I have to begin with another apology. I said the vines were in their second year, they are not they are in their third year, yes they’re just over two years old but this is definitely their third year. Sorry to have misled you. Who cares? Well I do. More signs of encroaching daftness, no, it isn’t, yes, it is. Yep, all the signs. Anyway move on because there has been plenty happening in our vineyard so no need to focus on the downside.
The grapes are obviously the most important things to write about. They continue to grow, painfully slowly it seems to us (see photo above for signs of progress -some signs of growth and ripening), but then we have no point of reference apart from our nearest but still distant, neighbours who have 200 incredibly healthy vines in a totally different setting – sheltered, next to their house in their garden, pampered vines and it shows in the size of their grapes. Last time we saw them they were talking about having to thin them out, well, no need for that in our bunches. We just don’t know what to expect as first-timers in a strange land. So these are anxious times for us, actually there have been very few times that don’t have some element of anxiety in this grape growing business. Now, having got grapes, the worry is that they will not ripen because the weather has turned unseasonably (lovely word but unlovely concept) cold and the question is will we have any ripe, big enough grapes to make wine from?
Incidentally, on another unseasonable bank holiday after taking the dogs for their walk, I found myself reading an old copy of The Grapevine (the WVA journal) and quite a few reports, after a very wet summer, about late picking. In 2012 some vineyards were picking in November and still not enough sugar, much talk of making sparkling wine with their acceptable higher acid levels. Maybe this is what we should be thinking about. Hope not, sparkling wine seems way too complicated for us in this first year of getting grapes.
As I have allowed myself, up until this latest cold snap, to believe that we will have grapes I have started buying bits and bobs (of which there are quite a few, depending on which website or book you read) needed to make the wine – I’ve already mentioned the crusher / de-stemmer and the press, now fermentation buckets, thermometer, we have demi-johns from a previous go at wine-making but only from a kit, this is a whole different ball game. But our biggest, costliest acquisition is the mini-barn / shed I mentioned last time, the place in which to make the wine – the winery you might even call it. It went from this
To the above in less than a day, it doesn’t have the felt on yet and that, in my experience, is the worst bit, still good enough for Mrs Summerhouse to sit in. But, if the above grapes ripen, this is where we will make our wine. (We’re going to stain it a less ‘noticeable’ colour by the way). If they don’t ripen then I really am going to look pretty stupid. But we have, nevertheless, been reading books and watching Youtube videos on making wine in various ways. I even watched one about using a hydrometer. Who would have thought you needed a whole 30 minutes of video to explain how this glass tube works. The videos are great but, as I say, varied in their ‘advice’. Natural yeast, bought yeast, plastic containers, no plastic containers, sugar, no sugar, that sort of thing. I have to say that pushing down the must which is supposed to happen every few hours for a period of 6 days is going to be a big problem simply because the vineyard is an hour away from where we spend most of our lives, so popping in is not an option. Anyway first we need to get the grapes, then worry about what to do with them. An item on the news on the radio yesterday said fruit and berry growers were delighted with their season and anticipating a great harvest it having been so sunny and warm, grapes are fruit so maybe …
The other thing that happened this month in the world of wine is that I went to only my second Wineskills course, this one about vineyard management. I have to say it was a day of mixed emotions. A lot of the day described vineyard management strategies that have no relevance to us – an extreme example was using drones to analyse the makeup of your vineyard geology so that you can plant efficiently, fertilise in the right places, spray at the right times, all impressive but, like quite a lot of the day, I thought OMG do we really need to know / do all this in our little patch? The answer has to be no. And the section on vineyard pests and diseases should have come with an X certificate. Another big OMG. The only good news here is that we get so much wind, or rather the vineyard does. that it’s highly unlikely we will have problems with mildew, I suspect no downy rot for us. The rest of the horror slides, well they’re all available to us. Once again we have nothing to compare what’s happening in our vineyard. The Rondo leaves are turning red, so pretty but is this just autumn coming early in this part of the dales or something more deadly? The Solaris are also looking decidedly backendish and they’ve produced very few bunches. In our ignorance we thought the white variety would be easier to cultivate than the red, so far not the case. What does it all mean? Nobody on the course has seen our vineyard so they can’t offer an opinion. Only time will tell.
Of course when people attend courses like this they always say well it was nice to meet other growers and compare notes but, here again, our situation is so different to the rest of our fellow vineyard owners, it can be difficult to make sense of the advice they willingly give to us. All that said, I did learn some useful ‘strategies’ from them. For example, we need to remove leaves from around the grapes to allow the sun to ripen them (which we have done at about the time that the sun decided it had given enough for one year, took its hat off and went indoors) but not so many that photosynthesis ceases! Also we need to cut off the vine above the top wire. As one of the Wineskills guys said you only want a vine to grow between here and here – top wire and bottom wire – the rest is irrelevant. This, to us as plant lovers, rather than fruit growers, seems an awful shame, the vines look so lovely, their large, beautifully-shaped, bright green leaves swaying gently in the breeze, such a pity to cut them off, but it had to be done, so we did it. We also started, from chatting to our ‘colleagues’, to get some idea of how many bunches you need to make a bottle although here again, inevitably this is a little bit like how long is a piece of string. It may be a bit previous to start thinking in terms of how many bottles. We have grapes alright but to repeat myself, will they ripen?
It’s going to be a particularly tense next 6 weeks or so worrying about our grapes. Will we be celebrating or will we be shrugging our shoulders and saying oh well, never mind, there’s always next year? Watch this space. By the time I write next month’s version of this blog, we will probably know a lot more. It’s nice to have something different to worry about now I’m retired.