington, DC. I remember the kind send off he received from the restaurant’s more senior staffers. Years later, when I turned 30, Bill and I celebrated at Kinkead’s because I remember CW talking about it. He didn’t wait on us, but I remember that birthday dinner as one of the first of many great meals Bill and I have had together.

CW still works in DC, and has had the opportunity to work at a lot of great restaurants with some amazing chefs. He is now studying to become a wine expert, specifically in German wines. Last week, as part of his sommelier training, he came to the Rheingau to work at a winery. We had the opportunity to meet up in Mainz last night. Even though I hadn’t seen him since 1998, he was easy to spot and there wasn’t a moment of awkwardness all evening.

We had a lovely evening at a Weinstube called Weinhaus zum Spiegel. It’s a charming place in one of the many “alleys and alcoves” in Mainz, a city Bill and I are still getting to know. Over several glasses of wine and small plates, CW, Bill, and I talked for several hours. Here are a few photos from our evening. I do mean a “few” photos, because we were so focused on chatting that there wasn’t much time for picture taking.

Weinhaus zum Spiegel is in a super charming timbered building. I wish I had gotten a picture of it when the sun was still shining. We’ll have to go back to Mainz so I can get a proper photo of the historic looking edifice. I can’t say I was terribly impressed by the food, especially since I had originally wanted smoked trout and they were out of it. I did see a lot of people enjoying Federweisser (new wine) and Zwiebelkuchen (onion “cake”, which looks more like a tart). Although Zwiebelkuchen is a famous dish in southern Germany and popular this time of year, I still have yet to try it. I wish I’d had it last night, although I did like the Spundekäs.

Anyway, we weren’t really there for food as much as we were the company, and CW is excellent company. It was exciting to hear about his plans to break into the German wine industry. Who knows? He may soon join us over here… if we don’t end up having to move again. He has many tales of working in Washington, DC and dealing with some major high maintenance folks– politicians and their ilk– as well as some surprisingly down to earth celebrities.

We finally called it a night at about 10:30, when it was becoming clear that the Weinstube was winding down its service. As Bill and I made our way home, I was musing about how special the memories of working at The Trellis are to some of us. It was a place where I went through many different levels of hell. I remember “shitting Twinkies”, as CW once put it, on the terrace on beautiful spring and fall afternoons and major holidays. I lost a lot of weight working there, and also found myself in therapy and on medication to finally deal with the depression and anxiety that had hindered me for so long. I made enough money to get health insurance, and gathered the resolve to seek the help I desperately needed. I socked away money for the day when I would finally move out on my own. Finally, when I was ready, I launched into graduate school, which led to this “overeducated housewife” lifestyle I currently enjoy.

I only worked at The Trellis for about 18 months, and much of the actual job was hell, but I left there with so many friends I can still count on today, even twenty years after my last shift. We’re all scattered around the world now, but we have the camaraderie of that common experience binding us and, through the magic of Facebook, can stay in touch. And, just like CW, when it was time to leave, I got a warm send off, complete with a signed cookbook from Marcel, and a song from the resident harp guitarist, Stephen Bennett, whose music got me through so many horrific Saturday night dinner shifts. I learned about good food, fine wines, table maintenance, hard work, and even great music. Not only did I discover Stephen Bennett at The Trellis, I also made enough money to invest in voice lessons for myself! And, as difficult as it all was, working at the Trellis absolutely changed my life for the better. In fact, working there might have even saved my life, given my mental state at the time. 😉

The Trellis still exists in Williamsburg, but it now has different owners and is no longer a fine dining establishment. I haven’t been there to try its new incarnation. I’m not sure I could bear it. I think I’d rather remember it the way it was back in the day.

Cheers to all of my former Trellis colleagues who once shat Twinkies in the weeds with me! And cheers to CW as he continues his path to bigger and better things! I have a feeling our paths could cross again on this side of the Atlantic.

