The month of July and things are, at this point, looking quite good. I say quite good rather than absolutely bloody stunning because, as for the last couple of years, the Rondo (slightly under half the vineyard) have a proper number of buds but the Solaris (about a third of the vineyard) have not. The rest of the vines – Phoenix, Madeline Angevine, Pinot Noir and one other I’ve forgotten the name of, probably about a hundred vines, are too young to be producing buds. Of course, as seemed to be the case last year about this time, July anyway, all can go belly up if that critical event in the vine-growing calendar – budburst – goes badly. Budburst is when the buds, that in our first year we thought were the actual grapes, open up and become flowers which in turn become grapes. No budburst, no grapes. Last year at the beginning of July we had hailstones the size of golf balls. This hasn’t happened yet, at least not so far, but we’ve had a lot of heavy rain and there’s always time for the hail. Anyway always look on the bright side which, as we know, is my life mantra – not.
Superficially the vines look healthy, in the sense that they have plenty of leaves which means it’s tying up time. I don’t have to bend my poor aching back to do this, so I can do this. Tying up can be tedious but nowhere near as tedious as de-suckering. This, for the uninitiated, is the process of pinching out the little stems that magically appear at the joint of the stem and the trunk. You get rid of them because you want all the energy of the vine to go into the main stem which, in turn, translates into the grape growth. I don’t enjoy this task but fortunately number one helper, aka Mrs Summerhouse, does like it because, as she says, it’s mindless and repetitive (she prefers the term soothing) and at her level and I mean height-wise not intellect-wise.
While Mrs SH is engaged in these vital tasks, yours truly is pratting about with big-boy tasks like trying to get the generator to work. I would say that this generator which cost £4,000, has been working for approximately 10% of its life on earth. Buy British we were told, they’re more reliable than the Chinese version (they must be truly terrible) and twice the price. Must be good then at that money. Wrong. Despite getting a number of ‘professionals’ to service and fix it, it’s been a bust, as we vinters / viticulturists say. My farmer neighbour has been the most helpful the only problem is when he gets it going and I ask how did you do that, so I can do the same, he says, I dunno. But why did you disconnect that lead and it started? That lead should be important in the running of it. Dennis (the electrician guy who services their stuff or did until he met an untimely end trapped between dozens of bales of hay) said something about it ‘thinking’ it shouldn’t start when it really should and this bit is stopping it. OK, that’s enough, I’ll try it even though it seems to me it shouldn’t work. What do I know I’m just an ex-psychologist, what do I know of electrical things?
The generator isn’t exactly central to the vineyard’s health but it does make getting a steady supply of water easier, so it’s not totally unrelated. Plus if we stay overnight in the barn it means we can have a shower in the morning. At least that was the idea, except when Mrs SH turned on the shower, how happy we were for about two minutes and until we noticed the increasing pool of water on the floor and discovered, with some difficulty, the bloody mice had chewed through the outlet pipe. The water still out-letted but inside the barn rather than outside. How we laughed.
I said in the last blog that the grass was growing nicely and this is bad because the vines have to compete with the grass and the bloody nettles for the nutrients in the soil. So hence I pay my neighbour (uncle of farmer neighbour) to strim the grass and he and I spray along the rows with weed-killer to try and keep the whole business under control. In case you were wondering what the significance was of the photo at the beginning of this blog let me tell you. On the left is a 10 litre container of special spray-on fertiliser which we all went over to Driffield (it’s near Bridlington which is where David Hockney lived for a while but he’s gone back to California now, he knows nothing that lad) to pick up. It cost £80. Along with the £60 I spent on the weed-killer this vineyard is turning out to be an expensive hobby. But hey, it keeps me off the streets. No wonder people try and make wine and sell it, to kind of off-set the costs. Unfortunately this is not in my plans. I don’t need any more stress worrying about whether the wine is good enough to sell. Nope.
Anyway we plan to go up to the vineyard this weekend at some point to spray, wind-permitting, the vines with the super-dooper, specially formulated fertiliser. If we don’t get good grapes this year, well it won’t be for lack of trying or spending money. So this weekend, after my birthday today, assuming this blog gets published on Friday, we’ll carry on living the dream. Only bad thing, I’m sixty bloody eight. Hurtling towards 70. Oh joy and that, in case you were wondering again, explains the items on the right of the photo above. They are a drill and a flash set of drill bits and screwdriver heads and a router. And why, you ask, are you getting these items for your birthday? Because I’m embarking on DIY tasks at the Derbyshire cottage. And why am I doing that? Well, because the bloody joiner and builder I thought I was employing to do these jobs, don’t turn up. You’d think they’d have more respect for a man approaching his seventieth birthday who’s struggling to make a success of a vineyard in a challenging location. A man who’s trying to enjoy his retirement, not spend time routing doors and cupboards and maybe even putting in a new kitchen. More of these retirement adventures in an up-coming blog about the Derbyshire cottage.