Under normal circumstances I would probably have posted this blog on Friday. This in line with my new policy of only writing one main blog on a Tuesday. This one under the new normal would not have qualified for a Tuesday. But then these are not normal times. As I suggested in my last blog, since we got back from the Scottish trip (in itself not normal), we have been rushed off of our aging feet. This last week has merely taken it up a notch or two and solely to do with vineyard matters.
In one way this last week represents our biggest achievement vineyard-wise in the five years it has been planted. We have just picked our first proper harvest. We have had little harvests in the past but only what the birds left us and then not ripe, so results were not only small but poor quality as well. Low quality and low quantity I think that about covers the as-bad-as-it-can-get category of vineyard owning.
Of course we’ve a long way to go before we can sit back with a bottle or two of our own wine and think this is good, and we made it. And it wouldn’t be true because we are not making it. We are paying a professional wine-maker to produce our wine, bottle it, label it, cork it (if it is cork and not screw top) etc. But that’s not the point, even though you might think it is. Lots of top wine is made by professional (used to be called ‘flying wine makers’ as I recall) wine-makers who have nothing to do with the production of the grapes.
That’s what we’ve done for the first time this year. We’ve produced enough grapes, and in good enough condition, to merit taking our grapes to a wine-maker (Yorkshire Heart vineyard as you ask). Of course I’d like to say we’re immensely proud of our efforts in getting the grapes this far, that is delivered to said wine-maker last Thursday (see below). Truth is of course we’ve pretty much let nature take its course and she has smiled on us by dishing up the hottest summer since 1976. Without her I doubt we’d be in this healthy position.
True we did our bit by eventually netting the whole half acre / 500 vines (less those that gave up and expired or were eaten by the rabbits). Even this contribution was effective in quite a different way to that we had planned. Obviously the plan was the keep the birds off the grapes. In that we were partially successful except for the pheasants. Ironic that the chap who gave us so much help with the picking, Nick the gamekeeper*, should have such a strong connection with the one bird that did get under / through / past the netting although he assured us they weren’t his birds and helpfully shot a few of them as a lesson pour les autres. We were away so we didn’t know anything about this carnage until we got back. Can I still claim not to have the blood of, the not so innocent, on my hands?
The irony of the netting was that, while it did not keep the birds out at least not all types (it did we were told keep out the starlings which we think have done most of the damage in previous years), it reportedly did protect them against Storm Ali which hit the vineyard very hard, indeed to the point that a person could not stand up in the wind. Our son-in-law, the one who did such sterling work helping with the picking, reckoned the grapes would have been severely damaged without the netting. So somebody up there likes us, this year at least. At least so far this year. Much could go wrong in the making part of the process although I have tried to reduce the chances of this happening by not making it myself. First good crop for five years and maybe another five years and I didn’t want to bugger it up as we vineyard owners say.
And talking of ironical happenings you might remember that I wrote about only pruning a small portion (about a quarter maybe) of the vineyard in the manner in which it should be pruned (much importance given to the process) and left the rest to grow wild. We called it experimental although in truth it was laziness at worst or having other priorities at best. So the irony is, as perhaps you can see from the photo right, the unpruned ones did much better than the pruned ones. I’m not quite sure what this tells us for the future – never prune just let ‘em go wild, only prune every two years? I don’t know. Like many other things we will make the decision when we have to, not before.
There were so many grapes by our standards that is that they took us twice as long to pick than I had calculated, i.e. two days rather than one with four of us picking most of the time. Consequently by the time we arrived at the wine-maker late in the second day, I for one was completely knackered. Which is why I probably didn’t listen as closely as I should have to what the wine-maker was telling me. She said she would send me the details in an email (which I haven’t got yet) so then I completely switched off but I think she said we had enough Rondo (the red) grapes to make 500 litres of wine and enough Solaris (the white) to make 100 litres. It doesn’t sound a lot by professional standards but, for us, it felt like a big victory. She said the grapes would make a lovely wine, I remember that.
The Solaris we had caught just at the right time (some luck involved but also some careful measurement) to get the balance between acid and sugar and the Rondo was just short of what I would have liked sugar content-wise but I made an executive decision that they weren’t going to get any better and, that while we might have gained a little sugar, we would have lost acidity which would have been a bad thing. I wonder if we picked a week early having panicked with the forecast of further bad weather to come but then I suppose all growers feel the same way. Do they?
I haven’t allowed myself to think about what we’re actually going to do with about 800 bottles of wine. That felt like it would be tempting fate, perhaps still does, but we’re going to have to give it some thought. We’ve had a few offers, pub and wine-shop to sell it, so that might be what we do but while a clever strategist would be planning for this point in the process, we’re just heaved a sigh of relief and forgotten about it other than buying another plastic barrel. We need to think about oak barrels soon but not yet, not yet. That will do for now but keep reading for the wine-making adventures.
*Who also came up trumps in providing many more containers to transport the grapes given that I had laughably underestimated how many grapes we had so double thanks.