The Harvest is Here - and YOU Can be a Part of It!

The beginning of autumn is a special time in the Stuttgart region. As we enjoy sunny days and mild temperatures, a chill creeps in at night. This contrast in temperature leads to a new sight - farmers, up in their vineyards, inspecting their grapes, trying to find the exact right time when the balance between the naturally-produced sugars and tannins will lead to the best possible wine.

The vineyards above Esslingen are beautiful in the autumn!

The vineyards above Esslingen are beautiful in the autumn!

Then suddenly, with very short notice, it's time to harvest! Here in the Württemberg region of Germany, the majority of wine grapes are grown in smaller family plots. The farmers enlist friends and family, hopefully with flexible schedules, to spend a few days laboring on the steep hillsides picking grapes, enjoying glorious views and camaraderie over lunch (and wine, of course).

I've talked to many people who travel long distances and spend a lot of money to take part in a wine harvest in Italy or France, not realizing that the opportunity to do so exists right here, in nearby Esslingen. For the first time this year, Stuttgart Steps tours is partnering with Ellen Thomas of Esslingen Tours, Tastings, and More to invite you to have an immersive experience harvesting wine grapes in Esslingen starting, well, any day now!

This could be you!

This could be you!

This is not a guided tour like my other offerings, but an activity. You'll drive or take the train to Weingärtner Esslingen cooperative winery, which you may know from the Esslingen Wine Walk. After parking at their newly-renovated facility, you'll then meet the grape farmers and your fellow workers.. You'll be transported into the vineyards and spend the morning picking grapes (and of course, snapping pictures!). This will be followed by a break for lunch prepared by Oma (with plenty of wine) and then returning to the vineyards until that day’s plot is finished.

This is real physical labor, not a tourist wine-tasting experience, with sharp shears on sometimes muddy hillsides - you will be tired when you’re finished! But in addition to the hearty lunch, you'll be rewarded with a bottle of wine for your efforts and memories that will last a lifetime. You’ll get a chance to bond with other English-speaking workers and German-speaking locals laboring side-by-side with you to finish the harvest. This is best thought of as a cultural experience and a way to meet interesting new people! It is important to note that if you reserve to work a shift that you take the commitment seriously - any missing pair of hands is more work for everyone else.

We are waiting on the winegrowers to find out how many volunteers are needed and on what days. It's expected the first day will be between 19-21 September, and there may be up to 7 days needed after that. Some shifts will fall on weekdays, and others on weekends, through the 2nd week of October.

To find out more information and get on the list for a shift once they’re announced, please join the Esslingen Tours, Tastings, and More, where I am administrator and will be coordinating the harvest shift schedule largely by Facebook Messenger. Please contact me if you do not use Facebook to discuss alternative means of communication. Please note there is a $10 (USD) fee payable in advance to reserve your space on a shift. This fee is to compensate myself and Ellen for the very time-consuming effort of coordinating many people and shifts, as well as advertising the opportunities.

This is a really unique experience that I've been recommending to my tour guests on my Vineyard Wine Hikes and Esslingen City Tours for years, and I'm really excited to be a part of it! See you in the vineyards!



5 Ways to Make January Bearable in Stuttgart

Well, it's January. The most depressing month of the year no matter where you are. The holidays are over, the kids are already somehow bored of their new presents, the weather is yucky, and the nearest holiday to look forward to is the anxiety-inducing rigamarole of Valentine's Day.

It's not a great time to be an expat in Germany. Travel often grounds to a halt, because who wants to experience a wonderful place during bad weather? And worst of all, there's no holidays or festivals of any interest happening until Fasching (Carnival)! But fear not, we at Stuttgart Steps have some ideas to keep yourself entertained during the bleakest part of the winter.

My tip is to become a local tourist. When you live somewhere, it's easy to put off exploring your own area, with the idea that you'll "do it later." Do it now! Here's some ideas to say goodbye to the winter doldrums:

1. Become a museum nerd

Maybe you think of museums as boring and associate them with dreadful field-trips as a child. Well, you're a grown-up now and it's time to revisit museums. Because they're awesome!. My personal favorite is the Landesmuseum Wurttemberg in the Alte Schloss  in Stuttgart. The museum went through a major renovation a couple years ago, and covers the history of human civilization in the Wurttemberg area. Now that might sound dull, but when you're looking at Celtic armor, Roman swords, and jeweled crowns you get a visceral sense history that reading a book can’t convey.

Other museums that are worthwhile in the Stuttgart area

Stuttgart's museums are also architectural germs!

Stuttgart's museums are also architectural germs!

