Most of our ‘summer’ up at the vineyard has looked like these photos. It’s beautiful in one way but not great weather for growing grapes. I took these pictures as an amazing storm rolled over the hills and into the valley and over our vineyard. Absolutely lashed it down, it was nice to be inside but, of course, the vines were very much outside so our enjoyment was tempered somewhat. Looked great from inside but, as I say, not good for grapes.
A couple of weeks later I can write – summer has arrived. On September 7th the summer finally made an appearance in our vineyard. We were working in the vineyard on that most tricky of tasks – de-leafing, when we had this strange sensation come over us, we were hot. It took us a while to recognise it because frankly it’s been rare where we are, i.e. the top of Nidderdale, this year. As I’ve written before, we didn’t chose the land in order to grow vines, that would be stupid, no, we had the land, it came with Mrs Summerhouse’s art studio as it is now, and we idly wondered what we might do with it. Then one of us, that would be me, had the bright idea of planting vines and hence a few years down the track we would make wine, a dream of many years long-standing. Again, as I’ve written before, I think we are about the most northerly vineyard in England, it’s called growing vines at the margins. Sounds alright when you put it like that, hardly a challenge at all really. It is also said that when you’re operating at the margins you can’t make any mistakes and of course we have. And continue to make them.
The biggest mistake we made was planting the vines the wrong way, i.e. across the slope rather than up and down it. In truth it wasn’t our fault it was just that my neighbour’s tractor and plough which we used to dig the furrows to plant the vines, wasn’t happy going up and down the slope, so I said well never mind do it across, little knowing that was wrong. But too late now. What it means is that the amount of sunlight – remember that – we get has to be maximised. Which brings me back to de-leafing, the act of removing those leafs that are covering the bunches of grapes. And yes we do have grapes but we reckon we are about a month (at least) behind where we were at this time last year (see below for comparisons although when I compared photos the difference was not as great as I had thought but this year’s are definitely greener). Remove too many leaves and the natural development of the grapes will be inhibited, remove too few and the grapes don’t get the sun and don’t ripen. The tricky bit is that nobody has told us what is many too many / too few, so it’s all trial and error and when those trials are a year apart it’s not easy to learn from previous experiences about how many leaves to take / leave.
So as I said, we do have grapes as you can see, and so we have the challenge of leave removal, but there’s another problem arising from the fact we have grapes, delayed in development may they be. And that is the challenge of preventing the birds from eating them assuming they do, at some point, ripen. I’ve written in the past in these blogs about various strategies for keeping the birds off – kites, carved birds, scarecrows, gas guns, paper bags and the big one – netting. Until recently I thought paper bags were the magic bullet (maybe that’s the answer – shoot the buggers) but then looking at the youtube clips where you get somebody bagging every bunch and realising that these vines are just a few in somebody’s back garden, and you think, no, that’s not going to work for us. So netting, which meant looking on the internet for companies that sell netting in Yorkshire but the closest I got was Lowestoft which, as we all know, is not in Yorkshire. Prices must be high in Suffolk, when I worked out how much we would have to spend to net just half of the vineyard, the half that has grapes, and I began to feel quite queasy.
In the end I compromised and ordered 50 metres of netting at a cost of £200 but that will only cover a relatively small area but that works within the concept of an experimental vineyard. I’m not going to spend huge amounts of money on netting until I have some better idea of whether it works or not. Now I have to work out how to use the netting. I can’t just drape the netting over the vines, I don’t think that would do the grapes any good at all. So maybe I need to construct some kind of framework over which I can hang the netting. Not sure yet. I also hope that this little voice in my head is wrong, it usually is. At the moment the little voice is saying if you put netting over the vines this will reduce the amount of sunshine that gets through to the grapes. This would be indeed totally counter-productive.
Other than taking these strategic decisions and de-leafing we’ve done a little bit of pruning but not much. The other big job that I’ve sub-contracted out one of my least-favourite tasks – strimming. Once again I’ve asked my neighbour to do the job. I paid him £60 last time and it was money well spent, in my opinion. Maybe he can help me deal with the netting, if and when it arrives (at the time of writing it seems to be lost in transit. There is a little confusion as to its exact whereabouts. You will need to wait for the next blog to see how this all gets resolved, assuming it does. Who’d have thought that a person could have so much fun in their retirement years.