I wrote in Vineyard blog 19 about the set back, to put it mildly, we had received in our wine making ambitions. Take a note, next year make sure that we protect the grapes from birds. We had one of our Yorkshire wine makers’ meetings a couple of weeks ago and, high on my agenda, at least, was how to protect the grapes from the bloody birds. The general agreement was that the strategy would be around ‘kites’. It seems there are a number of different options here and, I confess, I haven’t checked out these options yet, but I will, soon. Apparently, and this could be a steep learning curve, you need to be able to identify the type of bird and then buy your ‘matched’ kite, which then flies above the vineyard tethered by an invisible line and so scares the bejeepers out of the birds such that they go elsewhere for lunch. Being no kind of ornithologist I have absolutely no idea what kind of birds they were except that they seemed to be basically black(ish). My farmer neighbour thinks they were crows but he’s no expert either and, of course, the bloody birds aren’t around to casually ask – what kind of bird are you, actually? And if they were bright birds (bright enough to eat the grapes before we picked them), they would probably lie anyway, we’re magpies, mate. No, you’re not, I know what a magpie looks like and that’s not you and your mates, and so on. Anyway all this is for a later date.
As to the meeting, this was our first sight of Ian’s Laurel Wines set-up in Aike in East Yorkshire. Let me say it was bloody impressive, so impressive and, so far out of our league, it wasn’t even depressing. Ian has gone about the whole business in such an utterly professional manner that it is impossible to do anything other than wish him the best of luck. Which, having seen his set-up, he’s not going to need. Except, and it is a big except, in the grape growing / wine-making business, you do need a fair amount of luck particularly in the grape growing bit. I said last time that I was sick of hearing what a great year it had been (seemingly for everybody else) as opposed to a terrible one for us, but Ian (and Chris and Gillian over at Yorkshire Heart*, Nun Monkton), had had their problems as well and although, when you’ve got 5,000 and 10,000 vines respectively, as they have, losing some grapes is not a complete disaster, when you have customers (Ian sells to local restaurants) lined up, it is a serious matter losing any grapes. Ian had had three problems – frost, powdery mildew on his Ortego vines and I can’t remember the third but they were proper problems and reduced his yield. Admittedly not by the 80% or so we suffered but significant nonetheless.
By the way did I really say in my last blog that we had quote ‘a bloody big shed’? Ha, after visiting Ian I now realise what ‘a bloody big shed’ looks like. It’s a pity that my photo (right) in no way gives an accurate impression of Ian’s shed. If he had told me that it was a hangar for several Chinook helicopters from nearby RAF Leconfield, I would have totally believed him. Bloody massive it was.
In the meantime, on the home front, we have been trying to salvage what was left – about 15/20% – and make some wine with these grapes. Unfortunately, as I reported in my last vineyard blog, to stop the bloody birds getting them all, we had to pick them before they were ripe, ironic I think you will agree – ripe enough for the birds to eat but not to make wine. Anyway we picked them and did the best we could to make some wine. Unsurprisingly, in my tasting, it felt a little thin in the mouth (where else?). So then, as reported last time, I had a brilliant idea I would blend most, although not all, of my wine (I would keep say half a dozen bottles of our wine, just for the sheer hell of it), with bought-from-the-shop, kit wine. As you can see from the photo in the intro above, this has given us 8 demijohns (about 50 bottles) worth in all and, as the more observant of you will notice in the photo, a demijohn of a different hue. If you read the last blog you will, or if you’re like me, will not remember that this is a demijohn of orange wine which I shall use to make wine with an orange flavour. This, you will remember – again – was in our quest to find a USP for our wine, even though we never had intended to sell the wine even if we had any. So, in a few month’s time, I shall attempt, based on no knowledge at all, the blending process. The professionals do it so I don’t see why little old us should not do the same. Just need to balance in some way, our wine, the kit wine and the orange wine. Piece of cake.
We’ve even bought the bottles (see photo for just a few of), at a very good price from Ian and corks and a corker from Wilkos, once again, like Ian, we are investing big time in the equipment necessary to make top class wine! And Mrs Summerhouse is in the process of designing our label, again just for the hell of it, for when we do bottle and Chris and Gillian have kindly offered to print us off the limited number of labels we need. Probably, as suggested, about 50 bottles in all. Not massive, but at least we should, luck permitting, have something to ooh and ahh at.
And we continue to try and acquire the skills to go alongside the equipment although I fully admit that making as much wine as we’ve got was a bit like stumbling through the dark. Wineskills, the arm of Plumpton College, which runs the only full-time wine-making course in the UK, are running a number of courses at Yorkshire Heart vineyard. I’m going to one in December on winter pruning. This basing courses here, must be testimony to the growing importance of Yorkshire vineyards, ours being the exception of course. They have run and are running other courses up here – Selling wine on line (not yet for us), Soil maintenance, etc. and good on them for making it this far North. As the tutors at the last course I attended at Yorkshire Heart, put it, it’s a bloody long way up here. Plumpton College, from whence they came, is based, I think, in Devon.
And there we have it for November. Next month I’ll report on the UKVA vision and strategy meeting and I’ll let you know how the winter pruning course goes, in the meantime, we continue, in a reasonably optimistic way with this retirement venture of ours.
*Gillian at Yorkshire Heart, Chris’s wife, for her sins, has won the MVA Winemaker of the Year, a great achievement for her, the vineyard and Yorkshire and for Chris who will no doubt somehow take the credit. Well done, Gillian (and Chris).