At least we were and then we weren’t, instead we were having the mother and father or all thunderstorms with hail, remember that, as a bonus. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We haven’t been up to the vineyard* since the last vineyard blog, on account of us having been on holiday in Ireland. So we expected, or at least hoped for, some significant development and, as you can see by comparing photos on this blog with previous one, things have indeed changed. Not only have the vines grown but, more important, we have what I’m calling, small fruit ‘buds’ (they look like small grapes but they aren’t yet). I’m pretty sure that not only is this the earliest we have had ‘fruit buds’ (remember no ‘buds’, no flowers, no grapes) but all the mature vines have them, even the Solaris and we’ve had hardly a grape from this white variety in the last three years. Our red vines, the ones that aren’t supposed to do well in England, have been the vines that have given us all the grapes we’ve had, but this year it’s the Solaris as well. I’ve even taken some photos of the ‘fruit buds’ (see below) just to prove I’m not hallucinating. They’re a bit blurred on account of the wind. Some things do not change.
So we’re standing there on Saturday morning feeling quite pleased with ourselves, not smug, Lord knows not smug, but just quietly pleased. It was a lovely morning and the last week has been positively hot, the view down and up the dale was outstanding as it always is, and we had buds. What could go wrong? Of course this is a foolish question in the context of the whole growing season, as these blogs have amply demonstrated, there is much that can and does go wrong – sheep, birds (including now pheasants), wabbits and of course all the varied elements that makes our British weather so ‘interesting’. So we knew not to get smug in any way shape or form. What we didn’t expect was the elements to change so quickly and so immediately and the feeling of pleasure to be so very brief. In fact as my eyes moved from the sky above to the sky further down the dale I thought, oh oh, that suddenly doesn’t look so good. Above, blue and fluffy, down the dale, black and solid. It’s going to rain Mrs Summerhouse observed.
And sure enough it did, but not just any rain mind, but the most torrential thunderstorm with thunder and lightning and that bonus, hail. The sound on the roof of the barn made us very glad that we weren’t camping as so many people down in the valley were doing. Poor sods but we didn’t have too much sympathy left over because we could see the very real prospect of all those lovely ‘fruit buds’ being destroyed as they were two or three years ago. I wouldn’t say that this was typical British Bank Holiday weather but a washed out holiday is considerably more common that a heat wave. I suppose the storm was at its most intense for probably only about 20 minutes or so, it continued raining after this but in volumes that were more normal for a bank holiday, but we were pretty sure that damage would have been done, havoc wreaked, as they say.
So with some trepidation we went out into the vineyard to inspect the vines and what do you know, they looked fine. I think maybe this storm, unlike the last one, has visited us just before that key event in any vineyard – flowering – when the buds turn into fluffy little flowers which then turn into tiny grapes which are then supposed to swell and ripen so that the birds can enjoy them to the max. Of course only time will tell if they really have survived. Time will tell.
Let nobody say that we allow the reality of our situation (most northerly non-commercial vineyard in England) dampen our ambitions and, just to prove it, I seriously entertained the idea of travelling down to that London to attend a course on producing sparkling wine. Sparkling wine does well in the UK, as opposed to red or white still wine, because a higher level of acidity and a lack of fruit are not a problem in a sparkling wine. People generally aren’t looking for full flavour in a sparkling wine and words such as clean, crisp, fresh are applied in a way that wouldn’t sell much red wine. So I’ve always had this idea that if we ever made proper wine this is the type we would go for. Of course making sparkling wine isn’t easy the whole process is longer and more complex but let’s not get realistic at this stage. So I thought a trip to that London to learn about the ‘business’ side of making sparkling wine might be interesting. But I don’t think I can really justify the expense of course fees, train fares, possibly hotels, etc on a venture that barely has a score on the ‘feasible’ scale (if you remember me writing about the NAF rating in a previous blog) although excellent score on the Novelty and Appeal scales. So probably not, at least not yet.
The other aspect of the wine world, to which we aspire, arrived through the letter box in the form of The Wine Society annual report, a part of which focused on English wines (no mention of Welsh wines for some reason). It said, “2016 has been an excellent year for English wine.” So that’s good and then went on to say, “There were no dramatic weather patterns and summer temperatures were mostly good.” Hmm, not so sure about this. And finally, “The smaller berry sizes for many growers have resulted in concentrated wines… a year to be excited about.” I shall comfort myself with the idea that small berries are good because in the past when we did get berries they were indeed small.
*Finally, back to our little vineyard in windswept North Yorkshire and one other thing that’s changed since the last blog. For those of you who read these blogs regularly you will know that we have had the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race go right past our gate, bloody nuisance because now every bloody cyclist in Yorkshire and the rest of the country wants to cycle the same route, however I digress. A legacy of the race, gangs of cyclists clogging up the roads, apart, is the sign above our vineyard, put there by one of our farmer neighbours, renaming the hill Cotes de Lofthouse (see photo below). It technically, according to the Ordinance Survey map is called Trapping Hill and hence, when our ideas are at their grandest, we intended to call our wines after this but now maybe we should be cashing in on the tour and writing on the label, finest wines from the Cotes de Yorkshire. Getting ahead of myself again. Retirement can do that to a person.