We just made Wiesbaden’s Weinfest…

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It’s been going on since last week, but we were away, so we only got to it today. Despite some clouds and heavy rain, we had a good time. I got to try several good wines, including some from Turkey. We listened to good music. I got some photos, too. Here they are…

We happened upon some live entertainers who were doing a great job of channeling Stevie Ray Vaughan. Actually, the guitar player was like Vaughan, as his female singer was more like Bonnie Raitt. As a singer myself, I was quite impressed. One thing I do love about Germany is that there is never a shortage of entertainment. There’s always a fest going on, and there’s good food, good entertainment, and clean toilets aplenty!

Today, we also finally visited the inside of the huge Protestant church in downtown Wiesbaden… and it was just as beautiful as I’d imagined. I just want to hear the amazing pipe organ, now.

Our landlord said yesterday not to worry, because he knows we’ll be here next year, and they do this every year. He’s probably right, but I’ve learned not to count on it. Still, I liked this more than Stuttgart’s Weindorf. If we are here in a year, we will definitely go back, and hopefully visit more than once.

Wonderful day for wine tasting near Weil der Stadt…

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Yesterday, as Bill and I were making our way to the Wolf and Bear Park, I wondered aloud about the annual wine tasting and market near Weil der Stadt.  Last year, my German friend Susanne told me about this annual event in which six vintners from near Riquewihr journey to Weil der Stadt to sell their wines to Germans.  Bill and I went on Saturday, April 1, 2017 and enjoyed a couple of hours tasting wines.  It culminated in us bringing home lots of French wines and having our pictures taken by a photographer who worked for the local paper.

Last night, as I was enjoying yet another viewing of The Breakfast Club (set on March 24, 1984, don’tcha know?), I got a private message from another German friend… Gerhard!  He sent me a link to a Facebook post about the event and although Bill and I were tentatively planning to visit an Easter market, we decided we’d rather stock up on wine.  So we went to the wine tasting today, which is going on from 11:00am until 5:00pm.  Like last year, it’s held in the Festhalle in Merklingen, which is very close to Weil der Stadt.  And… I noticed that just about everyone who was selling wine last year was there this year, too…

Bill and I tried wines from all six vintners and came home with bottles from all of them, although a couple of vintners got more of our business than the others did.  We did have a surreal moment as we were tasting wines.  I happened to look down and saw an article about last year… and sure enough, there was a picture of Bill and me.  And I was wearing the very same shirt today as I was wearing last year.  I almost wore a sweater this year, but it was so warm that I changed at the last minute.  Next year, if we’re still here, I will have to make a point of wearing red.

Last year, we were smart enough to eat before we shopped.  I should mention that they do serve food at this particular “fest”, but we were too focused on tasting and buying wines to eat.  However, I did notice that this year, a lot of people were eating the food provided by a local restaurant.  It seemed like a lot of seniors had come to try some wine, maybe not so much to buy a bottle.  Although I know some Americans know about this festival, I didn’t notice this year or last that a lot showed up.  I think maybe that was why last year, we made the paper!  No one talked to us this year… which is just as well, since I cringe at the sight of myself so happy in a German paper.

Here are a few pictures from today’s festivities.  I’m so happy to see the weather improving.  We’re now entering the time of year when weekend activities will become the norm!

 This is an annual event, so if you missed it this year, you can catch it next year…

 

Pay 2 euros Pfand at the door, get your wine glass, and start tasting wines to your heart’s content.  If you find one you really like and want a full glass, you can purchase one.  Or you can buy a bottle or a case…  This year, we left with 23 bottles… same as last year.  Turn in your wine glass as you leave and you’ll get your Pfand back.

Bill checks out the wines.  I remember this stand in particular was the last one we hit last year.  This year, it was our second stop.  And the lady who helped us spoke English, so we purchased six bottles of wine.  It was good wine anyway, though.

