We were up at our vineyard this weekend. We had hoped to see buds and that’s what we saw. This is about 6 or 7 weeks earlier than last year, my diary tells me we first spotted buds on May 4th last year. If you look at the photos in my last vineyard blog you will understand why this was. OK, right now the buds are not on all the vines but enough to tell us that some of them have survived the winter. It hasn’t been a winter of prolonged coldness like last winter (when most vines survived) so we were hopeful and, as lots of other plants were sprouting, we were even optimistic. Optimism is definite requirement in this enterprise – the most northerly vineyard in England? The only problem now would be that great blight of vineyard owners – spring frosts. Frosts after the vines have budded is catastrophic. It means it’s highly unlikely (although not impossible) that the affected plant will have any grapes in the coming season. So, yes, we have buds, the only thing was it was cold, cold, cold, an icy wind raked the vineyard. My fingers were so numb I could hardly replace the string with plastic ties. This is an effort to persuade the vines into a roughly upright position. Wind you know is the enemy of vines. Some of them had given up and were lying horizontally, but I’ve told you all this before. I don’t want to be boring. Focus on the positive – we had buds.
Inspired by this good fortune, on impulse, I went into a lovely wine-shop appropriately named The Wine Shop, www.grassingtonwine.co.uk in Grassington owned by a nice lady, named Jacqui, who had in a past life owned a vineyard in OZ and of course we started taking about wine-making in OZ. This conversation then was the link between a very cold Lofthouse in North Yorkshire and my Australian experiences. The link was needed because OZ felt a very long way away on Sunday afternoon. I’ve had this blog for a while waiting for the right moment to publish and this feels like it might be it.
Nice to be able to write something about Australia that isn’t cricket related. One of the most enjoyable of our overseas trips was the year 2005 when we lived in Australia for a year. I know I said I wouldn’t but just one comment about cricket. To be among Australians the year we won back the Ashes was quite nice. I deserved this because supporting the England cricket team in the preceding years was following them through thin and thin whereas for Australians it was fat and more fat. But cricket is not the purpose of this blog. Not now it isn’t after this series. The purpose is to reveal and give due credit to our vineyard experiences in OZ.
Dardanup Primary School : one of the schools I supported for a year
To be precise experiences in the FergusonValley, the area inland from the town of Bunbury, 2 hours south of Perth in Western Australia (WA). The centre of the valley was a very small town called Dardanup (pop. 370). The principal of the school that I served as an educational psychologist, (right), was, and I hope still is, a Nottingham Forest supporter. We loved the area, geographically it was beautiful and the people lovely (there I’ve said it). But the real attraction for an enthusiastic wine drinker was that the area was a, relatively new, wine producing area. I’m not sure exactly how many wineries there are in the valley but close to 20, I guess. The Ferguson Valley is a part of the bigger area of Geographe Bay wines the most famous area of which is Margaret River. Not many WA wines make it to the UK, which is a great shame, of those that do, Margaret River wines are the most common but also generally the most expensive.
So, quite accidentally, we fetched up for our year in the Ferguson Valley and discovered the local wineries and the people who grew grapes and made wine there. It was here that the germ of an idea about having our own vineyard took root. It began prosaically by us realising we could buy wine from local producers at about £5 a bottle admittedly when the exchange rate was more favourable than it is now. Then this developed into us meeting and talking to the wine makers themselves. They were quite normal. They even let me attend some of their meetings which were fascinating. It was the enthusiasm and down to earthness of the people that first made me think maybe I could do this. I wanted to be like them.
Pride of place goes to a person who remains a friend despite the latest unmentionables, Ric Stacey at Killarney Wines http://www.killarneywines.com.au/. Ric, at that time a college lecturer (now retired), made great wine with his wife’s sister’s husband in the latter’s cellar and I use the word advisedly – hole under the house (see photos). They made it in large, secondhand milk tanks.
Killarney cellar with apprentice worker (Ric’s sister in law)
Ric made the process seem accessible even though he did tell me later, on inspecting our modest vineyard, that we’d put the rows of vines the wrong way. Something to do with an even distribution of the sun. We remained friends. Just to prove it I’ve included information about their latest vintage
Second favourite of ours – Hackersley restaurant and winery www.hackersley.com.au our most visited local restaurant run by Adrie and Aaron (below, what a handsome couple). On a different scale of ambition to Ric’s set up. Many happy hours aided by high alcohol intake. We used to drink a bottle of their Verdelho and their Syrah along with their lunchtime tasting plate. Those were the days and drive home – it was literally just a few hundred yards down the road and yes, I suppose we could have walked or cycled. But we had to avoid the snakes so better to drive.
Honourable mentions to our neighbours the Smiths at St Aidans www.saintaidan.com.au and Merv and Jan at Ferguson Hart www.fergusonhartestate.com.au- all gave us advice – don’t do it, they said. We thought they were joking. For more information on the area ‘s wineries you might try this link www.winecompanion.com.au/Geographe
So there we were, marvelous hospitality, nice neighbours, a few poisonous snakes (and indeed poisonous exchange partners but you can’t have everything), red-backed spiders, a million kangaroos, one dog to look after and an abiding enthusiasm and belief that we too could grow grapes and make wine.
And then, as I’ve written elsewhere, we brought all this enthusiasm back to England, Nidderdale to be precise. We looked at our windswept hillside and agreed we’d be mad to try it. So, of course, we did and the rest, as they say, is history. But this is where it all began, in the Ferguson Valley. When I’m retired I thought I’ll try that, how difficult can it be? No I’m retired I know the answer. I’ll round off this blog with a message from Ric at Killarney Wines.
Message from Killarney Wines
We celebrated this weekend by arranging for bottling of our 2013 Rose, 2013 Unwooded Chardonnay and the 2012 Cabernet. Please see attached photos of our staff (Fran’s sister Pauline) hard at work in the cellar, and my trusty assistant ‘Peter the Not So Great’ who can be seen hosing down my brand new ute after spilling red wine all over it by overfilling the tank. He attempted to defy the laws of physics by cramming 1050 L into a 1000 L container. The ute is barely a week old and was in danger of going from ‘arctic white’ as delivered, to ‘arctic white’ interspersed with ‘arctic pink’. Re-colouring new utes and wasting drinkable wine are both sackable offences at Killarney but alas it is Christmas and hence I’ve decided to give him another chance. Clearly I am feeling generous, magnanimous and a little smug.
The wine is delivered in bulk to a bottling plant in Kaloorup (near Margaret River) and has resulted in 114 cases of red, 50 of Rose and 46 of Chardonnay. Should keep us well supplied during the Christmas season and beyond.
That’s Ric’s version of retirement.