Saturday, 14 August 2010


As promised a while back, some brief memories of my short stint at Reichsrat von Buhl in the summer of 1997.

I had come into contact with a member of their administrative staff earlier that year while researching for a university dissertation during my "academic year abroad" as an English-language assistant at a school in Germersheim. This work, written in my scratchy German and entitled Pfälzer Wein ("Pfalz wine"), was a general synopsis of the wines, grapes and wineries of the Pfalz region. I still have a copy of it somewhere at home, although much of the content now seems quite simplistic with the benefit of hindsight.

After visiting the wine estate in person to interview said member of staff, I was granted a brief tour of the grounds and cellars, and also given a complementary ticket to the winery's annual vintage tasting in May. Inspired by this little excursion and by the wines I subsequently tasted, I contacted von Buhl again, inquiring as to the possibility of doing a work placement there at the end of my stint in Germersheim. To my surprise, they decided to take me on for a one-month Praktikum.

My time at Von Buhl was split into two halves. The first two weeks were spent working as the proverbial cellar rat, doing everything from riddling the winery's bottles of fizz to packing and labelling bottles. The second fortnight was spent outside "uff'm Feld", where I basically pruned, defoliated and tidied the vines all day long. Fellow Pratikantin Daniela and I would be picked up by one of the vineyard staff each morning at 7 outside the now defunct bakery opposite von Buhl's main gates and taken a couple of kilometres down the road to the winery's other base in Forst, from where we would then take the tractor up to our workplace in the famed vineyards of Freundstück, Pechstein and Ungeheuer. In the summer heat, working days would be physically demanding but would finish at 4. One particular day, however, I was asked to put in some serious overtime back at headquarters in Deidesheim. A party of around 30 Japanese tourists had descended on the winery, and I was required to pour a dozen different wines for all our guests as part of a tasting presentation. Afterwards, it was straight to bed and then up at 6.30 next morning for more hard labour in the vineyards.

My most abiding memory of von Buhl, however, was the cameradery among fellow workers, a lot of whom were from Portugal. Above is a photo of three of my colleagues taking their 9.30 a.m. break next to Buhl's vineyard holding in Ungeheuer. From left to right: Jorge the Portuguese, Daniela the German (who was training to become a sommelier), and one of the winery's more experienced workers (his name escapes me, unfortunately).

Fritz (I'll call him that for the benefit of doubt, although that may indeed be near the mark if memory serves me well) liked talking to vines in the manner of Prince Charles. He also swore at them like a trooper, what with their annoying ability to attach themselves to anything they could lay their tendrils on. His local Pfälzer dialect was unintelligible at times, but he would have us all in stitches with his humour and mannerisms. Daniela and I didn't really get on, to be honest, although I think this was more down to our differing backgrounds and outlook on life than to any real emnity. Jorge, meanwhile, who was the unofficial "head" of the Portuguese faction, was an amiable, wise soul. Fluent in English, he was on good terms with the then resident winemaker Frank John and a useful person to have around and chat with.

One of the key things which my time at von Buhl taught me was that working hands on at a winery involves a lot of hard yakka. Added to that the scientific and technical acumen as well as managerial and sales expertise demanded of most winemakers, then it is clear that running a vineyard is no stroll in the park. I have the utmost admiration for anyone who takes such a career path.


  1. Well, weren't those the days, hard yakka and all?
    With real personal experience in such short supply in wine blogging, I think this story is a little treasure.


  2. Hi Julian,

    Thanks for your kind words. It's quite a long time ago now, but I still look back back fondly.