Rotkäppchen

Freyburg, August 1633

Julius Halberstadt plucked at the shriveled leaves on his vines. “I tell you, there is something wrong with the vines,” he insisted.

“It’s just a bad year, Julius,” fellow vintager Friedrich Beyerweck disagreed.

Julius dragged Friedrich closer to the wilted vines. “Look at that! Does that look like a bad year? It’s as if there was no water, but the rains were better than last year.” He plucked a bunch of grapes and waved it in front of Freidrich’s face. “Look at that. They aren’t even worth harvesting.”

Friedrich caught Julius’ hand and pulled it away from his face. “What do you expect me to do about it?”

“Come with me to Grantville. Maybe they can help.”

Grantville, a few days later

Susan Beattie entered the farmhouse and stumbled along to the nearest chair before slumping down.

“Bad day?” her mother asked from the kitchen.

Susan lounged back in the easy chair and called back. “Lousy day. Heck, make that a lousy week. None of the test plots look like the crop will mature enough to harvest.”

Lisa Beattie walked up behind Susan and started to massage her shoulders. “Don’t take it so personally. You knew growing sorghum this far north was likely to be difficult.”

“But we’re managing to do it on our land.”

“South facing land, Susan. Sheltered south facing land at that. We’ve got our very own microclimate that lets us continue to grow sorghum even though we’re now the equivalent of north of the Canadian border.”

“And that’s the kind of land I looked for to plant the test plots.” Susan shook her head. “All that seed wasted.” She started to stand. “I better let Celeste at the Grange know the bad news.”

Lisa pushed Susan gently back into the chair. “There’s no need to do it now. Tomorrow will be soon enough.”

“I wasn’t thinking of going into town to tell her. The phone still works, doesn’t it?”

The Grange

Celeste O’Connor was drafting a soil map for Birdie Newhouse when there was a knock on the door. She looked up to see one of the grange’s part-time staffers at the door.

“Are you busy, dear?” Rose Harris asked.

“Not really. How can I help you?”

Rose stepped into the room and held the door open. “I think you might be able to assist these two gentlemen.”

Celeste studied the two men. With their weather-beaten faces they had the look of farmers, and, judging by their clothes, well-to-do farmers. Both, as best Celeste could guess, were about fifty.

Rose made the introductions. “Herr Julius Halberstadt and Herr Friedrich Beyerweck, this is Frau Celeste Frost. She hold’s a degree in agriculture from an up-time university, and I’m sure she’ll be able to help you.”

“Please gentlemen, take a seat,” Celeste said while trying to read the expression on Rose’s face. She didn’t have a university degree. Almost, just one semester short in fact, but why would Rose puff up her qualifications? Well, now wasn’t the time to worry about Rose. She had two potential clients to deal with first. “What seems to be the problem?”

****

Julius exchanged glances with Friedrich. This young woman was supposed to help them? Well, if she was an up-time university qualified expert, maybe she actually knew something. He emptied the small bag of cuttings and bunches of grapes he’d brought all the way from Freyburg onto her desk. “There is something wrong with the vines in Freyburg.”

He waited impatiently while she examined the cuttings and immature bunches of grapes.

“It looks like the vines have been starved of water,” Celeste said after examining them for a few minutes.

“There has been plenty of rain this year in Freyburg,” Julius informed her.

The woman met Julius’ eyes for a few seconds before she looked back down at the cuttings on her desk. Then she did something that surprised him. She reached into a drawer and brought out a magnifying glass, and then she bent her head and studied her desk through it. Julius glanced across to Friedrich. He shrugged his confusion back. The woman wasn’t even examining the cuttings.

“What are you looking at?” Julius asked.

The woman lowered the glass and looked straight at Julius. He didn’t like the look in her eyes. It spelt trouble. She waved him closer and offered him the small glass. Then she pointed at a number of small black dots on her desk.

Even through the magnifying glass Julius had difficulty seeing the small animals moving about on the desk. “What are they?” he demanded.

