“They do it because they love me,” said Chris, the owner of the vineyard. This is in response to my question about whether he paid his grape pickers. About 20 or so of them I reckoned and not a Polish import in sight but of course they wouldn’t be doing it for free. Chris had remarked to me in the past that it was difficult to get dedicated pickers (they come for an hour then look at their watches and say “Good Lord is that the time.”) No sign of that here – dedication and hard work were the key words here. Mind you as these workers were all volunteers, no sign of the paid workforce referred to in The Guardian a few weeks ago. According to the article vineyards need more workers than farms, 70 workers to the 2 required when the same land was a farm according to the owner of Rathfinny vineyard in Sussex all 400 acres of it. Plenty of job opportunities. Sarah Driver, wife of the owner Mark said, “if you want a job then learn a little bit about viticulture. At the moment we can’t find the kind of people that we need.” Sounded a bit like Chris’s original point.
The whole experience was slightly surreal. This was the first time I’d ever been a grape pickers and I imagined that, when I did, it would be in an exotic location, France, Italy, southern hemisphere, somewhere but not North Yorkshire. But here we were and on a beautiful day at the beginning of October. It all had a dream like quality. The vineyard was huge maybe nightmare would be closer. Either way, let the education begin.
Chris told me he had 10,000 vines of which he reckoned about 9,000 needed picking. 4 big days of picking, of which this was the first, Chris reckoned would be needed to get this ‘bumper’ that would have to be the word, bumper harvest gathered in. I’ve been blogging about what a good year it has been for English vineyards. Here was the proof in all its rampant fecundity. Wow, a bit like my writing.
You will have worked out by now that I’m not in my own vineyard – another couple of years God willing and this could be me. After 3 and a half hours of non-stop snipping I had never been more glad that I had 400 vines – so far – rather than 10,000 here. I was in somebody else’s vineyard because a) Chris has been helpful to me in my efforts to establish our vineyard, b) I was hoping to learn stuff (you need to be optimistic) to get more advice and support from Chris in the future. Hence I was investing some of my time in somebody else’s vineyard in order to invest eventually in our own. I needed to keep this thought in mind as I filled my thousandth bucket – well, it felt that way.
We’d started on the Solaris (white) vines and they were hard, make note for future although a bit late as I’ve already planted 200. The leaves on these vines were both huge and dense which meant you couldn’t find the bunches. Being the same colour – leaves and grapes – didn’t help either. Surprising given how many bunches there were. The leaf canopy was so dense that I was amazed that these grapes got any sun at all. The Rondo (red) was much easier – different colour and less dense leaves, as you can see in the photo. So bunch to bucket, bucket to bigger bucket, bigger bucket to large container. Container to van and van to the de-stemmer. Simple. For three and a half hours. Longer for some (I’d arrived at lunchtime but the dogs played a part in my tardiness).
At the end of the day everybody gathered round the de-stemmer (a silver spaceship piece of equipment) like it held the secret to the universe. I half expected the ethereal notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to emerge. For some reason I was out of my comfort zone. Had been all day although I don’t understand why. Something to do with all these people knowing one another, being locals, me being an outsider. That sort of thing. It reminded me of a scene from The Wicker Man. That’s how I would sum it up then Close Encounters meets Wicker Man.
I said bye to Chris. His parting words to me were “Come again when you can stay.” I can see why people love him. Next day I thought was that a dream then I looked at the nails of my left hand, they carried the stains of the grape juice. It had been no dream. What had I learned for the future, for our own vineyard? Black grapes are easier to see, make sure you have your bunches (the growing zone) at a height that doesn’t require bending and above all make sure you have plenty of people who love you.
Bunches of Rondo grapes