It’s that time of the year when kegs are rolled out and double as makeshift tables, while uniform orange benches and tables are set out on the street. No, it’s not the May version of Oktoberfest. In fact, it is not about beers. It has something to do with its finer relative. Wines, like beers in Bavaria, deserve a celebration. It blocks off a few days of the calendar and is a source of merriment in some parts of southwest Germany. Kaiserstuhl and the many small towns nestled on hills near the Rhine river are famous for its vineyards. These are the warmer regions of the country where grapes could be grown. One can’t miss the rows of manicured vineyards running down the slopes if you take a drive or a train ride in this part of the region.
Since Freiburg belongs to this region, I didn’t have to go far to attend this annual wine celebration. A tram and a bus ride sent me to the wine suburbia of Sankt Georgen. I just finished my course work and haven’t had any form of celebration yet, although it came two days later. I am not a first-timer to the St. Georgen Weinfest though. I attended and enjoyed last year’s wine fest so I thought it’s worth visiting again. Who wouldn’t have a good time when there’s a hundred and one kinds of wine to choose from. This time around I went with two of my classmates in my class and a handful of the new ones in my master programme.
Winemaking usually vary from one region to another, and from one family to another. Wine fests make one feel privileged to take the first swig of their product. I am no wine connoisseur and my level of expertise could only go as far as distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ wine using the same adjectives. If it is good enough, it is an ‘ok’ wine. A wine list could get intimidating but remember wine has two basic types: red and white. When I start to get lost with its many variants, I simply locate what I could call a favorite, the Spaetburgunder red wine.
Wines in these types of festivities are usually poured in 100 milliliter shot glasses that are decorated with the name of the town and the occasion. They usually cost 1.00 to 1.70 Euros. On top of the cost of the wine, you need to pay a Euro for the glass and get your refund once you’re still sober enough and done with your rounds, or simply take it home as a souvenir. If you have extra cash, take home a bottle of your favorite wine which could cost 10 to 12 Euros on the average. There is a general rule that the price of the wine is indicative of its quality. But as with any rule there are exceptions. I got a ‘good’ one for 0.60 Euros. Or maybe it was because it was my third glass, and alcohol started to take its toll, making my taste buds less sensitive to the drink’s nuances.
Intuition would dictate that this is an occasion for grown ups because of the tradition’s alcoholic leanings. The legal drinking age here in Germany is 16. Maybe it is more appropriate to say it is a family occasion. It was surprising to see young couples with a tot in tow. There is no playground or circus around for them to while away the time in the middle of the merry-making crowd. And if I had a kid with me, the only food he or she could probably eat are the waffles or a bite of the Flammkuchen.
The stalls were located pretty much in the same location where I found them last year. They must have been using the same layout even the many years before: the booth selling Haexle was in the same corner turning left to a street that leads to the main drinking area, and the hut that serves as the stage of the orchestra playing pop music (Angel by Robbie Williams, Celebrate by Earth, Wind and Fire just to name a couple) and Volksmusik alike is in the same spot. And of course, there’s the same good ol’ new wine.
This festivity has probably evolved through the years. Signs of the past are meeting the present. When Romans settled here hundreds of years ago, and probably the first vineyards were cultivated around the same time. And when the first batch of wine were aged, they thought of holding communal parties as part of their marketing strategy. And so the first Weinfest was born. I wonder when the now ageing barrels were first filled with wine, and how it now gives a distinct aroma and flavor. These are some of the slight differences that wine connoisseurs are probably pining for. There is only one thing I can be sure of: the tradition has served and satisfied discerning thirsty palates over the years.