not quite this big

A retirement blog about making wine. I’m sure that if I look back at my vineyard blogs over the last 4 or 5 years at this time of the year, there wouldn’t be much happening. I’d be struggling to find a topic to write about. But not this year simply because when you’ve got wine in the barrels (see right although ours are plastic) under the watchful eye of our wine maker, as we have, then there’s always something to write about which is code for ‘worry about’.

The worries begin, or rather continue, when the winemaker does not return my calls or respond to my emails. Any number of possible explanations come to mind in the middle of the night and none of them good. There’s been a problem with our wine, it’s gone off, and they don’t want to tell us? They’re a bit short of their own wine and so have poured ours into their tanks. Unlikely after last year’s harvest but this is the middle of the night and anything (bad) seems possible. Maybe they just don’t want to make our wine any more but haven’t got round to telling us because they’re busy. There is a grain of truth in this but I’ll come back to that.

When I do eventually make contact, the conversation falls somewhat short of what I was hoping for. He doesn’t have any oak barrels and has no idea where to get them. Strike that as a concept then. Oak shavings it is. He asks me about my plans for sharing our wine with a wider audience. When I tell him he tells me he doesn’t want to know. Then he tells me about making sure all is legal with HMRC, about how we need to get registered and the tax per bottle which I think he said was going to be £3 something a bottle. That might be wrong because I had my fingers in my ears at this point. Hmm, not as much fun as I’d hoped.

This seems to lead to, costs so far, and in the future. The ‘in the future’ bit is vague, he suggests that he didn’t realise I wanted him to bottle, cork, foil and label the wine. I thought I’d said this is what I wanted him to do but I’m quite prepared to believe that, in the excitement of delivering our first ever crop, I forgot to make this clear. Quite possible. Anyway when I say this is what I want he umms and ahhs a bit and tells me that he will probably charge me more than £4 per bottle for this. I don’t know whether this is on top of the work he has already done and I can’t quite pluck up the courage to ask. I simply say send me a bill for what you’ve done so far.

He does suggest that there is no reason why we can’t do all of the above ourselves other than it would be a bit tedious but maybe when the costs are clear, this might seem like a very good idea, however tedious. Mentally, I’m adding up the projected cost in my head as we talk and it’s definitely not seeming like so much fun anymore. Then it gets worse because he starts to talk about the quality of the wine he’s making on our behalf. It doesn’t sound great.

I reflect back to him what I’m hearing like I used to when I was a psychologist. It goes something like – so it’s going to cost me a lot of money and it might be shit. So then I said, when it’s in a state to be judged and I come along to make the judgement, if it is shit then I might as well pour it down the drain, doesn’t make any sense to do anything else. If it’s no good we wouldn’t even want to give it away, let alone sell it for what’s rapidly going over the £10 a bottle to us let alone with the middle person – wine shop and pubs – factored in. The final nail is something about the quality of our grapes and how we will need to feed them every 10 to 14 days, like he does, if we want good quality grapes. Bloody hell, more money and effort. Where’s the fun?

I end the conversation a disillusioned man. Maybe he thinks he has been possibly overly negative because, later that day, he sends me the following text:

“Just tested and tasted your red, you have nothing to worry about, light-bodied, fruit forward, clean and fresh. I’d be happy if it were mine. Come and taste it yourself anytime, let me know when and I’ll make sure I’m on site.”

To say I was relieved would be an understatement. I thanked him for his ‘kindness’. True I didn’t want ‘light’ but you can’t make a silk purse etc. So I’ll settle for all of the above especially after the phone conversation. But this did give me pause for thought about the future. I mentioned in the last vineyard blog that I was trying to decide whether to replant 100 of those vines that had died and had pretty much decided we would. But after this I did wonder whether I wanted to go through this every year, even suppose, and it’s a big suppose, we got similar volumes in future years. My man had already expressed doubt in the above conversation along the lines that they may not want to do it again. Happy days. He told me about another small vineyard owner up this way who had taken his grapes to a well-known Southerly vineyard and been quoted over £4 a bottle to make it. It was this figure that had prompted my man to quote me a £4 figure for making ours.

So after all of the above, I look for solace wherever I can find it, even in the weekend colour supplement. In the wine section which features Cotes de Rhone wines the chap has written.

“French wine is still ruled by hierarchies which effectively boil down to the size of the region a wine can draw its grapes from. The bigger the area the less special.”

Well good news at last because you can’t get much smaller than our modest half acre so it should be very special indeed. When it’s ready we can probably sell it for £30 a bottle. At this rate we may need to. I think the lesson is that if you’re going to have a vineyard you need to remain optimistic. Or insane.

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