My fiftieth vineyard blog, now that’s something to celebrate and the weather seems to agree. I can’t quite remember a protracted period of hot weather like this at this time of year since we started with the vineyard. The vines, pruned or otherwise, look incredibly healthy and now, just over the last week, the buds have burst and turned into little, white flowers. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I suspect I am, by saying we’ve never had budburst so early in the year nor have we had so many flowers on both the Rondo and the Solaris. The Rondo (red) always do well in terms of buds but the Solaris (white and the grape that is supposed to be good for our conditions), has barely had a bud in the five years they’ve been in. Go figure.
You can hopefully see in the photo just how prolific the flowers are. I had the silly thought that if we don’t get to make some nice wine this year with the kind of start the vines have had then we never will make wine. But there’s the rub of course, they’ve had a great start but it’s only a start, there’s much that can go wrong between now and harvest in September / October. And the biggest threat is from the animals (assuming the weather stays decent if not as hot and sunny as it is at the moment, but assuming no more freak thunderstorms or, worse still, hail storms as we had a couple of years ago). The bunnies will kill off the vine altogether so we’ve put all the tubes back on to reduce the chances of this.
But errant sheep aside, our biggest threat are the bloody birds. We’ve lost the majority of our crop twice in the last three years or, probably worse still, been forced to pick early i.e. when the sugar levels weren’t right, to avoid losing the whole crop. Now if it were my sugar levels I’d be worried about them being too high with my diabetes and all, but of course that’s not the way of it with the grapes. And a funny thing happened with the bird threat…
We were in the vineyard last weekend, in the hot sunshine and thinking what jolly fine fellows we were and how clever for planting a vineyard in this unlikely spot. Barely a cloud in the sky and the only clouds on our horizon were, is this weather too hot and dry for the willows we planted as windbreaks. The odd leaf is turning brown. Have I read somewhere that this is what trees do when it’s too dry as a way of reducing their need for water? This as opposed to it being a sign they’re dying which is another, more drastic, way of reducing the need for liquid. We found ourselves wishing for some rain which is quite perverse. The other cloud, as I say, is the birds. It’s a great spot for birds of all varieties but we observe each one with suspicion. Is this the bird that eats our grapes because we still don’t know who the culprit/s is/are?
And then that funny thing I mentioned happened – we had a visitor. A guy called Nick with his two children who called in saying he had been hoping to catch me before but we didn’t seem to be there very often. But now he saw our vehicle and stopped by in order, wait for it, to pick my brains about starting a small vineyard of his own. He pointed out where he lived on the other side of the valley. His land is North facing but is more sheltered than ours. I enjoyed recounting all the lessons learned over the five years we had had the vineyard and offered to help in any way we could if he was serious about starting his own vineyard. It was nice to talk to somebody who appeared genuinely interested in what we were trying to do. So all good but not quite the point.
The point was Nick is a gamekeeper. He raises pheasants so people can shoot them, each to his own as they say. He was clear about the need to shoot the bunnies but I pointed out that I was a city boy and didn’t shoot things. He offered to shoot them for me but I wasn’t sure what kind of hypocrite this made me although I have to say (in case any bunnies are reading this) I don’t feel the bunnies have kept to their side of the bargain – you leave me alone (i.e. don’t eat my plants) and I will leave you alone. So shooting them might be on the cards.
But the big problem is ‘our’ birds and here Nick looks like he could be very helpful. For one thing he gave me a definite idea of which bird variety was doing the damage and here’s the thing, I’d never heard of it, true I’m no ornithologist, but I thought I knew the names of the birds even if I couldn’t actually identify any of them. He reckons the culprit was a bird called a Fieldfare. No me either. It’s a bird the size of a thrush with red markings and comes each year, later in the year, from Russia and by the time it gets here it’s starving (couldn’t they bring a packed lunch or something) and wants berries, any berries, ours will do nicely. Nick had some interesting suggestions for scaring them away rather than shooting them which you can’t because, it turns out, they are a protected species – a red, as high as you get, on the colour-coded list. But he had other plans which I will write about later in the year. I think I’ve written enough for now.
Except I’ll just say, it will be interesting to see what happens yield-wise between the pruned and the unpruned vines. Mrs Summerhouse has been de-suckering the pruned vines as per usual so they look all neat and tidy. But the unpruned vines are all over the place, de-suckering is pointless because there’s so much growth that shouldn’t technically be there that a few more suckers aren’t going to make much difference, or so we reason. But both seem to have equally significant numbers of flowers so it will be interesting to see what happens to the crop later in the year. Again watch this space. Who knew running a vineyard in retirement could be so engrossing.