vineyard before pruning with low cloud in the valley

It’s probably going to be difficult to believe if you have no experience of such things but it’s true. Work in the vineyard is starting this month and there’s quite a lot to do. Thing is it’s not us that are doing the work. Now this is a first, well apart from the strimming that we pay one of our neighbours to do throughout the year, we have always done all the work in the vineyard ourselves. After all that was the whole point of the enterprise – some outdoor activity to keep us both healthy and intellectually engaged when retired. That’s why we planted all those initial 400 vines in 2012. We had the land, admittedly a small parcel (somewhat less than an acre), and we decided it would be fun to grow our own grapes and make our own wine. It’s true that between the rabbits, the sheep, the bloody birds and the hail stones (not to mention the weather as a whole), it has been hard work and a tad dispiriting at times, but we have persevered. We had no intention of doing anything else, persevering that is, this year but then the situation changed a bit.

It’s all to do with the gardening business that we are, after a fashion, running for our son while he is sunning himself in Australia (a bit too much sun from what I read). I have no doubt that you will know that the gardening business goes quiet in the winter and so we have struggled a bit to find enough work for two people over the last couple of months. We’ve done OK but come February we ran out. So we needed a bit of lateral thinking and this is where the vineyard came in providing work for the chaps. Win – win? I think so. February is the time of year when certain important tasks need completing. There’s the pruning (although the sheep did a lot of that for us and I’m afraid the photo above doesn’t show anything very clearly but it’s a nice photo), collecting a surprisingly large number of cuttings which we hope to insert into the stock fence to bolster the windbreaks, the fertilising (collecting from a friend’s barn and spreading), cutting back and replanting of the willows we use as windbreaks, (see photo below) if they get too high they lose their capacity for breaking wind, there’s the wires that need re-stringing (with the grippler, as yet unused and, as it turns out, still unused), removing the tubes that have become surplus to requirements, reinstating the heads of our plastic owls – Olive and Oscar, cleaning the stone slabs we laid outside the barn and so on. Quite an impressive list I think you will agree and, as I say, we’ve done all this ourselves over the last 3 or 4 years.

But now we had the opportunity to sub-contract this work out to, you’ve guessed it, our gardening team. We’d be paying their wages anyway so might as well ‘make use’ of their skills. The only slight problem is that, though I say it myself, there are particular skills involved with pruning vines that sets the project apart from hedge cutting and grass-cutting, no offence, mates. So I had to try and explain to them how a three year old (or whatever) vine is pruned in a single guyot fashion. I actually went on a course to learn how to do this properly. Not easy to learn as our vines didn’t very much look like the vines in the vineyard where the course was being held and look even less like the perfect specimens as the years have rolled on. But I did my best and they seemed happy with this, the most tricky, task of the above list.

So I’m writing this on the same very wet and even snowy day that we drove up to the vineyard to inspect their work. I must admit it was with some trepidation that we approached the site. Might they have misunderstood my instructions and taken them off at ground level? Or alternatively taken off a couple of inches when a couple of metres was required? No, it all looked pretty good as hopefully you can see from the attached photos taken by Mrs Summerhouse with her new iPad. We sent them a text to tell them so.

So I suppose the question is, how do I feel about having delegated these vital tasks? And the answer is – I’m not sure. It was nice to arrive there and find all (or at least most) of the tasks carried out as if by magic. Yes, it cost us a few hundred pounds for the privilege but, as I wrote, the money would have gone anyway, so we might as well use it wisely. So all good then? Well, not quite. After all the vineyard was supposed to be a way of keeping us active and engaged in our retirement years and here we are ducking our duties, copping out you might say. Maybe that’s a bad sign, the thin edge of the wedge, a portent of future indolence. Next we’ll be paying somebody to walk our dogs or chauffeur our cars or interior design the Derbyshire cottage or heaven forbid, write this blog. But maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, I do that sometimes. The answer will be revealed shortly because there are a number of other vineyard tasks looming on the horizon. The next quite big one will be the planting of another 100 vines that I have ordered. I know that to the professional vineyard owner 100 vines is a measly number to plant but then they have machines (and staff) to plant their new vines, whereas I / we / they will be planting the vines by hand. I will keep you informed in my next vineyard blog which of the above pronouns apply.

So I sit here by our fire in our Pateley Bridge cottage, seven miles lower down the dale. Two hours ago we were up at the barn (about 600’) and the snow was sweeping across the hillside. I hope you get some sense of this from the photos (see below for photo after pruning) because it almost made me laugh – a fairly rare event – who in their right mind would plant a vineyard in this spot? But then we had to move because the road up to the vineyard was rapidly becoming impassable with the snow even in the Land Rover. Where else in the world, I wondered, would you write such a sentence? That’s the marvellous thing about retirement, so many adventures, so many surprises, just so many.

vines after pruning in the snow

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