I was going to save this blog for a later date but given the topicality of the topic I thought I’d publish and be damned.
The following extract was from the Guardian last Saturday.
“The prospect, says the manager of Denbies (in Surrey) vineyard, is for record sales and record quality. ‘2013 has been a quite perfect year so far with ideal conditions for growing grapes’ he says. ‘It’s been really stunning. We’ve seldom, maybe never, seen it like this before.’”
The article, as you have guessed, is about English vineyards. We’re (note pronoun) going places. Admittedly we only planted ours last year (which was as bad as this year is good) and it is modest in size by comparison with the established southern vineyards, but it’s ours.
Back to my title. The answer to this question is a bit like the man who lost his car keys one night and was looking for them under the light of a street lamp. When his friend asked whether he was sure that this was where he had dropped them, he replied –‘no I dropped them over there in the bushes but the light is better here’.
So the main reason we planted a vineyard ‘there’ is because ‘there’ is where we were. In other words, where we had the land. We had some land and wondered what we might do with it. That’s as close as I can get to a ‘good’ reason. What follows next is frankly b—-cks.
I intended to write last time about being a type 2 diabetic but I’ve put that off for this more important communication. Type 2, that’s the sort you ‘acquire’ in middle age. In my case when we lived in New Zealand and encouraged, no doubt, by my huge drinking habit at that time. A chap needs to fit in. I no longer have this habit which is why I decided to plant my own vineyard. Something of a non-sequiteur perhaps? Well, I warned you it was b—-cks.
It is for a very good reason that there are very few vineyards in Yorkshire, for that is where we are. It looks great in the summer but don’t be fooled, you can’t see the wind (see attached photo). So few that we (notice the pronoun) don’t yet have our own vineyard owners association. We, there’s that word again, belong to the WVA – the Wessex Vineyards Association. Wessex? Not very Yorkshire is it? We are trying to form a Yorkshire association (largely driven by Chris at Yorkshire Heart Vineyard) but, as I say, there are only a few of us. Of the ‘few’ the established ones are doing well. Which is surprising given that certain factors are against us – mainly and unsurprisingly climate – not enough sun hours basically.
So why would any sane person attempt to establish what I believe is the most northerly English vineyard. I call it an experimental vineyard and certainly the mental part is apposite. I say it’s the most northerly but the red, white and pink tide is spreading rapidly northwards so I might be wrong.
I should explain, as I mentioned earlier in the piece, that we did not buy the land in order to plant vines. We just had the land and that’s another story. I have only attended one course about vineyards and it was entitled ‘Establishing your vineyard’. It was a surreal experience. The chap who ran it began by telling us what we should be doing before choosing a piece of land on which to grow grapes. All the tests we should carry out on soil type, sunshine hours, wind etc, etc. We met none of the criteria. It quite depressed me but cheered up the rest of the group of aspiring wine producers who thought they were crazy until they met me.
The idea of growing grapes came about as part of my retirement plan – a reason for getting out of my summerhouse – and having the physical stuff at least partly covered. Also I’d talked about it for years and frankly I was becoming dull in talking to friends about what I planned to do. Given that, optimistically, I was told it takes 3 years before you get enough grapes to even think about making wine and where I was planting was not optimistic land, this was a project I needed to get underway before I retired. If I waited until I’d actually retired I’d probably be dead before anything resembling a grape appeared.
So last spring we planted 400 vines in my experimental vineyard. Incidentally, the article above said ‘now you need about £1m just for an average-sized vineyard’. Ours has cost a bit less than that. Experimental here meaning simply that if I f–k up it’s OK because I was just fooling around. I took clear advice from my vine supplier as to which varieties I should plant given the location. How he kept a straight face I do not know when I described our location but we marched on. People sometimes ask me what varieties I have planted, expecting to recognise them and look blankly when I tell them – Rondo, Solarus and Phoenix as you ask. Next year if all goes well – a big if – I will plant a few more. Seyval Blanc and, wait for it, the one you’ve probably heard of, Pinot Noir. This latter really is an impractical conceit but it is without question my favourite grape variety so what’s a boy to do?
That’s all for the future, let me return to the past. In fact the distant past. As far as I can remember the first vineyard we ever visited was a champagne vineyard, the name escapes me temporarily in Rheims (Pierre Heidsinck (sic), I think) and on a similarly distant trip – a vineyard in Riquewihr in Alsace– Hugel et Fils. More recently Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, any number of wineries in Western Australia where we lived for a while and where a friend had his own winery. He made great wine.
This last OZ stay really cemented the idea of planting my own Vineyard. I received lots of advice about how to start from my friend and his friends and then flew 12,000 miles back to the reality of North Yorkshire. Then we began visiting those few vineyards somewhere near our proposed site – Renishaw in Derbyshire, Leventhorpe near Leeds and most promising of all, given that he planted 7 acres on the same type of sheep country as we were planning on cultivating, a vineyard near Holmfirth. For this blog (there will be more) I’ll leave you and me at a low point. The owner’s final words to me when he knew I planned a venture in insanity –
“Wind,” says he,” is the enemy of vines”. Well, bugger, I thought that’s the one thing we have plenty of!
More of this part of my retirement next time.
Most Northerly English vineyard?
A happy vineyard worker