Is there anything more dispiriting than watching your grapes bud and mature and then to have them snatched away by some unseen hand, make that unseen hoof? Well let me tell you, yes, there is. It’s admitting to the group of fellow vineyard owners, at one of our occasional meetings, that once again you have failed. This is what happened to Mrs Summerhouse and myself on Sunday. It’s true I’ve had a little practice at this unique form of public self-flagellation while in our local pub (local to our vineyard that is) and I wrote about this in my last vineyard blog but Sunday was a rung higher up the ladder of public embarrassment. Nothing quite like standing or even sitting before a jury of one’s peers and admitting that once again we had failed to get a crop from our vines. I think in the last blog I said we’d lost about 85% of our grapes to the phantom beasts of Middlesmoor, well it got worse because on our most recent visit to the vineyard (I don’t think I can face another one for a while) the birds had finished off the remaining 15%, leaving us with, as you mathematically aware will have worked out, with 0%.
The disappointing bit or, if you prefer, the even more disappointing bit, about this is that Olive, our up until recently one woman bird scarer, quite literally lost her head and I presume, but who the hell knows, thereby lost her ability to scare anything unless the sight of a headless, plastic owl is frightening enough to repel boarders. The double whammy here is that Oswald (our recent owl addition to bird- scaring) hadn’t lost his head but he had no effect at all. £12 wasted, down the drain. I really thought we, at least, had the birds in retreat going on last year’s experience but now we’re back to the bird drawing board.
The biggest problem we have with our vineyard other than the wind, the sheep, the rabbits and the bloody birds (interestingly the main worry of the commercial vineyards at the group meeting was wasps and slugs and we don’t have a problem with either of these, not yet anyway, too far for them to travel probably and they’re probably heard that we haven’t got any grapes anyway – not worth the effort, mate and mildew / disease, I think the wind is an asset here) is that we do not, as you might say, live on site. This means that when things go wrong – bird-scarer loses head, sheep get into vineyard, etc. we know nothing about it and cannot therefore take remedial action until it is way too late. Which brings me back to Sunday and my chums in the Yorkshire vineyard group (not association in case this should be seen as disloyal or worse to our parents association the WVA (Wessex Vineyard Association). Apparently they fear we may form a break away association. Frankly I imagine they would pay to have Mrs Summerhouse and I breakaway but for the bigger, commercial vineyards, it’s a different matter.The WVA don’t want to lose them. And it is these bigger vineyards that form the jury of our peers on Sunday. At least we fulfil our usual function in this group of making everybody else feel better about their own lot in life.
There’s a kicker, as young people say about this meeting, well a two part kicker actually, let’s take the least painful one first. This group usually has about 7 or 8 of us, so at least my shame is exposed only to a limited audience. Imagine my joy then to find that this meeting had about 20 or so people in attendance. 3 new vineyards with great ambitions – 1600 or more vines planted as far as I remember and that’s serious; another group who have taken over an existing vineyard, the one previously run by the chap from whom we have bought our vines and an ‘experimental’ couple from Halifax I think, who planted 25 as a test project. So big variations in the group but thankfully no danger of any of them taking our role of the special needs kids in the corner. So the first blow, more people to confess to. Hey ho.
The second was a bigger challenge. The request was for us to bring a bottle of our finest wine to the meeting for others to test. Ooer missis. Only one thing to do under these circumstances one must raise one’s game, rise to the challenge… and cheat, at least a little bit. Just time on the morning before we set off for our trial to blend a bottle comprising our wine, purely from our grapes of two years ago (the last time we picked any grapes in this case what the birds left us), with the results of a wine kit Merlot (made by my own fair hand I hasten to add). Nothing wrong with a bit of blending, it’s common practice in the wine world, nor with blending your wine with grapes or even wine from other vineyards. Where the line is drawn between honourable and disreputable I’m not sure but we wrote it on the label – Rondo / Merlot blend, what I didn’t put on the label was the proportions of the blend. I’ll admit to somewhere around 50 / 50 at least to anybody other than my arch rival. I cannot begin to explain why this chap is my designated irritant but he is. It would probably take a full blog to explain and that supposes I could explain to myself the dynamics of our relationship. When he said he’d had a bad year my schadenfreude knew no limits but I had to stop myself showing too much joy or even interest. Suffice it to say I very much wanted him to fail. Yes, I know I don’t come out of this well but maybe it’s time you knew just what a shit I am at least when it comes to this vineyard business. Gore Vidal, I think, said, it is not enough that I should succeed, others must fail, In my case that’s more like, not enough that I should fail, others must fail too and preferably even more so (although admittedly this would be difficult). So the point is that when he tasted my wine, he did not say this is great and understandably so, but he did say, and I took this as a compliment, did you grow and make this yourself? Yes, I did, I said and, under my breath, ‘well, most of it’ because, of course, I did not grow the merlot grapes. A small omission under the circumstances I thought. I’ll just say I didn’t enjoy this meeting* and was glad when we could leave early without appearing too much like a cry baby. Can’t wait for the next one. Will we go? Not sure.
So I’ll bring this to an end, this is my retirement life. Failure and duplicity and those are the good parts. No, seriously though. This vineyard business is proving a challenge and as I’ve written before, all I can say is thank God, or whoever decides these things, that our livelihood doesn’t depend on it as perhaps is the case for some members of our group, not association though.
*There was a bit of talk about others having difficulty with Solaris and I’d have liked to have explored this further but there wasn’t time, shame. Maybe next time?