It’s fame Jim, but not as we know it. As an owner of a vineyard, the most Northerly, non-commercial vineyard in England, we think, there are a number of possible routes to fame. We have taken one but before we go any further let me tell you that it isn’t for making an award-winning wine, sadly. That may happen but not yet. What we have achieved is getting the photo of our vineyard and the view down the dale on the front cover of The Grapevine, the magazine of the Wessex Vineyard Association, (WVA) (see right). We may struggle to make an award-winning wine or indeed any wine at all, but I would back our location (a blessing and a curse) against any in the country. Not that we’ve won an award for this either but there we sit on the front cover, quietly proud of some form of recognition. As an added bonus there is an article by yours truly in the same magazine. True it is one of my blogs adapted rather than a specially written article but, hey, it’s another variation on the fame theme.
Meanwhile back in the vineyard the tension mounts. Our grapes are growing and ripening, veraisson as we vintners call it. With it comes more worries about whether the grapes will survive all the natural hazards that our setting has to offer. As the grapes ripen our prime enemy is the birds (hopefully not the wabbits). We even ‘discovered’ three pheasants in the vineyard or rather the dogs did. Before I read a number of emails from members of the WVA about the damage that pheasants had done to their crop, I probably would have castigated the dogs for being nasty to the poor birds. But not now, go get ‘em pups was the cry and they did, well chased them not caught them. Let’s hope the pheasants are bright enough to get the message. Pheasants move on.
A bird that was welcome in our vineyard is Harry the Hawk, to whom I briefly referred in my last blog. He is our bird scarer. I can confidently say he was no bloody use at all with the pheasants. He’d been flying all week – or had he, we have yet to find out. It’s possible my neighbour keeps resurrecting him and he hasn’t spent that much time soaring but I haven’t seen my neighbour to check. As I say when we arrived at the vineyard Sunday morning, the pheasants seemed nicely bedded in and Harry was in the air, but maybe pheasants are above Harry’s pay grade. As I said, he was there when we arrived looking nice against the blue Mediterranean skies (as you can see in the photo) but a couple of hours later when we looked out the window of him there was no sign. His little grommet thing, which attaches him to the 15 foot carbon fibre pole, was no longer attached. We found him stuck on the stock fence, took him back and taped him back to his grommet and the pole. It was windy on Sunday but then it frequently is up dale and not for the first time I wondered about this form of protection.
Before we took him out of his large box we had only the internet photo to go by and they say the camera never lies. This would be untrue in Harry’s case. When we took him out of the box, I nearly laughed, in fact I did laugh. The bird scarer / kite was so small and fragile that I feared for his safety. When I read on the package that he wasn’t suitable for wind above 20 mph, I had hysterics. 20 mph barely counts as winds up here. I seriously doubted the sensibleness of my choice. Still my fellow vineyard owner had recommended him but then he doesn’t know our vineyard. Watch this space or rather the space over the vineyard where Harry is supposed, along with our two owls (who don’t soar but are very much attached to their posts), to dominate the skies.
The other bizarre thing we have done since the last blog is take a trip to a vineyard in Leicestershire. It’s not such a big trip because we tied it in with a trip to the ancestral pile, aka the Derbyshire cottage, aka the Heanor house. All kind of East Midlands territory. I went to buy more vines (originally 10 of them) hopefully to fill in some of the gaps in our vineyard. They are three years old and a fiver each. They’re called Chambourcin which is a grape variety of which I had never heard, but give it a go, we thought. It’s our eighth type of vine. There won’t be anywhere near enough to plug all our gaps but it’s a nod in the right direction. Of course while we were there we had the opportunity to walk around Liz’s vineyard and once more the opportunity for laughter, verging on hysterics, presented itself.
Suffice it to say that Liz’s vineyard could not have been more different from ours. Massive, healthy vines, bunches, yes, bunches of ripening grapes and no wind. The sense of a vineyard having its own micro climate was never so strong. It was hot in there. I looked at these cosseted specimens, then at the 9 (one had already given up the unequal struggle and I thought that’s probably a wise move), the rest of you guys have no idea what you’re going to. I pondered on my own Yorkshire vines and phrases like it’s grim up North or we breed them tough up there, came to mind. But fair dos, Liz had retired and spent her retirement lump sum on setting up her vineyard as commercial venture and very impressive all that equipment was too. All shiny and big and new and expensive. So she deserves to succeed. We, on the other hand deserve to have our heads examined.
Probably by the next blog we will have a better sense of how thoroughly examined our heads will need to be. We should be closer to knowing – will we have any grapes left and will they have ripened sufficiently to pick and make wine? OK, we’re not smug, Lord knows we’re not smug, but right now it’s looking alright, at least until you compare our crop to a proper vineyard. But that way madness lies.