70th birthday present

So much has happened since my last vineyard blog it’s hard to know where to begin this one. I think I will start with one of my 70th birthday presents. It is a lovely little book bought by number one son. He bought it on-line from OZ, him not the book. The book itself was expensive enough and the postage more so, whether this was because of distance or more likely that he wanted me to have it actually on my birthday, a concept I confess I didn’t think he was familiar with, I really don’t know. One reason the book, second-hand, was expensive I’m guessing is because it’s rare which doesn’t speak well for the continuing relevance of the topic. The book is long out of print, even its publication date is obscure, somewhere around 1970 I think. Whatever it hasn’t stayed in print as it is now only available from ABE books or similar.

And the topic / title? – The Diary of an English Vineyard by Alan Rook (as above). I didn’t even know such a book existed so the boy did very well to find it. It’s a diary over three years of the progress of a vineyard in Lincolnshire. There are constant references to it being the most Northerly vineyard in Great Britain (far from that now of course, even if it still existed which sadly it doesn’t having, it seems, as far as my research can determine, to have disappeared in the late seventies) and the difficulties of trying to plant vines, get grapes to ripen and make wine. It was called Scragglethorpe Manor Vineyard and its wine was Lincoln Imperial (I guess the name gives away its era and its owner’s leanings as does his frequent reference to his butler and his gardening staff). But a lovely and nostalgic little book nonetheless.

There’s quite a bit in the book about trying to protect the grapes from the birds and a lot about the weather, so plus ca meme chose as the French say and they should know where wine is concerned. His solution was to get ‘his staff’ to net the vineyard. It was not 100% successful and he writes about him and his butler trying to drive the blackbirds out from under the netting by walking down the rows shouting at the birds. He could not work out how they got in in the first place. Which brings me bang up to date with a development in our vineyard – netting. An approach to grape protection I never thought to have experience of again.

We tried netting a part of the vineyard a couple of years ago and just didn’t like it. To the point of taking it off and using it along the stock fence as wind-protection, that other hazard up North, along with rabbits and sheep. So many challenges for our vineyard. So I’m amazed I’ve bought another, about 2,000 sq ft, of the stuff. You might remember in my last blog I wrote about my new best friend, a gamekeeper from the other side of the dale who wants to emulate my feat of making, sorry that should be losing, certain amounts of money from setting up a vineyard. At first he seemed to be in favour of gas guns as the way to go bird-scaring wise. I wasn’t keen, it did not feel eco-friendly, or neighbourly and Mille, our Collie, hates bangs (although we’d only set the gun when we were not there), so I’ve been hesitating.

Then he sent me the phone number of a company in Scotland – Game and Country – that sold netting for what seems like a lot less money than the last, much smaller, amount I bought. Anyway I bought their largest size – 82 x 82 somethings. It was only after I’d ordered and paid for it I realised I had no idea what size I’d bought. Turns out to be feet and I thought we’d gone metric, just as well we haven’t as 82 centimetres or 82 metres, neither would have been suitable. Perhaps Scotland hasn’t gone metric yet? All I have to do now is work out how to get nearly 2,000 sq ft of netting over the vines*. Watch this space or rather that space.

And why am I going to such trouble and expense to protect our crop? For the simple reason that we have one and it’s looking very impressive and if I don’t make wine this year then maybe I never will. And that, so far, sceptics take note, is both pruned and unpruned vines, I really can’t see a difference at this stage between the two sets of vines grape-wise although one set has a lot more leaves and one of the big questions of grape-growing is do you want grapes or leaves, the clear message being you can’t have both.

And back to the topic of netting, I had occasion to read an old copy of The Grapepress, the house magazine of the UKVA, as was, now renamed Wine GB, and which I have just re-joined having accidentally let my membership lapse. There’s an article in it about the efficacy of various forms of bird protection and, while netting comes out the top, at 44% effectiveness, it’s not exactly guaranteed. So re-reading this and with me waking in the middle of the night after dreaming about getting all that netting over 8 feet tall poles, I’m wondering, not for the first time, why I’m doing this as a hobby, wouldn’t basket-weaving or the like have been a lot easier?

And cheaper I would think. Having paid for the netting and delivery, paid to re-join Wine GB, signed up for Jancis Robinson’s website at £85 per annum, bought a new, second hand book entitled Wine Science, recommended to me by Sean, more of whom in a later blog, (£240 new according to Amazon and that cannot be correct and ‘only’ £42 second-hand), paid Brian, my own version of a butler, for various jobs around the vineyard – new stone path, redesigning wire attachments which look much better, mowing etc. etc. I’m more than proving that old cliché about how to make a small fortune from having a vineyard – start with a big one. How I smile when I think of my chosen retirement activities, not a one of them without some form of stress.

*Many more developments in this area more of which in next blog.

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