“English wine has established a superb reputation in a comparatively short space of time. This is something we should nurture, protect and grow. We are still a tiny industry and the potential is enormous”
So began a presentation by Mike Paul and Peter Gladwin to the UKVA (United Kingdom Vineyards Association) AGM, a couple of months ago. The presentation looked at the future strategies needed for English vineyards to fulfill that ‘enormous’ potential. Up at Trapping Hill vineyard (see right) things were a little more modest although no less ambitious. We want to get some grapes and maybe even make a little wine this year. Who knows it might happen. What a great pity we won’t have any for the Tour de Yorkshire next month. I bet we could have sold a couple of dozen bottles.
You’ll have to take my word for it because you can’t really see in the photo above, but the vines are now nicely growing out of their tubes. Always a good moment and a relief that most of them have made it through the Nidderdale winter. We may be small and experimental but the pressure is still there. I met my farmer neighbour who helps me with a lot of the bigger jobs – knocking in posts, stringing wire, putting fences and gates around the place – in the local pub. He introduced me to his friend as ‘somebody with a vineyard up your way’. A little bit embarrassing but OK, then he said, people in the valley are very interested in what you’re doing, they’re keeping an eye on you.Blimey, no pressure there then.
We planted another 75 vines a few weeks ago (see right for Mrs Summerhouse doing all the work). So that brings us up to 475 or rather less because some of them haven’t made it this far. Just for another 75 we needed a lot of posts and wire and, when the vines were delivered, we needed to drill holes to plant them. This is where the dreaded augur or post hole driller comes in. See photo below. It’s great in soft, stone free soil but hit, even the smallest rock, and the results are extremely painful in the wrist and privates areas. Despite the pain, we press onwards although I have to say that, even in modestly developing Yorkshire, this is a laughably small number compared with our brothers in arms at Yorkshire Heart, Laurel Vineyard, Ryedale and Henry and Heather in East Yorkshire who measure their ambitions in the 1000s, but hey, we’re trying in our own humble way to make our mark. And at least the valley is watching, at least according to our neighbour.
Alongside the task of planting the new vines, all 75 of them, the main challenge for us at this time of year, is bud rubbing. I mentioned this activity in my last vineyard post. At the risk of repetition, the idea is to remove irrelevant off-shoot buds and leave just one strong, upward pointing stem. Well, you’d think the vine didn’t want to produce grapes off one stem, the little buggers are popping out everywhere, even the new ones, which are hardly in the ground, enjoy producing more than one stem. So the task is to rub off the unwanted buds. This is more difficult than might at first appear because the unwanted buds are inside the tubes which, we assume, are still required to protect the vines from the rabbit population. Even more tedious is that now the vines are older and have grown out the top of the tube, it’s really hard to lift the tube without damaging the plant. So all in all a balls ache (which reminds me of the augur) and it’s a balls ache that goes on for a good while, it’s not just one rub, it’s an on-going task. So that and fertilising the ones that look a bit under-nourished, and of course there’s the other on-going task of securing errant canes blown over in the wind. Ah, that wind. In fact the whole thing is on-going at the moment. On the other hand, the willows have taken well and are sprouting all over, remarkable when you think that a few weeks ago they were simply sticks that we pushed unceremoniously into the ground.
Back to the big people. Mike and Peter rounded off their presentation with a number of pointers for the future. They said :
- ‘Brand English Wine’ is something very special.
- Most threats to it come from within ( I think they meant from variability in quality brought about by people like us, hopefully producing wine in an amateur sort of way and a lack of regulation).
- Individual and generic marketing needs to work hard in hand, I think that should have been hand in hand, but maybe it was a clever play on words.
Of these three points the one that inevitably echoes when we’re freezing our nuts off, me at least, and our backs are killing us, is the first one. Maybe one day we will be a small part of ‘Brand English’ or at least brand Yorkshire. Watch these blogs for news of our modest little vineyard. If you’d have asked me a few years ago what I would do in my retirement years, I don’t think I would have predicted that we were aiming to be a part of ‘brand English’ anything. Funny old world, retirement.