Yep, so much going off, some bad and some not so good, that it’s hard to know where to start. I will start at the local level, get the not so good news out of the way. There’s good and bad news in the not so good news department. The bad news is that the birds triumphed again and ate approximately 50% of our crop. The good news is that there are 50% left, which was rather more than the last time I wrote about the bloody birds or the sheep or the wabbits or the hailstones, etc. etc. Also in the not so bad area the grapes are riper i.e. higher sugar levels than the last time we lost grapes to the birds, when we were forced to pick what was left. It was the same dilemma as a couple of years ago, pick now, even though the grapes aren’t quite ready, or lose the lot. So a no brainer really, it just remains to be seen if I can ‘adjust’ the sugar levels post picking to make this vintage anything like drinkable. I’ll let you know how it goes. At the moment the remaining grapes, having been through our big de-stemming machine, are in a bucket either fermenting or not. In the case of the latter we will have a stuck fermentation. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I must admit, even though we probably saved more grapes and at a slightly higher level (15 BRIX as opposed, if I remember rightly, to 12 BRIX which will mean very little to none wine-makers), I’m more disappointed this time. You will remember that this year we introduced Harry the Hawk to the vineyard along with our attractive but useless owls. As this flying kite had been recommended by a friend with a commercial vineyard, I had high hopes that this year we might outthink our feathered ‘friends’. But seems we didn’t. And it doesn’t stop there in that I’m not totally sure of which of our feathered ‘friends’ ate the grapes.

Let me explain. The first sign of trouble was a text from our neighbour who lives below the vineyard. The text simply said, ‘starlings are in vineyard’. They’re men of few words these Yorkshire Dales folk. I text him back and enquired, ‘have they eaten the grapes?’ His reply was even more succinct – ‘don’t know, just letting you know.’ So fearing the worst we drove up there from Leeds the very next day. The first thing we noticed was that Harry was still patrolling the vineyard not without quite a lot of help from my neighbour. I’m not sure how many times he has had to unravel him but I suspect quite a few times, anyway at the moment we arrived, there he was.

My spirits lifted a little, if Harry was still flying how bad could things be? As you know the answer was really quite bad and, as I’ve said, very disappointing and, on preliminary inspection, my spirits lowered once more. But, as I was saying, while the grapes had 50% been eaten, the problem was we aren’t sure even now what had eaten them. My neighbour thought starlings but this diagnosis was somewhat confounded by the fact that on arrival and releasing the hounds into the vineyard, 7 or 8 pheasants flew out. Now the point is this, two points, first point, I never thought that pheasants in a vineyard was a problem until earlier in the year I followed an email thread from UKVA members about the very bird and they had definitely been a problem for them. Point two was that if pheasants were the culprits then expecting Harry to frighten them off would be over-optimistic to say the very least. So perhaps, just perhaps, Harry had done his job to the best of his ability with the starlings (although as I write this a little voice says don’t be so bloody naïve), and we should not dispense with his ‘services’ for next year.

Oh the optimism in that last sentence, next year? What seems relatively clear, at this fairly darkest hour, is that, if we’re doing this again, we need to spend far more time on site, at harvest time at least. It’s no use popping up once a week or even once a fortnight or relying on the goodwill of our Yorkshire neighbours, as we have been, to keep the birds off whatever variety they may be. Now in that we’re, we hope, in the process of selling our nearby (7 miles is that nearby?) cottage in Pateley Bridge, this may well be the case. At least it will be if we can get planning permission to live here on a longer term basis. So that’s a no for those of us who’ve had experience of Harrogate planners. But once again I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s for next year.

By now you may be wondering what the significance is of the very attractive picture of the vine at the beginning of this blog. Let me explain. At the simplest level it’s a photo of one of our Rondo vines, Rondo being by far our best grape-producer despite the fact that it’s a red grape rather than the white which is supposed to do better in an English climate. Of course this isn’t so much English as Artic but the fact remains it does well. You wouldn’t think such a pretty, efficient plant could be the centre of an on-going furore on the message board of the above UKVA (United Kingdom, Vineyards Association) members. We are not the only vineyard, of course, to have planted Rondo, nor the only one to have vines that look like this now or even earlier in the year. Let’s just say that there are, among UKVA members, some very different views on the short and long term health of a vine that looks like this, ranging from – it’s dead, to there’s nothing wrong with it and stop trying to suggest there is and by so doing promoting a need for expert help and hence your paid-for consultancy. The latter on account of this vine may have something called Trunk Disease. The dreaded TD in fact that needs expert treatment and should not be left or your whole vineyard will die. We’re in the, and there is definitely such a camp, it’s fine and will be long-lived and productive, camp. It’s been quite unpleasant at times along the lines of you don’t know what you’re talking about – oh yes, we do, type thing.

It’s true we keep losing vines for no apparent reason but whether this is to do with TD (even Phyloxera came into the nastiness and whether this came from European grafted vines – like ours – or home produced vines, quite a kerfuffle it has been) or the many other adverse factors planting a vineyard in North, North Yorkshire, it’s hard to say. It makes me jolly glad we aren’t in it for the brass as they say in these parts. After all, we can’t tell a starling from a pheasant, well we can but not which ones are eating our bloody grapes, so what do we know? I’ll let you know how our modest crop of grapes works out next time in this retirement blog. Fingers crossed.

PS.It’s great relief to have the grapes picked no matter how few, nothing can hurt them now, except my wine-making skills of course.

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