refractometer

Right now I’m not sure which is the most annoying, the birds eating our grapes or the problems we’ve had trying to get the bloody netting over the crop to keep them off. I confess there have been times these last two weeks when I’ve been tempted to say go ahead, eat the bloody grapes (see photo at end of blog). That’s how difficult it’s been getting the netting on.

We did our best to make it easier by putting a plastic plant pot on the top of each post so it doesn’t snag, attaching a rope to the tops of the posts to make sliding the net more achievable, cutting some poles down a bit and chopping off the canes so the netting wouldn’t catch on them. Sounds pretty good when I write it like that, I mean that’s a lot of preparation, how difficult could it be after all that? Answer – extremely. The netting caught on every possible protrusion including the posts, the canes and the vines themselves. Throw in buttons, watch straps, belt buckles, ears, nose, well you get the idea. It took four and a half (Mrs Summerhouse is not very tall) of us to move it slowly forward a few inches at a time not helped by the net being eight foot up in the air. We could have done with thirty (tall) people, one for each row, and I suspect it would still have been a highly irritating task.

And when we got to the other side, what do you know, it was too small. My inadequate measuring I suppose either that or we’ve been short-changed on the netting size. Probably the first. So I had to buy (and wait for it to arrive with a nervous eye on the ripening grapes) another, this time 64 x 64 feet, piece. And we still didn’t have enough. So we ended up taking the netting off the fence that we had recycled as a windbreak and trying to reuse it as netting. Now I know netting is supposed to be full of holes but these pieces had holes in the holes. We did the best we could but it looks a total mess, more like a set for a pirate play with netting draped around for atmosphere than a well-organised vineyard. Terrible. Laugh? I nearly went to Bradford and we still hadn’t got enough. We ended up buying two more rolls from a garden centre (not the cheapest place to buy from but accessible). We haven’t put these bits on yet but I have no doubt we still won’t have enough.

My new friend, not so new now, the gamekeeper donated, as well as his labour and encouragement, a roll of what I would call chicken netting, it remains to be seen whether we are desperate enough to use this and make the vineyard even more of a visual eyesore than it is at the moment. Ask me when we’ve used the garden centre version.

So all this time and effort, is it worth it, as one deeply unconvinced friend asked me yesterday? Then again he thinks I’m making some serious errors in how we’re living our retirement lives anyway*. Just at this point it’s probably not worth it, but getting these grapes to the point where ‘we’ can make some decent wine has become an obsession. True, if I’d known just how challenging, is that the word, putting the netting on was going to be, maybe I would have sat in the vineyard with a shotgun (not that I own one) all through the night and every night, instead of fighting with the nets.

On the more positive side, for the first time this season I dug out my refractometer (see above), the bit of kit that makes me feel like a professional vintner even if I’m not, and measured the grapes’ sugar levels. A tad apprehensively in that, as I’ve written elsewhere, we’re off to Scotland in just over a week and a half and we don’t want them ripening while we’re away. This goes double for son-in-law as he’s the lucky guy who will have responsibility for picking and delivering the grapes to our winemaker if we’re not here. I need not have worried, at least not yet. The grapes I tested were still around the 11/12 mark and we need somewhere about 18 / 20 on the BRIX scale before we need to pick. Still, another hot spell and we could be in a spot of trouble and, given all the effort we’re putting into netting. Now that would be ironic. Although that won’t be the word that’s used. But it is an exciting moment when you start to monitor the increasing sugar levels.

Something additional this year I was told by our winemaker to do is to measure the acidity levels. So I’ve been trying to buy on-line a PH meter. Not quite as simple as it sounds as there are lots of different ones and a wide range of prices and I don’t want to spend more money than I have to after the outlay on the netting. I’m going to try our local wine-making shop when he opens after the Bank Holiday.

And something else happened that I think will be in the positive column. You know that old saying about buses? Sure you do. None come and then two come along at the same time. Well, there are no buses up the dale where we are but, as a substitute for this, we’ve had the vineyard for five years with very little to no interest being shown in it locally. Then Nick, our gamekeeper, comes along says he wants to plant vines and a couple of weeks ago, knock me down with a feather, we get a phone call and then a visit from a couple just further down the dale saying they’ve got this land and, well you can guess the rest. So, for a short while, I am a hero to the locals. This might be something of an exaggeration but you can imagine it felt quite nice. Needless to say there’s a bit of a downside to this new-found fame, isn’t there always, namely it increases the pressure to produce some wine. Of course, God or whoever, likes to balance things out so see my post-script below.

*When I told him we were worrying about things he told me I was just like his mother always finding something to worry about. Not so heroic and you could safely say I was not flattered by the comparison.

Nice arty shot of grapes from son-in-law

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