Lots of people enjoying lunch.

Bill very carefully tasting wine.

 

I said something naughty to get him to make this face.

It was at this table that I noticed…

As I sipped cremant…

That there was a picture of Bill and me on this guy’s table.  It was a bit surreal.  And I was wearing the same top, one that I don’t wear much this year but decided to wear at the last minute.  I definitely won’t wear blue next year.

The guy on the right noticed I was taking pictures.  

I tried to be non chalant.

At this writing, this particular festival is going to be over in less than two hours.  Apologies for not attending yesterday.  On Saturdays, they have live music and run until midnight.  On Sunday, they close at 5:00pm.

If you like Alsatian wine, I highly recommend marking your calendar.  They’ll be back next year at about the same time.  Or… you could just visit lovely Alsace and do a wine run, which is probably more fun, albeit more expensive!

Der Weinladen and eating Greek in Jettingen

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Last night, we decided to go out for Greek food again.  We stopped by Taverne Beim Griechen.  I have written about this particular restaurant in a sportsplatz more than once, so I will keep today’s comments pretty brief.  I was in the mood for dorade, so that’s what I had.  Bill had wolfbarsch (branzino).  They were delightful.  I think Taverne Beim Griechen probably does dorade better than anyone else in the area.

This fish was sooo good.  I like their gyros, too.

 

After last week’s cave adventures, I came down with a really nasty cold.  I thought I’d be totally over it by today, but I’m still struggling with fatigue and chest congestion.  Consequently, today’s outing was very brief.  We went to Nagold to check out a wine store we discovered last weekend (when I wasn’t sick with a cold, but suffering from extreme muscle soreness).  The place is called Der Weinladen.  Strangely enough, I was prompted to go there today because I saw an ad for the store on a fence at the sportsplatz near Taverne Beim Griechen.

Before we went to the wine store, we stopped by Kaufland, where there was another store I wanted to check out.  I thought it might be a gourmet store, but it turned out it was just a garden variety bakery and snack bar.  It’s hardly worth a mention here, although it looked like they had nice breads.  The Kaufland and the stores surrounding it in Nagold is a total zoo, especially on Saturdays.

We also wanted to stop by a Metzgerei, which had some nice looking gourmet products displayed in their window.  Unfortunately, they closed at 1:00pm and we were a bit too late.  So we only managed wine shopping today…

We happened to arrive just as a bunch of other people did.

The store carries all sorts of wines from around Europe, as well as some from the United States.  We found one red from Washington State today.

There’s also liquor… everything from Irish whiskey to gin.

And they even have Dom Perignon!  I have had Dom twice and I’m not sure it’s worth the hefty price tag.  At least I can say I’ve tried it.

Der Weinladen also has gourmet items like jams, risottos, and savory spreads, as well as pasta and chocolate.

And you can buy stuff “vom fass”.  That involves buying (or bringing) a bottle and tapping one of the containers.  They had a wide variety of cordials available.

 

We left there with six bottles of wine and a couple of bottles of liqueur.  I mainly wanted the liqueurs because of the cool bottles they were in– shaped like a woman’s naked torso.  Of course, my own body is not so attractive after all the beer and wine I’ve been enjoying.  I noticed they had some very nice stemware and decanters for sale, too.  It would be a nice place to shop for gifts for your wine loving friends.

I did notice that no one working today spoke English to us, although the lady who rang us up did keep us waiting awhile while she chatted with someone who seemed to be a regular.  The experience shopping at Der Weinladen was not quite like shopping at the Alte Brennerei in Herrenberg, where we usually end up buying a lot more than we intended because they are so good at upselling and speak English.

We were thinking of having lunch, but I was feeling so fatigued from my cold that we came home.  Bill made me a sandwich with fresh bread from the bakery and cold cuts, paired with a Belgian beer.  I think now, I’m just going to kick back and relax with some bad TV.  Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll be more in the mood to explore.