“They’re probably the cause of your problem,” she answered.

“How do we know they weren’t already on your desk?” Friedrich asked.

The woman glared at Friedrich, the look daring Julius to say anything. But Julius was a married man. As such he had well developed survival instincts. He just smiled pleasantly and waited to see what she would do.

She sniffed loudly, then pulled a sheet of white paper out of a drawer and placed it on her desk. Then she shook the cuttings over it before passing the paper and the magnifying glass over to Friedrich. It was all achieved in total silence. Even Friedrich had realized he might have overstepped the mark and silently accepted the paper and magnifying glass.

A loud ringing emanating from a contraption on the desk broke the silence.

“Excuse me, I’d better answer that.” The woman picked up part of the contraption and held it to the side of her head.

“Celeste Frost . . . Susan, hi . . . Yes, that is bad news, but I can’t talk now, I have a couple of clients.”

The woman smiled apologetically at Julius. He just stared at the object she was using. Was this one of the fabled telefones?

“Just a minute. Before you go, could you check your references for grape pests? You can? Thanks.”

The woman held a hand over part of the instrument. “Sorry about this, but it’s probably quicker to get Susan to check her references than for me to hunt up something around the office.” As soon as she finished speaking she concentrated on listening to the telefone. He didn’t like the looks passing across her face. Eventually she put the hand-piece down.

“Well?” Julius asked.

“Susan thinks that your vines might have been infected with an insect called phylloxera. What I need to do is take these . . . ” She gestured to the dots moving around on her desk. ” . . . and examine them under a microscope and compare them with pictures of phylloxera.”

“And then you’ll be able to cure us of our problem?” Friedrich asked.

The woman shook her head. “Not really. If it is phylloxera, then back up-time, Susan says the only successful treatment was grafting the vines to resistant rootstock.”

“Grafting an entire vineyard to new rootstock? Surely the problem isn’t that bad?” Friedrich asked.

“Susan didn’t have time to look too deeply, but an encyclopedia she checked said that phylloxera almost destroyed the wine industries in France, Italy, and Germany in the nineteenth century.”

“It could take years to produce enough root stock to replace our existing vines, and we can’t afford to wait that long. We need a remedy now,” Julius said.

Celeste got to her feet and walked over to a map on the wall. “Where is Freyburg?”

“Go up the River Saale until you reach Naumburg. Freyburg is about three miles up the Unstrut River.” Julius watched the woman trace the blue line of the River Saale until she found Freyburg.

She turned to the men. “That’s a long way north to be growing grapes.”

“We are the northern-most growers in Germany,” Friedrich said proudly.

“How long is your growing year?”

“Nearly five months. Why do you ask?”

The woman smiled. “Because I might have an ideal alternative crop for you.”

“We are vintagers. What we know is how to raise grapes.” Julius said.

“It’ll be worth your while, if Freyburg is suitable,” Celeste said.

“Suitable for what?”

“Suitable for growing sweet sorghum,” she announced.

Julius stared blankly at the woman. “What is sweet sorghum?”

“Another name is ‘Chinese Sugar Cane.'”

“Sugar cane? In Thuringia? Impossible,” Julius said. Everyone knew sugar cane was a tropical plant.

“It’s not real sugar cane. It’s a similar plant that will grow in temperate latitudes. Susan’s family has been growing sweet sorghum for sugar with some success on their farm near Grantville since the Ring of Fire. They’ve been planting trial plots around the area without much success, but if you can grow grapes near Freyburg, maybe you have a suitable micro-climate.”

“You’re suggesting we grow sugar in Freyburg?” Friedrich asked.

“Maybe,” she said.

The woman seems convinced that we can grow sugar in Freyburg, and given the price of sugar . . . “How much do you think we could produce per acre?” Julius asked.

“You can’t be thinking of growing this crop, Julius?” Friedrich sounded outraged.

