DescriptionOf "Stickeln", "Läubeln" and the "Wimmet".
Viticulture in the late Middle Ages was not very different from the present-day process - aside from technological advances - as the well investigated example of Berneck in the Rhine Valley of St.Gallen shows. The vines are grown attached to wooden sticks or "Stickel", which are still used today. In steep terrain the vineyards were terraced with dry walls, soil washed away in winter had to be restored with difficulty. Drainage channels also served to prevent erosion, by removing rainwater.
Vines are usually proliferated with offsets: A shoot was simply buried in the soil and separated from the mother plant, and thus it started fruiting in two or three years. Another method was to bury entire plants, which grew out again. Neither method is possible today anymore owing to the spread of phylloxera in the late 19th century. Today vines are grafted onto roots of American vines, which are resistant to phylloxera. The cutting takes place in late winter. The details are unknown, but the importance of removing or reducing first-year shoots was probably known already in the Middle Ages, especially since oenological writings existed already back then, such as the standard gardening work, the "Pelzbuch" of Gottfried von Franken, probably written around 1350.
Oral history transferred over generations however almost certainly was just as important. The "Bognen" (binding) of shoots, back then probably with willow bast, the "Erlesen" of sap-filled young shoots, the "Läubeln" (removal of leaves around maturing grapes after flowering) and the removal of weeds around the plants are activities, that until today are still done.
Pests and birds were problems back then, too. Diseased plants were covered with cattle manure, one also tried to smoke out pests or hoped to prevent an attack by covering the knives with donkey blood, bull blood, fat or garlic. Flocks of migratory birds were driven away with noise.
Lack of fertilizer was a persistent problem. In the Rhine valley the vineyards were fertilized with manure. The livestock had its pasture on the flat surfaces of the Rheinvorland or on the slopes of the Appenzellerland. Those who didn't own livestock had to buy manure.
Manure was spread out mixed with earth before shoot growth. In the Rheintal it is not known how frequently it was fertilized. Elsewhere the time of fertilization was strictly controlled. At times it was done once a year, at times in annual cycles of up to ten years, probably owing to lack of manure. Over the long term an exhaustion of the soils was inevitable.
At the end of August access to the vineyards was banned until the "Wimmet", to prevent theft. The vine harvest demanded the most work. As with today it had to be well organized to prevent a backlog at the wine press. Usually one had to hire additional workers, usually day laborers, for this. A permanent settlement in a community of these seasonal workers was prohibited. That was less out of xenophobia and more owing to the continuing lack of economic resources.
SourcesStefan Sonderegger. Landwirtschaftliche Entwicklung in der spätmittelalterlichen Nordostschweiz. St. Gallen. 1994. S. 310 - 317
Otto Volk. Weinbau und Weinabsatz im späten Mittelalter. Online unter: www.regionalgeschichte.net/bibliothek/texte/aufsaetze/volk-weinbau.html#cLL501 (abgerufen am 2.7.2015)