Dutch com­mu­nity toasts ur­ban vines

Project brings to­gether am­a­teur grow­ers, res­i­dents for work­shops, tast­ings

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By So­phie Mignon

THE HAGUE, Nether­lands: As a high-speed train rat­tled past their heads, am­a­teur Dutch wine­mak­ers were busy gath­er­ing the last of the sea­son’s grapes in the heart of The Hague un­der a warm au­tumn sun.

Wine is not usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with The Nether­lands, more known glob­ally for its tulips and cheese.

But in the shadow of some coun­cil homes and ly­ing below the rail­way, a com­mu­nity project has taken off thanks to the pas­sion of one wine­maker, Ty­cho Ver­meulen.

Stand­ing among rows of vines hung with slightly bit­ter, cit­rusy Jo­han­niter, he proudly re­counted the grow­ing suc­cess of his “De Haagse Stadswi­jn­gaard” (or The Hague Ur­ban Vine­yard), started four years ago on a piece of derelict land in a com­mu­nity gar­den.

The project brings to­gether am­a­teur grow­ers and lo­cal res­i­dents for work­shops, de­bates and evenings sip­ping and tast­ing the fruits of their la­bor, from glasses of wine to lov­ingly pre­pared stuffed vine leaves.

To­day there are 650 plants on the 0.1 hectare of land tended through­out the year by around 40 en­thu­si­asts. Each rents out about 10 vines, and re­ceives their share of the wine and leaves.

“I’ve de­vel­oped this con­cept [where] peo­ple can use their own bit of land and we’ve be­come a cor­po­ra­tion so more peo­ple can en­joy and [build] fel­low­ship around this vine­yard,” Ver­meulen ex­plained.

“I give them a course in vine grow­ing and to­gether through­out the year we man­age this vine­yard and they are re­spon­si­ble for their own 10 plants.”

While the city has plenty of green spa­ces, it is more known for the vast, windswept beaches at its western edge and the im­pos­ing in­ter­na­tional courts and in­sti­tu­tions that draw thou­sands of ex­pat work­ers and their fam­i­lies ev­ery year.

“It’s in­trigu­ing that there’s a win­ery in the cen­ter of The Hague ... I didn’t be­lieve it at first,” said MarieJose, vis­it­ing for the first time.

“I like also to be out­side and do some­thing with my hands and work in gar­dens. So this is like a gar­den.”

This year’s har­vest is look­ing promis­ing, and should al­low the co­op­er­a­tive to pro­duce slightly more wine than in 2016, with around 600 liters to de­light the taste buds. It will in­clude a slightly fruity white from the Jo­han­niter grape, a ro­bust red with tan­nins from the dark-skinned Rondo va­ri­ety, and a full-bod­ied rose from the Sou­vi­g­nier gris.

“Both quan­tity and qual­ity are good, so I am a very happy wine­maker at the mo­ment,” said the smil­ing 42-year-old Ver­meulen, for­merly a re­searcher at Wa­genin­gen Univer­sity, which spe­cial­izes in healthy food and liv­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

The vine­yard’s suc­cess is cred­ited to be­ing in the heart of the city where tem­per­a­tures are al­ways a lit­tle higher than the coun­try­side, as well as the choice of weather-re­sis­tant grape va­ri­eties.

Apart from the wine, the am­a­teur vint­ners show a pas­sion for the plant. And it’s a sub­ject of much con­ver­sa­tion for these neigh­bors, most of whom have Turk­ish roots.

Thus was born a work­shop on pre­par­ing sar­mas, vine leaves stuffed with mince­meat or rice.

The com­mu­nity has his­toric ties to grape grow­ing, “with the leaves for the sar­mas.

“Those types of things that can con­nect us,” added Ver­meulen, with his curly salt-and-pep­per locks and thick glasses.

“So we are look­ing for ways to use that to reach out to this com­mu­nity in a more tan­gi­ble way.”

Stand­ing in his yel­low rub­ber boots, a pair of prun­ing shears in his hand, Pieter Bak­ens said the vine­yard was a great way to meet other wine en­thu­si­asts and a “beau­ti­ful mul­ti­cul­tural project.”

“There are a lot of peo­ple from Turkey, from Mo­rocco, from other coun­tries, from abroad, and we are try­ing to make some con­nec­tion be­tween all those peo­ple.”

Even though grape grow­ing is rel­a­tively new to The Nether­lands, it has al­ready be­gun to make its mark.

Ac­cord­ing to the na­tional sta­tis­tics bu­reau, some 90 grow­ers have planted around 160 hectares with vines.

But for Ver­meulen, his ur­ban project is not about mak­ing prof­its.

“What we bring to this city is an in­ter­est­ing story. We bring it at­ten­tion, we give it beauty,” he said.

“And we hope to deepen the con­cept.”

For Ver­meulen, his ur­ban project is not about mak­ing prof­its.

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