“My vines are failing. I need to grow something. I have a living to earn.” Julius turned back to the woman. “Can you tell me more about this ‘sweet sorghum’?”

“Susan and her family are probably the best people to talk to. They can show you their operation and walk you through the whole process. Why don’t I give her a call and see when it’s convenient to take you around?”

“Please do,” Julius said.

That night

Julius stepped off the bus that had brought them back into town after the visit to the Beattie’s farm and waited for Friedrich to join him. Then the two of them walked to their hotel.

“Phylloxera is very bad news,” Friedrich announced.

“We already knew that,” Julius said. “But the sweet sorghum, that sounds interesting.”

“I preferred Lawrence’s suggestion. Plant American grapes and raise rootstock to sell to all the other vintagers who will soon be infested with phylloxera.”

Julius nodded. Susan Beattie’s grandfather had made a number of interesting suggestions. “That is for the long term. For the short term, I like the sweet sorghum. It grows from seed, and is ready for harvest in a season. For a vintager, it is a nice and simple crop to grow until he can grow grapes again.”

“But what about the processing plant Lawrence says we need?” Friedrich asked. “It’s no use growing sorghum if we can’t process it for the sugar.”

“Celeste said she knew someone who could get it built,” Julius said.

“Did she mention any names?” Friedrich asked.

“Helene Gundelfinger.”

Friedrich’s brows rose. “Detlev Timmreck’s widow?”

Julius nodded.

Friedrich shook his head. “I’ll believe that when I see it. How would a grange employee get to know Detlev Timmreck’s widow?”

Freyburg, September 1633

The “farm survey” had been expensive, but seeing the aerial photographs, taken by a camera suspended from a kite, of the vineyards along the Unstrut River almost justified the expense on their own. For the first time ever Julius Halberstadt was able to see how his vineyard lay relative to the rest of Freyburg. He passed the photograph he was holding to Friedrich and turned his attention to the map Celeste Frost and her team had produced from the photographs and a ground survey. With his knowledge of the area the map had immediate meaning. He could see why different vineyards produced different tasting wines. He ran a finger over the map. His vineyard got the sun for most of the day. It was also in the middle of a large yellow shaded area. “What does the yellow shading mean?” he asked.

“It means you’ve got a high concentration of calcium in your soil,” Celeste said.

“And the significance of that is?”

“The calcium has good heat retention, so the yellow shaded areas are those most likely to have a suitable soil temperature. Your high calcium levels are part of why you’re able to raise grapes this far north.”

“So you think we can grow sweet sorghum in Freyburg?”

“Not on all the ground. Even in the areas with high calcium levels, only the terraces that are predominately south facing will be warm enough, but that’s still something like half the acreage currently in grapes.”

Julius stared at the wall. Through it he could imagine the terraces along the north bank of the Unstrut River. There would be areas already in shadow that would obviously not be warm enough. “What do we do with the land you don’t consider suitable for sorghum?”

“Raise rootstock, maybe even try planting beets. They contain sugar as well, just not as much,” Celeste suggested.

Julius answered Celeste’s wry grin with one of his own. “Lawrence talked of sugar beets. They sound like too much work for this vintager.”

“Well, I’m sure I can find something that you’d be willing to grow. Or you could lease your land to a crop farmer.”

Julius winced. It made economic sense, but to grow common crops on his vineyard, it just didn’t bear thinking about.

“Does this mean we are planning on replacing half the area’s vines with sorghum next year?’ Friedrich asked.

“Yes,” Julius said.

“No,” Celeste said.

Both men stared at Celeste. “No?” Julius asked.

“We don’t have enough seed to plant that much acreage. I’d recommend planting in the most suitable areas and mostly raising seed next season.”

“But Fräulein Beattie said that sorghum is best harvested before the seed sets,” Friedrich protested.

Celeste nodded. “That’s right, but getting a supply of seeds for the next season is more important.”