  • The Mercedes-Benz Museum: Easily the best car museum in Germany, and that’s saying something!
  • The Staatsgallerie: A museum covering nearly 1,000 years of art, but small enough to enjoy without developing "Louvre syndrome" where you become exhausted and everything starts to blend together.
  • The Schweinemuseum: Yes, the pig museum. It's weird, it's kitschy, and it's a must-see in Stuttgart. Afterwards, you can eat all the pork you want at the good in-house restaurant.
  • Kunstmuseum: Known locally as "The Cube" you've probably admired this beautiful building from 2005, but have you bothered to go inside?  


2. Go to the spa

Warm, healing waters...

Warm, healing waters...

Did you know that Stuttgart sits on the second-largest complex of mineral springs in Europe? The water is supposed to be beneficial for many aliments, but most importantly, it's warm.  For families, it's hard to beat Das Leuze not too far from Robinson Barracks.  For couples, why not try it like a local and go au naturale at the amazing Schwabenquellen near Kelley Barracks?  Or you can wait for one of their monthly bathing-suit days if you're modest. I'll make a post about mineral bath etiquette and tips in my next post so you won't have to feel too intimidated.


3. Cozy up at a Weinstube

Eat and drink like a local!

Eat and drink like a local!

Winter is by far the best time to enjoy the pleasures of the too-heavy-for-the-summer local Swabian cuisine. And then there's the wine! Within Stuttgart there are dozens of Weinstube (wine pubs) that focus on local specialities and regional wines, served in the proper "viertele" (quarter, as in, a quarter liter!) glass with a handle. These restaurants are cozy, usually cutely decorated, with good service and excellent food at a good value. On my Stuttgart walking tours I point out my three favorites in the downtown area for you to visit on your own or you can always take one of my food and wine tours, where I take guests to my favorite wine pubs and a great restaurant and explain the local varietals and dishes.


4. Visit a palace

This is just 45 minutes from Stuttgart!

This is just 45 minutes from Stuttgart!

In addition to the fact that Stuttgart has two palaces right next to each other - the previously mentioned Alte Schloss and Neues Schloss - the region doesn't lack for royal residences.  If you still haven’t taken a tour of the wonderfully preserved “Swabian Versailles” Ludwigsburg Schloss, now’s a great time!  It's one of the most "blinged-out" places imaginable!   Then there's also the rebuilt Hohenzollern Schloss, which is even more beautiful in winter.  Both are must-sees, but poke around a little bit and you'll find even more castles and palaces in the Stuttgart area.

5. Take a tour

Yes, it’s cold outside.  But the Germans have a saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”  So put on those layers and get outside!  Walking tours help you stick to those New Year’s Resolutions about being more active, and you’ll learn tons of fun facts and secret places in your own city.  Stuttgart Steps’ schedule for the rest of the month is online and we’re doing all our regular tours plus a special Food & Wine tour on the upcoming U.S. Federal Holiday on 19 January.  There’s only a couple spots left, so reserve today!

Hello Winter, Goodbye Wine Hikes

Making new friends while tasting local wine?  Yes please!  

So I'm more than a little sad that it's time for my last Vineyard Wine Hike of the season tomorrow.  I premiered this "tour" in April and it's quickly become my favorite for a few reasons.  For starters, it's quite informal.  Instead of the typical city tour where I walk, a group follows, I talk for 5 minutes, we walk on, I stop, talk, etc. the Vineyard Wine Hike is far more unstructured and variable.  And we're spending hours walking together, drinking wine, eating - which gives me a chance to get to know my tour guests.  Instead of feeling like the tour "leader" it's a more relaxed experience.


I also love it because it's enabled me to enjoy new places.  I always try to include at least one "Besenwirtschaft" on the tour, but because of the seasonal and ever-changing schedule of these types of institutions, I sometimes have to get creative about our route to the new besen that's open this week, which means it's as much an adventure for me as it is for the tour guest.

View to the Royal Mausoleum on 8 November 2014 hike.  The colors are amazing!

The third reason is hey, I get paid to drink wine and nerd out about history.  That's pretty much my idea of a dream job.

But the weather is changing, the harvest is over, and most of the vineyard besenwirtschaften are closing until Spring.  So tomorrow's special Veterans Day Wine Hike is probably the last one until next April (unless we get a string of just awesome, unseasonably warm weather!)

And there's still space left on the tour!  Better yet, for former and current servicemembers, there is a 10 euro discount on the cost of the tour!  The tour includes transportation to and from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof as well.  

The vineyards are absolutely lovely, and some sun is predicted for tomorrow, so go ahead and make a reservation!  I'm accepting reservations until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning!