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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Is the wine at its peak?

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Where to put the Spider Plants

If I heard the weather forecast right, we are about to launch into some serious pre-winter cold. The south greenhouse was cleaned of bicycles, a broken chair, the hedge trimmer and wheelbarrow. Somehow the outdoor potted plants had to fit inside. The situation: two overgrown lemon trees, seven 3 ft wide pineapple plants, one 5 ft tall hibiscus with Ephedra that mysteriously found its way into the pot, the 7 ft tall Plumeria still in bloom, four massive aloes, two small poinsettias, five well-endowed spider plants and the 4 ft x 3 ft Boston fern.

Equipped in leather gloves, protective eyewear, sleeves and carrying snips and long-handled loppers, two of us tackled the citrus orchard in the back greenhouse lemonery. Upper branches hitting the plexiglass roof defended themselves with long, wicked thorns, but we persevered and the trees are now trimmer.

Lemon tree thorn

During the difficult transfer of the mammoth Boston fern into the Lemonery, the pot with the overflowing fronds was dropped and cracked like Humpty-Dumpty. The wood-zig sliced cleanly down through the middle of the root ball, the halves were gently separated and the problem now switched to potting two Boston ferns. No bags of miracle soil or suitable pots were to be found. A trip to town netted the supplies plus a cup of coffee. While sipping the hot brew, I decided we’re moving to the beach and leaving the plants to fend for themselves.

The ferns were repotted and moved, the hibiscus shifted into the front greenhouse, and the pineapples de-cottonwood-leafed. Still pondering where to put the pineapple grove. Florida?

Preparing the plants

Octoberfest is usually a two-week blowout in Munich, Germany, from about mid-September to the first Sunday in October. When King Ludwig married Princess Therese Oct. 12 1810, a parade commenced and parties took place in the fields by the city gates. Six days later, to honor the couple, horse races were held there. Thus began a yearly tradition. Now millions gather to see the attractions and hit the beer tents (over 70% come from Bavaria). This fest has a real flea circus with sixty performing fleas.

Octoberfest has been cancelled a few times: The Napoleonic Wars (1813), cholera epidemic (1854), Austro-Prussian War (1866), Franco-Prussian War (1870), another cholera epidemic (1873), World War I (1914-1918), Hyperinflation (1923-1924), World War II (1939-1945), replaced by Autumn Fest (1946-1948) and the corona virus pandemic (2020). People need to learn to get along and take care of their earth.

The Octoberfest always begins with a 12-gun salute at noon followed by tapping of the Octoberfest keg by the Mayor of Munich who proclaims “O’zapt is” (it’s tapped). The mayor gives the first liter of beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria and Octoberfest begins. Already on the 2021 schedule books for next year: Sept 18-Oct 3rd.

What brought on this German nostalgia? A few weeks ago Aldi advertised German specialties often seen during autumn in Germany. After all, Aldi is a German supermarket headquartered in Essen, northwest Germany. Traditional foods and events accompany the impending cold of winter.

German Federweisser is the first fall wine. The sparkling fresh vino from early ripening white grapes has just begun to ferment. Cloudy in appearance, it has fizz. This is a wine to drink now and not store for any period of time. It’s still fermenting and could explode if left on its own. In southwest Germany where we lived, the new wine is often teamed with zwiebelkuchen, a quiche with loads of onions, chopped bacon, cream, eggs and perhaps caraway seeds sprinkled on top.

Dad's 30 year old wine

My dad made wine. Each batch was a unique experience. Concord and red grapes had been planted along rows of fences trailing up a small hill. Southeast Oklahoma. Not ideal grape country. Near a large lake and high humidity with little wind spelled disaster for many grape crops. Mold, mildew, black spot…you name it. My father never gave up. For years he collected and crushed his grapes, added the yeast and sugar, put each mix in the crock, covered with cloth. The ceramic vessel was placed on the top step of the cellar (entrance inside the house). Here it fermented, bubbled over or grew vinegar eels. The sediment was strained out, the wine bottled and rested in the cellar for a few weeks, tasted or consumed. New ideas were then formulated for next year’s batch.

The grape vines died one by one. The last wine my dad made was from purchased grape juice, lots of sugar and yeast. Don’t know exactly what he did, but two months ago we discovered ten corked 30-year-old ‘Wiederkehr’ bottles full of his last wine, hiding in the corner of the cellar. Wiederkehr Wine Cellar and WeinKeller Restaurant is north of Altus, Arkansas and is one of the oldest wineries in Arkansas. Wiederkehr was his bottle source.

Carefully removing the cork from one bottle, we all took a taste. Dark purple red in color, fair amount of alcohol, quite sweet, a little acidy and very drinkable! I do remember my father saying he added extra sugar to the fermentation process to increase the alcohol. The sugar may have helped preserve the wine. We teamed it with steaks. My dad would have approved.

Trainloads of people travel to Munich during Octoberfest. Roasted chestnuts are sold by street vendors. Carnival starts in Germany November 11th at 11:11 am, ending Ash Wednesday. Think Mardi Gras. As December approaches, the Weinachtsmarkts (Christmas markets) open in towns and villages. Here one finds spicy sweet wines (gluhwein), edible delicacies, carved ornaments and other wares. The weather is growing colder, often with snow, but droves of people in good spirits turn out. This year might be a different story, but my guess is many will modify their celebrations and still enjoy themselves.

To catch a little Oktoberfest spirit, we picked up German food from Siegi’s Sausage Factory and Restaurant while in Tulsa. The flavors were there. The brotchen (hard crunchy rolls with soft centers) were amazing. Then again, I love bread, but those small bread loaves spread with butter were heaven.

Siegi Sumaruk is a 5th generation sausage maker whose family immigrated from Linz, Austria. My mom and dad were married in Linz. My mother and I visited Linz three times. Two years ago, I was again in Linz as a cold November rain fell. Some of the Christmas booths were open, casting warmth and light to an otherwise dreary evening. Many locals were milling about having a good time, energized by Gluhwein.

We have our own autumn specialties here. Pumpkin patches and mazes, imaginative Halloween decorations, football games, looking for persimmons and checking the pecan crop. It all comes with colder weather. Are you ready for some Arctic chill? It’s on the way. Get those plants inside quick.

Linz trolley at the Christmas market

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.