“That just leaves the building of a suitable mill. You said you knew some people who could get it built?” Julius hinted.

“I’ve already shown the aerial photographs to Carl Schockley, of Kelly Construction, and he thinks . . . ”

“Brillo!” Julius and Friedrich said as one.

“Pardon?” Celeste asked.

Julius smiled. A question had been answered. “Friedrich and I were wondering how you came to know Detlev Timmreck’s widow. We both saw the performance of Bad, Bad Brillo at Duke Johann Philipp’s Saalfeld schloss at the beginning of the year, and met Herr Schockley. He is a close friend of Frau Gundelfinger. Obviously you met her through him.”

“That’s right. Back to what I was saying, Carl thinks that we should build the processing facility right by the river, to take advantage of the river for power and for transportation.”

“How big a facility are we talking about?” Julius asked.

“Not very big. At peak we don’t think you’ll be processing more than a hundred tons of cane a day. That’s not much more than four tons an hour. So, we probably won’t need much more than a couple of thousand square feet of area, and most of that will be storage.”

“So it won’t take too long to build this new facility?” Friedrich asked.

“If you can sort out where you would like to have it built before the end of the year, there’s no reason why it can’t be up and running in time for next year’s harvest.”

Julius nodded. He gathered up the maps and photographs Celeste had given him. “That means we now just have to persuade the community to get behind the new industry.”

Friedrich snorted. “Facing loss of their livelihood because of phylloxera, I don’t think there will be too much resistance.”

“Just ‘not in my backyard,'” Celeste said.

Julius took a moment to understand the meaning of the expression. It was true. There wouldn’t be any resistance to building a processing facility, just as long as it was on someone else’s land. “If my river frontage is suitable, I’ll allow it to be built there.”

Freyburg, October 1634

The new dock and processing factory had ended up being built on his land. Not that Julius was complaining, at least, not too much. It was a little larger than Frau Frost has suggested, but not by much. And it didn’t spoil the view from his house. But there was the smell, and the noise. He stood beside his old friend Friedrich and admired the ballet of small boats and barges bringing cut cane to the dock.

“Those motorized boats make it so easy to get the empty barges up-river,” Friedrich said.

“The project would never have worked if we’d had to rely on a towpath to get the empty barges back up-river for the next load,” Julius said.

“It’ll be our land being harvested soon.”

Julius nodded. “Another two weeks before the seed sets according to Frau Morton.”

“Now that is foolish. Why should a woman change her name just because she marries? Did your wife change her name?”

Julius shook his head.

“Neither did mine.”

“It’s an up-timer thing, though I noticed Helene Gundelfinger didn’t take her new husband’s name.”

“Can you imagine her answering to Frau Goodluck?”

Both men smiled. Their personal acquaintance with Helene Gundelfinger was mostly from the period when she was married to Detlev Timmreck, but even then there had been something about Helene that marked her as somebody special.

“Excuse me.”

Julius turned at the voice. It was the young man who had trailed in behind Celeste Frost and Susan Morton.

“Thomas Werner,” the young man said as he proffered a business card.

Julius read it, and his brows rose. “You are a representative of Frau Gundelfinger?”

“An associate,” the man corrected, pointing out the “and associates” part of Helene Gundelfinger’s company name. “Frau Frost suggested I should ask you if the vintagers are happy to be growing the new crop.”

Julius sucked in his lips. “I wouldn’t say happy. We’re wine-makers, and we’d rather be making wine, but . . . ”

“But this pest the Americans brought down-time with them has devastated our vines,” Friedrich said. “We’re happy to grow sorghum until we can get enough resistant rootstock to get back to doing what we do best, making wine.”

“But what about the Saale-Unstrut Zucker Kompanie’s investment in the mill?” Thomas asked. “If nobody grows sorghum, then the investment all goes to waste.”

“Stop being a worrywart, Thomas,” Celeste said. “Julius, Friedrich, stop upsetting poor Thomas.”

