So many things going off in the vineyard it’s difficult to know where to start. Let me begin on a slightly sad note before moving on to the really bad stuff and finally explaining this first photo of a greenhouse. My Australian chum, the one who runs or ran, a winery as they call them in Oz, he who told me (quite rightly) that I had planted my vines in the wrong direction, i.e. across the slope rather than up and down it, told me on their recent visit that he was ripping out all his vines and no longer running a wine-making business. It seems Killarney wines, of whom I have written about before, are no longer. This is a very sad turn of events for us because it was he who inspired me to start our own modest vineyard. When I asked him why he had given up, it seemed to come down to the fact that he had simply lost enthusiasm, this added to one or two setbacks of the kind you tend to get when running a vineyard.I have to say I have some sympathy for, and a modest understanding of, his position as we move towards the end of our second grape producing year. It can feel like an awful struggle. Fortunately for us, our financial well-being does not depend on success. With us it’s more of hobby that you spend money on rather than expect to get money out. It is looking like we won’t make any wine this year but that decision will not finally be taken by us until after this blog has gone to press as they say.
Weather-wise, as I suggested in my last vineyard blog, this has not been a good year for grape growing (and we thought last year was poor, ha). Where we are there has been very little sun and quite cold temperatures throughout our ‘summer’. I have yet to read how things have worked out for the rest of the UK and our fellow growers up here in the wilds of Yorkshire have been quiet. Perhaps too busy making all that wine from their healthy grapes. We will see. For us certainly until, as my neighbour put it, ‘a good back end’, we had no thoughts of making wine. I’d made my peace with this, another learning experience you might say and a quite different one from last year. But, having given up weeks ago now, this last few weeks have given the vines a bit of a boost. This has caused some confusion in my and Mrs Summerhouse’s minds. Typical, you make a decision and God, or whoever it is that decides these things, tries to get you to unmake it. Kinda keeps you on your toes.
I haven’t been measuring the sugar content of the grapes, there seemed no point, until this last couple of weeks. Last year on the BRIX index of our refractometer, we picked the grapes at 15. You will remember that this was too low, opinions vary but generally it seems to us that you need a reading of about 20. Last year we picked them because the birds had already eaten 75% of the unripe ones and we wanted to save what we could even though we knew they weren’t ready. We made wine out of what we got and, without the cunning blending I engaged in, the wine tasted as one would expect – under ripe. I decided I would not do that again. When, despite my better judgement, I decided to break out the refractometer, 2 or 3 weeks ago, the reading was 12. A sense of relief in some ways, we wouldn’t have to do anything, the birds could have them. Then the week after that, despite my, now not so good, judgement, I measured the sugar content again, and pickle me in Chardonnay, the good weather, back end, had pushed the reading up to 15. Last Monday, the ones we picked, admittedly the best ones, were up to 17*. You couldn’t write it, although I am. So now I’m in some confusion. If, when we go up next weekend, i.e. tomorrow or Sunday they have gone up to somewhere round about 20, I shall probably change my mind and pick the grapes, maybe.
None of the above is what I expected I would be writing in this blog. I thought I would tell you about my tactics for keeping off the birds, ironic in view of what I wrote above, i.e. that the birds could have them, but the wheels of this part of wine-growing had been set in motion a few weeks ago, so we decided to go ahead with the bird-scaring experiment. We ordered two types of scary birds (not real ones of course) – Olive the Owl (see photo, she takes a good photo we think and deserves some exposure and she’s certainly got that as you can see) and Freddie the Falcon. Unfortunately Freddie never arrived, probably decided Trapping Hill Vineyard was a crazy mission and so flew off to Tenerife or some such place. And, as I told you in the last blog, we also ordered a small amount of netting which covered 4 half rows. We thought it would be interesting to see which, if any, of these tactics would keep the birds away. When we were there earlier this week the birds didn’t seem to have eaten any of the grapes so our experiment proved not very much, the grapes under the netting looked much the same as those not under it. So unless Olive, from her imperious heights, had kept the birds away from the whole of the vineyard, we’re at a loss to understand what’s going off. Although my neighbour, who does work for us, might have given us a clue when he said he had been ‘keeping an eye’ on the pigeons which, talking to his uncle, they’re a close knit community up there, turned out to be a euphemism for shooting them. But then it wasn’t, as far as we were aware, the pigeons that got the grapes last time but rather the crows. Once more my head is starting to hurt.
You can see that, like the rest of my retirement life, this vineyard business has been what you might call, confusing. It went beyond confusing to the positively bizarre when I received an email from a neighbour of my late mother. Her house (still on the market) is in the East Midlands for viticultural reference. He has been ‘working on’ the garden, keeping it neat and tidy and generally been a great help in looking after this property. We would have been stuck without him. Anyway, in clearing out her garden (now mine I suppose), he found a greenhouse, two in fact, but only one standing. This is the one in the photo at the beginning of this blog. I have not been in this greenhouse nor down to the end of the garden (it’s a very long garden and inaccessible recently) for probably more than 10 years. Not only did he find a greenhouse but in it he found a large selection of grapes. My only memories of this grapevine (in the photo the vine is covering the left hand side of the greenhouse) are that it has been there a very long time, 60 years or more, it was there when I was a young child and I remember my grandma making wine from the grapes, tasted horrible but that might have been something to do with me being 7 or 8 or something. The grape variety may be Muller Thurgau and I also remember that, when the greenhouse was whole and used for growing tomatoes, the grapes were always mouldy. Again great irony, now the greenhouse roof has big holes in it as it falls down, with the incidental but significant, increase in ventilation, the grapes are healthy – as I hope you can see. So a very old vine, in terrible circumstances, completely uncared for, no pruning, no feeding, produces far more and far better quality grape than anything we have managed so far in our molly-coddled vineyard. The grapes, exposed as they are to the Nidderdale elements, might disagree with this descriptor. There is a moral to this but it escapes me temporarily. No doubt, as my retirement progresses, it will reveal itself.
*We do have a different problem this year, this grapes have shrivelled, how that figures in the whole damn scheme we have yet to discover. Keep reading and I’ll keep writing.