I read in this weekend’s papers that it has been the warmest / sunniest May since records began. Precisely the kind of ‘improving’ (a matter of some opinion I guess) weather pattern (the one before the world comes to an end with over-heating) we had been expecting when we decided we would, as one of our retirement projects, plant arguably the most northerly non-commercial vine yard in England. I keep saying this and, as yet, nobody has contradicted my statement, so I’ll continue to repeat my assertion (is that a word?).

We’ve been away from our vineyard for the majority of that month on holiday, as I’m sure you know, in Ireland. We had great weather on the west coast of that country but no clear idea of what the weather was like here, until we got back home and took a look at our garden. Now we know, we’ve had the perfect weather for getting our vines off to a great start. Of course that will mean very little in the long run if we can’t, as in previous years, protect any grapes from the bloody birds. But that’s a few months off. For now they are doing very well.

When we last saw them there was the faintest glimmer of new buds on the gnarled trunks, we return about four weeks later to an abundance of new stems, some more than a couple of feet long. It’s like a fairy tale – so far. The only slight complication is that, before we left, having decided to do no pruning at all, a sin in most vineyard owners’ books, we weakened slightly, or at least Mrs Summerhouse did. She cut back a section of the vineyard, telling ourselves, as we have so many times, that doing so would constitute an experiment, yes, another one. We would compare the progress of pruned against unpruned, first in terms of growth, and ultimately grape production. Sounds pretty good when you put it like that.

Sounds much better than saying we simply couldn’t be arsed to prune and which would only be partly true. Our excuse for such indolence was all our emotional and physical effort had gone into trying to sell and clear out our Pateley cottage. More of which in a later blog, for good or bad.

The complication is that, so far, it’s hard to detect any great difference between pruned in the foreground and unpruned vines (see right). Obviously the pruned ones are smaller by virtue of having had more chopped off, but in terms of the buds on the stems, they both look remarkably healthy, fecund almost, (see above) so the experiment goes on. Not a lot to do at this early stage to the vines themselves, maybe pull off a few tubes and break off stems that are growing inside the tube and too far down the trunk. With or without pruning that’s definitely a no no.

So as they say, nature abhors a vacuum, and this means more time to attend to general maintenance of the vineyard type tasks. It’s a shame that they are so tedious. If there were a competition for most irritating vineyard job then those tasks concerned with sustaining the windbreaks we’re trying very hard to encourage, would be up there and trying to sort out the netting (we bought it originally to protect the grapes from the bloody birds but that didn’t work so we’re re-cycling it as a wind-break) that hangs from the stock fence (topped with barbed wire) as a lower part of the windbreak, would win first prize. This for the simple reason that the netting is blown by the wind (so sort of doing its job you could argue) and gets tangled up. This reduces whatever effectiveness it might have as a wind break. Untangling it is extremely difficult and has the added bonus of encouraging the barbs to stick into one’s fingers on a regular basis. No words can describe the challenge and that’s why it’s a job that I can only tolerate for short periods of time.

The other jobs that are significantly more fun are strimming, weed-killing, post replacement and stone wall re-building. You don’t think they sound all that great? Well, you’d be right in one way. The reason they’re more fun is that I pay my neighbour to do them. All of the above for only £90. A bargain I reckon. True these were the kind of jobs that pre-vineyard, when it was a mere glint in my pre-retirement eye, that I told myself I would be enthusiastic about doing. You know working on the land, that kind of thing. The kind of activity that a well-balanced retirement would need to accommodate. So I’m slightly embarrassed to be writing now, about 5 years later, that I’m paying my neighbour to do them. Can I say that it puts a bit (not a lot) more money in his pocket and is hence a charitable act? No, I thought not.

Incidentally if I were trying to make a case for the hardship side of having a vineyard I’d go back to wall building and the post replacement. We came up here before we went on holiday to find signs of sheep in the vineyard – again. We’ve had trouble before with the sheep getting into the vineyard, last time they ate the vines. Their timing has been so far at least, not so good, they broke in when there weren’t any leaves on the vines, so this time – two rams my neighbour told me – they amused themselves by increasing the size of the hole in the wall (the stone walls fall down on a regular basis), climbing through it and then knocking over a post and of course the wire attached to it. Bless. I’ve no idea where they came from or who they belong to and neither has my neighbour and he would know if anybody would.

So, at that point, you could say that we were not overly-enthusiastic about owning a vineyard. Vines do not look good, pruned or otherwise, out of season; we had the evidence of the rams frolicking (broken posts and wire); the grass was high and full of nettles; the wind-breaks were not breaking any wind on account of having very few leaves, but there was, at that stage, plenty of wind, and overall it all looked a bit depressing. But now, after a few weeks away, we come back, the grass is strimmed, the rows and nettles sprayed with weed-killer and looking neat and the vines pruned and unpruned looked remarkably healthy, the ones that are alive that is (of course there has to be a caveat being where we are). We look forward to another season of grape growing and maybe even wine-making, until about October anyway.


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