She turned to Thomas. “Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of sorghum grown along the Unstrut to keep the mill running at full capacity.”

The glare Thomas sent Julius and Friedrich’s way brought grins to both their faces.

“Shall we find somewhere to celebrate a successful growing season?” Julius suggested.

“Shouldn’t we find your wives?” Susan suggested.

Friedrich swept his arms around indicating the bustling town of Freyburg. “Where would one start looking? No, it is better that we stay in one place and let them find us. To Rühlmann’s, I say.”

“A regular watering hole?” Celeste asked.

Julius grinned. “It doesn’t do to make it hard for your wife to find you.”

The five of them made their way along the main road to the town’s square where they found somewhere to sit. “A taste of the last vintage for my guests, Johannes, and you might as well join us,” Julius instructed the tavern owner who’d appeared as soon as they sat down.

Johannes Rühlmann disappeared for a few moments to return with two bottles and a serving maid with a tray of glasses. He proffered the wine to Julius, who nodded acceptance, before drawing the stopper and pouring everyone a glass each.

“To last year’s Freyburg vintage, may it not be the last,” Julius proposed the toast.

“May it not be the last,” the rest agreed before sipping the wine.

Friedrich lowered his glass. “It’s just not right,” he protested. “I’m a vintager, but I can no longer make wine.”

The wine drinkers stared at their glasses. As a group they emptied their glasses.

“You think you have problems,” Johannes said as he refilled the glasses. “What about me? With no wine being grown, what am I going to sell?”

“What about turning some of the sugar into spirits,” Thomas suggested.

“Spirits?” Julius shook his head. Spirits were common. Not like wine. Making good wine was an art.

“Would you be happy to distill wine to make ‘brandy’ if you could?” Thomas asked.

Julius nodded, as did Friedrich and Johannes. Brandy was special. It took the essence of wine and made it richer.

“Well, what’s the difference between distilling wine to make brandy and distilling fermented sugar to make—”

Thomas seemed to be struggling to find the right word. Julius was happy to watch the man struggle, but it was immediately obvious that the Americans were out to spoil his fun.

“Rum,” Celeste supplied. “Thomas is right you know. You already have yeast, although I’m not sure what kind of rum wine-yeast will produce. It’ll almost certainly have a unique taste.”

“Unique,” Julius muttered. He let the word swirl around his mouth as he tasted it. Unique was good. He could happily put his name to something that was unique.

“Yes, a unique product,” Thomas said. “Your fine city could be famous for the rum you produce.”

Freyburg, January 1635

Julius Halberstadt stood to one side of the door as the rest of the business leaders of Freyburg entered the meeting room. When the dozen men were seated he approached the table. “Fellow businessmen of Freyburg, it is with great pleasure that I am here today to introduce you to the new beverage that will carry our fine town’s name from this day forward.” He gestured to one of the stewards to place clear glass bottles of a red-tinged liquid, each with a red cover over the cap, in front of each of his guests.

“Don’t bother trying to open the bottles,” he warned when several of them started fingering the covers. “They’re full of colored water. Those are just to give you an idea of how we propose to market Freyburg rum.”

“How did you pick the name?” Michel Berbig asked.

“Friedrich and I did some research, and up-time, Freyburg was famous for a beverage of the same name. We felt that it wouldn’t hurt to introduce it a couple of hundred years early.” He exchanged a grin with his co-conspirator. There was no need to tell them that the famous beverage in question had been a sparkling wine.

He gestured for the head steward to broach the barrel, and soon each of his guests had a glass with a finger’s worth of red-tinged rum, to which another steward added a finger’s worth of spring water. Julius waited until all of the men had their glasses. “Before we start discussing our new product we should toast it.” He raised his glass. “To the new beverage of Freyburg . . . Rotkäppchen.”

Rotkäppchen,” the men repeated before everyone took their first sip.

“Nice, but it could definitely benefit from a little more time in the cask,” someone was heard to mutter.

****

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