Let me say, right up front, this is not the blog I had intended to publish but I need to get this off my chest so life can go on. So here we go again, writing as therapy. There’s good news and bad news from the vineyard this summer month of July – note the irony. The good news is that we may not need to worry about protecting the grapes from birds this year and the reason lies in the bad news. Last night the vineyard and Pateley Bridge down the road was hit by a hailstone storm in which the hailstones were, as a chap from Newcastle (also hit by same thunderstorms) said on Twitter when I tried to find a photo of the hailstones, ‘the size of your mam’. Probably not strictly true but a nice turn of phrase I thought. If the above link works you will get another idea of the largeness of the hail alongside the one above right taken from news story (yes, the storm made the news), in other words this is not my hand, I would never wear a ring on my thumb. In my view it certainly was the mother and father of all storms.
And to think that earlier in the day I was congratulating myself on the fact that the early storms seemed to have slid by. To cut another long story short, the storm has wreaked havoc at this most important time of year. This is budburst in the vineyard calendar and any wet weather let alone the apocalyptic / world ending storm we had last night, is bad for bud set and hence the quantity and quality of grapes later in the year. I have tried to capture the devastation in a few photos but they don’t really do it justice. We’re talking person injuring, greenhouse shattering, car damaging, weather event. And was it only yesterday that we were sitting in the vineyard and thinking how well the vines were doing now we had had some genuinely warm weather. Was I smug, oh Lord. I did not mean to be. I did not realise that, along with the good, the bad is umbilically tied. All I can say at this juncture is that the storm seems a bit excessive for a little smugness, I was only thinking it makes a change for things to be going well. That’s all, nothing out of proportion smug. Silly, silly me.
Now I know that people will be saying well, what do you expect planting a vineyard in North Yorkshire? Are you mad? Well, maybe, but it is not quite that simple. This far north has been called ‘marginal’ grape growing territory, but yesterday that hardly seems the right word. Only last year I read an article about the misfortune of a French wine-maker whose grapes had been completely stripped completely bare by hailstones. His livelihood depended on a good harvest and the great irony was that he had just given up his insurance against such events as they hadn’t had such an event in the last however many years. Where he was / is would not be described as marginal at all. It’s not all to do with location, location, location. So what am I moaning about?
Well, it’s the great uncertainty that’s so debilitating. What I don’t know, apart from the great bloody holes in the leaves, leaves ripped and torn, stems snapped off, bunches of buds lying on the floor, is just how bad this will turn out to be. The images right and above don’t really convey the destruction. Right now the word ‘bad’ hardly covers it. There are still buds on the vines but I have no idea of whether they are damaged or how damaged they are, whether they will produce any grapes later in the year and if they do how many and, more important, in what sort of condition. Yes, I suppose it is my own fault, that small stirring of pride when, on yesterday’s visit, not having been to the vineyard for a week and a half (we’ve been busy you know), we could see what a huge growth spurt had occurred. We’ve been tucking into to all those vital vineyard tasks, the ones you expect at this time of year. We’ve been strimming, weed-killing (OK, I paid my neighbour to do this but surely that doesn’t make me a bad person deserving of the kind of punishment I received yesterday), fertilising, tying up and starting that never-ending task of de-suckering (that’s getting rid of those little unwanted shoots that sprout from the joint of the vine stems. They distract the growth from where you really want it, in the main stems of the vine). All seems a bit irrelevant right now.
And while we’re on the subject (of wine). Strangely I had a phone call out of the blue, it was from a chap in the village where the vineyard is. He had contacted me about a year ago and asked if I would be prepared to help with a wine-tasting evening in the village hall. He had heard from my farmer neighbour that I was an expert on wine…. I gave the idea some thought, got quite excited about how I might run it and then never heard from him again, until Tuesday of this week. Now he seemed to be asking me if I would be prepared to give a little talk along with the wine merchant in Masham – Corks and Crates – about grape growing in Upper Nidderdale. Again flattered to be asked (I never learn do I), I thought, yes, this could be fun and I started thinking about a short ‘speech’ about the joys of grape growing and wine making and then Wednesday came along. As I’ve said already last year the big disaster was the grape-eating birds. Now we have the hailstones and decimation and I began to realise my talk could be seen as somewhat on the gloomy side. The title would have to be – Grape Growing in Upper Nidderdale – forget it. Probably not quite what Derek from the wine shop was hoping for. With any luck, this will be the last I hear from the chap in the village rather like last time but, of course we all know that God doesn’t work like that, so, while I might not make myself into a wine-maker, I might still re-construct myself as an after-dinner speaker on the perils and pitfalls of grape growing in the North. Retirement, as I’ve written before is not dull. Oh and more bad weather is forecast, goodo.