I don’t think we started our retirement project vineyard with the idea that it would be a source of amusement either to ourselves or to others, but, in some ways, that is what it has become. Every couple of months the Mercian Vineyard Association (MVA) publishes its own journal / magazine called The Grapevine (see right). We’ve had two or three mentions in these pages and, until the last one, we had been quite happy just to get any mention at all, given the modest scale of our enterprise. For the last publication the editor had asked for any stories of what she called, as I recall, natural disasters. So obviously I sent her a reference to my blog about our misfortune with the birds and their eating of our grapes, well 80% of them. I will return to the remaining 20% in a moment. In the most recent issue, she referred to our misfortune and recommended that people go to the blog for the whole story. She described it as, and I quote, ‘hilarious’. I was happy with that, as you know I do try to write in an amusing fashion if possible. It was only as I browsed through the rest of the journal and found a report from our nearish neighbours, that, in the words of the song, the smile dropped away from my face.
There was, a few pages later, a report of how successful they had been with their crop and their wine-making and, not to beat about the proverbial bush, it pissed me off. Schadenfreude was everywhere. They had set their smaller vineyard up at the same time as us, so comparisons were inevitable. It felt like I suddenly saw our role in the world of English vineyards – to be the source of fun for others. Right from the first course I ever went on, about setting up a new vineyard, and I described to others on the course the location and ambitions of our vineyard and people laughed and suddenly they felt a whole lot better about their own new vineyards, I suppose the writing was on the wall, the signs were there. We were bordering on the freaks of the Yorkshire vineyard world. Now you may think that a man who sets out to be amusing in his writings would welcome any kind of fame and be pleased that he was making other people smile – at our misfortune. But it didn’t feel like that just at this moment. On Sunday our small group of vine growers / wine makers meet (including the aforementioned colleague) and I have no doubt that all the vineyards people will bring examples of their wines recently made.
Which raises a very interesting issue. We did make some wine out of the grapes we had left but, as I’ve written elsewhere, we had to pick the grapes before they were ready or we would have had no grapes at all. So I know that the wine I made is likely to be unimpressive. The fact that we made only red wine when more sensible people made white, was an added disadvantage when we had enough already in the negative column. I am now going to stop writing this blog and go into the other room where we have stored our wine along with the kit wine and the orange wine that I have referenced in earlier blogs. By the time I write my next words I will know just how much of a laughing stock I am about to become. Mrs Summerhouse has already suggested peeling the label off of a supermarket bottle to deceive our fellow wine makers but I’ve vetoed this idea, so far at least. I’m going now to get the wine…
An hour or two later, I’m back, do you want the good news or the bad news? Let’s get the bad news out of the way. The wine I made from our grapes alone tastes crap, or to be more precise it tastes exactly like what it is, wine made from grapes picked when they were not ripe for reasons I’ve already explained.
You can see in the photo above, our wine on the left, the two other parts of this highly scientific blending process – the orange wine, and the merlot kit wine (made to introduce an element of softness to the final blend) centre and right. The orange wine, when tasted alone, is rather nice, although, rather like a spirit and a slightly petilant (sparkling) one at that. The merlot is fine, as kit wines go, and, drunk with say Spaghetti Bolognese, would be perfectly acceptable. But, of course, neither of these wines were made to stand independently, they were created to enable us to make a drinkable blend from our grapes. So to the good news. When blended approximately (and I mean approximately) one third of each, it tasted not too shabby at all. Quite an interesting little number, not exactly like a normal wine but an interesting version of something similar. And to be fair to our ambitions all those months ago, we always knew that trying to produce a red wine that would suit the tastes of people that could buy a decent bottle of Chilean for about a fiver, was never going to work. Not that we intend to sell our wine but, if we did, it would clearly need a USP (Unique Selling Point) and that that Mrs Summerhouse and myself tasted on Thursday lunchtime definitely had that.
All that remains now is to decide whether we have the courage to take a bottle of our blend (and blending wine is an honourable business in the big, wide world of wine making), to be subject to the scrutiny of our peers on Sunday. I doubt we will but I’ll let you know.
So early Sunday morning I blended and bottled three versions (see above) of ‘our’ wine – the thirds version, the fifty / fifty our wine and the merlot and two fifths ours, two fifths merlot and one fifth orange. Corked and labelled them (only with plain labels, we don’t have a proper label as yet), put them in a box, loaded them in the Land Rover and took them to our Yorkshire wine meeting. It was a pleasant meeting, some interesting thoughts about how wind breaks increased the effects of frost, and generally chatty and even fun. We all shared where we were up to in our very different ways. Yes our neighbour did bring out his wines and unfortunately they were pretty good. Which leaves us with our wines. Did we have the courage to expose our efforts before this quite learned and certainly experienced group, following in the wake of our neighbour? Answer, No, they stayed in the box in the Land Rover. Cowardice or common sense, well, you decide. Our vineyard retirement project goes on and we’re just getting buds for this years adventures.