It sounds like a myth that there is a vineyard between Amsterdam Sloterdijk station, the various branching train tracks and towering office buildings. It’s still true. In the lee of the city, under the viaducts, is the city vineyard Wijn van Bret.
It is a small plot by vineyard standards. Next to a set of pavilions built from red containers, there are 750 vines, two white varieties and one red, on the piece of land. They are so-called PIWIs, the abbreviation for the German Pilzwiederstandsfähig. This means that they are mold resistant, because in the Dutch climate they have to be able to take a beating. The rows are neatly maintained, there are no weeds to be seen. It has to be, because those who have little space will have to use every centimeter.
On a rainy day in early October, the white grape Johanniter and the red grape Cabernet Cortis are picked. Under the leadership of founders Jeroen van der Voorn and Yvonne Modderman, about thirty people are picking, sorting, bruising, de-stealing, storing the protective nets, cleaning the wine barrels, weighing the sulphites and pecto-enzymes and the press. getting ready. “It’s quite an arrangement,” says Van der Voorn, as he walks with a spoonful of grape juice towards a device to measure the sugar content. “Look, 75, that’s almost all right!”
Growing wine is increasingly happening in the Netherlands. The number of vineyards in the Netherlands has steadily increased in recent years; this year about 140 commercial vineyards are registered with the Chamber of Commerce. And wine is also increasingly being grown in urban areas. In addition to Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Almere also have vineyards in the city.
Owning a vineyard is a dream for many, including Modderman and Van der Voorn. The latter, in particular, needed to be outside, as a counterpart to his profession as an IT professional. “We’ve been thinking about really turning things around,” he says. “A vineyard abroad has come up.” But that would be too drastic a step. “We found out that we also really like living in the city.” When they heard about a city vineyard in The Hague, the idea arose to realize their dream in Amsterdam. “Wine from Sloterdijk, people think that can’t be good. Nothing is less true.”
The municipality responded enthusiastically to the plans and provided several suitable plots of land. They came into contact with architect Wouter Valkenier, who had set up the sustainable breeding ground Tuin van Bret near Sloterdijk station. “We knew right away. Here, between the buildings and the trains, where it really is part of the city, the city vineyard had to come,” says Modderman, who is also an architect.
There are about 35 people helping today. “That’s a lot, when we had to pull weeds there were far fewer people,” says Henk Huisman (64). He and his daughter Nienke (32) started together at Bret, for fun. Malouk Lap (29) and her friend Jim van de Ven (33) wanted to be outside more. “And who wouldn’t want a vineyard?”
Everyone involved leases ten vines for 225 euros per year, good for about ten bottles of wine. So they are all, in a sense, owners of their own vineyard. A piece then. The oldest is in his late 60s, the youngest 21.
Peter Pebesma (55) has been there from the start. He helped plant the vines, although it may not have gone well. “We had to dip the scissors we were working with in the spirits to clean them, but I didn’t understand it correctly so I kept the roots of the plants in the spirits.” He smiles and points to one of the rows. “I think it was these, so it turned out okay.” Depending on the type and the year, that wine is also tasty, he says.
Van der Voorn walks the grounds like a conductor. Here you have to pick, there the nets have to be stored. He gets a band-aid for the people who cut their fingers with pruning shears – at the end of the afternoon many of the workers walk with a band-aid or cloth against the bleeding. He checks whether the noble yeasts, which are added to make the fermentation process more controlled than with the naturally present wild yeasts, have already been mixed into the juice. He’s a little tense. “Yes, nerves before the game are part of it,” he says. “I’m always happy when this day is over, everything has gone well and the wine is in the barrel.”
They had big plans for this day in advance. “An extensive lunch, dinner, there would be a band, a harvest festival in the evening, but due to the measures, this day is a lot less exorbitant,” he says. But there is lunch, and of course wine. Although everything has to be done at a strict distance, the atmosphere is good. It can’t be otherwise, if you can toast with wine from your own vineyard.
After lunch, and the wine, the distance is no less strict. At the sorting station, where rotten grapes are cut from the golden bunches, sorters who are too close together are pointed out. “Sorry, I just wanted to show you this ladybug,” they say. “Bugs are not beneficial for the taste, they have to get out.”
At the grape crusher and destemmer, an imposing stainless steel device with a lever on a disc that separates the stems from the bunches, the men are especially busy. “You see that every year,” says Modderman. “The men are going to play with the technology, the women are going to take care of the sorting, it happens automatically.”
This is reinforced when the press arrives, a large device that intrigues the men and seems to scare the women. “You have to see it as a gigantic condom that is inflated,” says Van der Voorn, pointing to the press. “The grapes are poured into the tube, only the juice comes out through a filter.” When the tube is full, the lid is put on and the rest of the juice is squeezed out by means of water pressure (“A maximum of one bar, then you get good quality”).
The man who monitors the vinification process, Loek Essers (37), is mixing the sulphite (“about which there is an eternal discussion in wine country”) in the must with a spoon. “Actually, I’m a beer man,” he says. “But at a certain point I knew how beer making works. A vineyard, that’s nice, I thought.” As for the other people working today, a vineyard of their own was out of reach. “Now I have to say that I underestimated it. I thought a little weeding, a little cutting, a little picking, a little pressing, but it’s really pushing it.”
Barbera Lavell (64) loves it. The work then, the red wine less so. “That’s just not my taste, I like full-bodied red wines.” She retired just before the corona crisis. She was often here this summer. She points to the buildings surrounding the vineyard. “Wonderful, isn’t it, it’s the high-rise buildings in the city that keep the temperature more constant here. That is good for the grapes.”
One crate after another is being luged forward. Van der Voorn is counting. He beams when he looks up. “With the Johanniter we arrive at about 250 litres, more than a liter per stick. It has been a good year.”