So yes, lots going on locally and nationally. Let’s take the local, little old us, first. It’s always a relief at this time of year when the first buds appear on the vines (not to mention our newly planted fruit trees) particularly as we didn’t do the pruning this year. We sub-contracted the job out you might say. If you remember we paid our gardeners to do the work when there wasn’t a lot going off in the business. We explained the technique for pruning vines as carefully as we could but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t worried about the results. I’m sure they had the view, it’s a plant, you cut it back, what’s the big deal? So until a couple of weeks ago and the buds appeared, I confess, I was anxious. But, as hopefully you can see from the photo taken on Mrs Summerhouse’s iPad, there they are. Not textbook perhaps but close. Later in the blog I’ve thrown in photos of the fruit tree buds (which they planted) not to mention pictures of the willows (below) which were also pruned by our gardeners but in this case a plant is most definitely just a plant. They’re looking good and our plans to reduce the negative impact of the wind up the dale seem to be in good order. The next test will be to see how the vines develop from the buds we have got.
It would be true to say that we’ve suffered climatically over the last three years – frost in the tubes of the young vines, hail stones through the leaves of the established ones a couple of years ago. I won’t go on about the fauna effect, the weather impact is sufficient for this blog. Particularly as this week we have storms, wind, rain, snow forecast and perhaps, most damaging of all, frost again, this at the end of April. Ah, spring is in the air. You can tell it’s a problem nationally because the UKVA ‘chatline’ I mentioned in my last vineyard blog has been buzzing with people anxiously enquiring of more experienced vineyard owners how can they protect their budding vines against it.
For commercial vineyards losing part or all of their crop to frost is serious indeed. So questions, lots of them, about helicopters – can they be legally used? Is it worth growers clubbing together to hire a helicopter to hover over their vineyards as a collective in the Loire apparently have? Will the neighbours complain especially as the helicopters would need to be flown at night and by the way you can’t fly helicopters at night anyway. Is being under the flight path of Biggin Hill, Boscombe Down (or somewhere) an asset in this case? In the end somebody who clearly knows his stuff pointed out it was the wrong kind of frost. Helicopters will apparently only work during a radiation frost. I admit I lost the thread of this thread about now. Other communications about candles, other heat sources, rubber anti-frost sprays, spraying water on the vines (which I really didn’t understand, doesn’t that make it more likely that the frost will kill them?) were mentioned. A colleague of ours in East Yorkshire who also happens to own an engineering company has built large heated fans which are automatically triggered when the temperature drops to a certain level. Presumably he’s sitting pretty right now unless of course it’s the wrong kind of frost. Remember British Rail and its operating problems because the ‘wrong kind of snow’ had got into the trains? And we think we have problems.
This last week in the papers has seen English vineyards make big news and not, so far at least, about frost. Some of it quite ridiculous. For example, an article in the Daily Mail – figures, it’s quite inaccurate and no, I don’t read the Daily Mail, a neighbour at the Derbyshire cottage brought it to my attention and he says he doesn’t read it either. It’s an article with the headlines – Last of the summer wine. Vineyard that defies the cold in Yorkshire. It mentions that it is located in Foggy and Compo country. Problem is the vineyard in question is nowhere near LOTSW country, it’s in Ryedale. Either I’m mad or it’s just the Daily Mail (never let the facts get in the way of a good headline / story). The chap who has just taken it over reckons they’re the most northerly commercial vineyard. I can’t disagree but we’re the most Northerly, we’re just not commercial.
Elsewhere the ‘fact’, again bearing in mind that it’s in the papers, that one million new vines have been planted in the UK has made a big splash. Also in this weekend’s Guardian (so it must be true) there’s great excitement about England’s capacity to produce red wine as good as the foreign competition, Pinot Noir specifically. We do have Pinot Noir vines but too young to have actually produced any grapes. Old style Pinot Noir is without question one of my favourite grapes – French Burgundy, the classic old socks and farmyard type character and for these characteristics it’s wildly expensive. I’m not so keen on the lighter, new style Pinot from places like Otago in New Zealand but I suspect that’s what we’re talking about with English Pinot Noir. The same article reckons that only 10% of wine made in the 500 vineyards in England and Wales, is red wine. All I can say is that in our most northerly vineyard, our red vines (Rondo) do much better than our white (Solaris). Go figure and of course we have to bear in mind that ‘better’ is a relative term.
So there we have it, by the time I write next month’s blog, unless the frost has wiped us out, we should have a much clearer idea of how successful contracting out our pruning has been. Of course there’s still plenty that can go wrong in our vineyard between now and harvest but that only lends authenticity to what I have always intended to be the motto of our vineyard. I can’t do it in Latin but in English it’s something like, From Adversity comes Character. Something on those lines.