The Perfect Pig

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Pigs! I almost forgot to tell you about our invasion of pigs last month! Long suffering readers will be aware that we had a similar problem with cows a couple of years ago when four huge – and alarmingly mobile – woolly rare breed cows escaped from their field and set up home in ours. The cows were of particular concern as they had a nasty habit of knocking over bits of the trellising, walking through the electric fences with impunity on account of their woolly coats and churning up the land. And the absolute best bit was that when we complained to their owner, he kept popping in to look for them, and claiming not to be able to find the two tonnes of slowish moving beef that was sauntering around the land. You will no doubt be astonished to hear that once one of our more forthright neighbours called and threatened to shoot them, they magically materialised the following day and were recaptured. I’m fairly confident that they have escaped once more and emerged in someone else’s field since then, but since we are apparently the only people around here who aren’t packing more heat than Bruce Willis, I feel sure that the land’s owner will be suitably prepared to take the appropriate action.

I digress. The first that we knew of our porcine invaders was when the dogs ended their ten hour sunbathing session, ran into the vineyard and started barking a lot. Knowing that it takes nothing less than a delivery driver or dinner to move the dogs from their sun worshipping this time of year, I leapt up to investigate. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the dogs having a sort of Mexican stand off with three little pigs amongst the vines while each tried to work out who was going to flinch first and leg it back home. Watching them move forwards and back across the vineyard made quite amusing watching until my fun was spoiled after a good ten minutes when the dogs finally pulled themselves together and chased the pigs back from whence they came.

We had a reasonably good idea of whence they came, as one of our neighbours has had some of her woodland fenced off for the purposes of putting pigs on it. Investigation reveals that the pigs are living in a trailer on a part of her land that is adjacent to our middle field. What’s more, it turns out that they are absolutely charming little critters and we regularly take the children to watch them run around the woodland and attempt to break the gate down to resume their Mexican stand off with the dogs. Looking at the speed that the pigs are growing, I suspect that the balance of power may have shifted a little, but the dogs remain confident as long as the gate remains in place. The only potential fly in the ointment was talking to their owner, who informs me that her pigs go absolutely crazy for soft fruit; which should be fun if they find another way out around harvest time. But then again, I’ll probably have panicked and be wandering around looking like an extra from Apocalypse Now by then, so the grapes should be okay even if I’m a little shell shocked.

And what of the ever expanding grapes? They are still expanding nicely and we are still hopeful that they are going to be ready at the usual time after their slow start. They are now very nearly at what will be their ultimate size (about half the size of an eating grape and almost perfectly round) and the bunches on the red/black varieties that are best exposed to the sun are just about threatening to change colour. The change in colour is called veraison, and it starts happening about six weeks before it’s time to pick the grapes (which is usually about 1st September here, and much earlier pretty much everywhere else in the northern hemisphere). And in a remarkable piece of good fortune, the long suffering family members who tirelessly arrive each year at harvest (and spent last year putting the winery back together and not picking grapes) arrive to do battle again in seven weeks time!

It has been interesting (and an enormous relief) to watch the vines catch up in what can only be described as a proper summer. And not least because our consultant tells me that this is pretty much what happened every year until we planted the vineyard and it started raining relentlessly between the months of April and September. The flowering aside, having a cooler spring and a warmer summer has also saved us having to panic about the vines being clobbered by the frost in spring (because they hadn’t started growing yet) or mildew in the summer (too dry, or at least dry enough for the chemicals to work). So all that we need now is the traditional improvement in the weather the very instant that the children go back to school and we should be all set for a pretty much perfect season.

Adorable Devonian Pinot

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In scenes that were horribly reminiscent of last summer, I was stood in the vineyard attached to a sprayer shaking my fist at the sky and cursing the weather forecasters* for their complete and total ineptitude. It has been about a year since I’ve spent the morning running up and down hills with my sprayer, only to have my efforts wiped out (and the chemicals washed off the vines) by a lot of rain that is supposed to be falling elsewhere. While we aren’t exactly happy that spraying is taking about twice as long as it might (or that those crafty meteorologists keep changing their historical forecasts after the rain has actually started falling in scenes horribly redolent of the Josef Stalin regime), the occasional spot of rain is helping to remind us just how lucky we have been with the weather this year.

*Specifically via the medium of the otherwise excellent, but factually inaccurate Met Office weather application. Fortunately I was stood in the middle of a field with an audience of precisely two dogs and one buzzard, as shouting at your mobile phone for not making the sun stay out isn’t exactly the image that I wish to project to my adoring Devonian public.

Walking to the vineyard through the part of the land that homes the grass that is currently cut to feed our neighbour’s cows, it’s obvious that after its first cut at the end of June it still hasn’t seen much rain. It’s undeniably yellow, as is the rest of the valley. I haven’t bumped into any of the local cattle farmers recently, but I suspect that our delight in the dry weather has correspondingly left them all a little depressed at the lack of grass and therefore winter feed. Presumably they will all be complaining about being poverty stricken at the end of the season. Sound familiar? We, however, are absolutely delighted by the lack of grass: that tractor and mower have only been out for a single tour of duty this year and it’s still perfectly navigable in a pair of sandals. The strimmer also remains fairly idle, and when you consider that we are mostly on the other side of the weed growing season, it doesn’t look like either of them are likely to see much more action until next year.

Amongst the vines it’s the same story. From start to finish the entire flowering period has been wall to wall sunshine, with just a touch of non-threatening fluffy white cloud around the edges. It couldn’t have been better. Particularly given that we spent most of June watching and waiting for the vines to start flowering, absolutely convinced that it would start raining the very moment that they did. And the result is – as far as we can tell – the best fruit set to date. There are small bunches of grapes all over everything, especially on the Pinot Noir whose performance we have been worrying about in South Field, so we should be all set for a bumper(ish) harvest. And given that the wasps remain mostly – we saw our first one at the vineyard yesterday – absent, we might even be able to make something from our sickly and difficult to maintain German varieties for the first time in three years. I know! My cup runneth over; almost certainly with delicate and fruity German style wine.

The Pinot Noir in South Field was of particular concern as it was otherwise entirely healthy and happy, but had the unforgivable habit of not producing many grapes. Having discussed our problem with some people who have the same clone* of Pinot Noir, we were alarmed to hear that they have experienced the same problem, some of them had gone so far as to rip them up and replace them with another type of Pinot Noir. The type that we had chosen has historically been selected by French nursery type people for excellent quality and reasonable yields, and this description has been proven pretty much half right (we have been very happy with the excellent quality of both bunches of grapes from them thus far). Happily it appears that we won’t have to dig them all up after all. So I can stop pretending that we haven’t taken them out thus far for some reason other than that I have literally no idea how to remove a whacking great vine from a field armed with only a spade and a pair of secateurs.

*In case you aren’t already aware, when you buy vines from the nursery you are given a choice of variety (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay etc.) and a clone number. The clones are chosen from vines that have performed well in the past, allowing you to chose vines that crop particularly heavily, are of particularly good quality or ripen early or so on. When they arrive, you are presented with boxes and boxes of genetically identical plants that forget that they are all clones the second that you put them in the ground and (infuriatingly) start behaving completely differently from their neighbours.