Harvest Hiatus #2

As it has been two years since the last proper harvest, I’d forgotten about the little break that we have in the middle of it, and it’s making everything seem a bit weird here. After six months doing battle with the vineyard and having a list of jobs that is never shorter than epic, everything comes to a grinding halt when we aren’t allowed to spray the vines any more and the weeds stop growing. Which in turn makes us feel like we should be doing something useful instead of eyeing up the six months worth of DIY that has been backing up over the growing season. I’m that discombobulated at the moment that I even made the mistake of asking Lucy what I should be doing the other day and she turned to look ominously at the sort of pile of paperwork that one sees on those reality hoarder television shows. Fortunately I was able to run out of the door before she could indicate what she would like me to do with it. I’m currently strimming under the vines in the far field, even though it isn’t absolutely desperate, and cutting the grass down the rows with the mower to ensure easy passage for our pickers. I assume that they will be as appreciative of this as they are unpaid.

This annual break confirms to me that it is high time that we made our lives more troublesome by having more vines planted at the back of what we call South Field, in a lump of land that should accommodate 4 – 5,000 vines. It is sort of north and south west facing, so we should be able to ripen most of the German varieties nicely. And if we picked the right varieties, we should be able to find something that would ripen between between the two existing patches and therefore have a full and rewarding October, filled with good times and chummy picker camaraderie. Either that will happen, or they will all ripen at exactly the same time and our pickers will mutiny because we are working them too hard. I’m all for risking it, but Lucy seems less recklessly optimistic.

The mid harvest break is extra long this year as we took the Siegerrebe off a fortnight ago and decided to keep going through the rest of the German patch after looking at the decidedly soggy weather forecast. This wasn’t such a problem as we were planning to harvest the Bacchus and Schonberger later that week, doing so immediately ensured that it was still clean and free from mould. The Corbinian blend is now fermenting nicely and it should have just about run out of sugar to ferment by the time that you are reading this, ready for it to be removed from the yeast gunge at the bottom of the tank, into another (clean) tank and will be something approximating wine. Exciting, no?

The picking that we have done so far has gone pretty well. We had some local friends over to help us pick the Siegerrebe and we were able to power through that in a couple of hours in mostly dry conditions. Genius that I am, I didn’t decide to pick the rest of the German patch until we had sent them on their way, so I was obliged to pick the balance of it alone. By that time virtually all of the wasps had died from the colder weather or been helped on their way by our insecticide. It wasn’t until I picked a bunch with a hornet attached to it that it occurred to me that I should be paying more attention and that our gut feeling that it was time to pick was probably the right one (hornets appear to be astonishingly good grape eaters). The best bit about picking German patch (which is adjacent to the house) is that I don’t have to look out of the window every five minutes at it to see if the Magpies have turned vegetarian and we can be relaxed about at least part of the vineyard until next season.

What’s left then? We still have to pick all of the grapes in South Field – what appears to have lots of super ripe Pinot Noir and some nicely ripening Chardonnay – and the balance of grapes in West Field – a smallish amount of nicely ripe Pinot Noir/Meunier and Chardonnay on the vines that obstinately remain weak in spite of our rigorous fertilising program this year. Happily, we will be armed with a group of experienced pickers next week for a whole week, so should have the lot off in short order. And, as mother (who is already ensconced here for moral support and planning purposes) can’t seem to accept that we will ever get any grapes off the vines ever again after last year, she has a long list of improvements that need doing around the place while we have a willing workforce. So next time we meet, we’ll either be delighted with our bumper harvest or with our immaculate and improved estate; whatever the case, things are looking good.

Harvest Hiatus

photo [1024x768] 2013-10-01 12.43.06 [1024x768]

Harvest! And how could we possibly find time to publish a blog right in the middle of harvest? When we should be lugging around boxes full of grapes and pouring drinks for our army of workers to keep them just drunk enough to forget that we aren’t paying them? It turns out that we have rather more time than we thought that we might at the moment because a weather system worked its way up from France (where harvest is over for the most part), parked itself over our bit of the country and slowed the ripening process down to an absolute crawl. Fortunately the pickers we had invited over are local, so we were able to talk them into coming the following week, which is now this week*.

*Which is now this morning, as you might have noticed from the photo above.

The absolute best part about all this miserable weather is that there is an underhanded Scandinavian high pressure weather system parked over the north of England at the moment, causing the locals to do some very racy things indeed. Like sit around in beer gardens and barbecue in the garden and other things that people tend to do in summer. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but when we are worrying about the weather here, it is absolutely essential that I can get on the phone to someone in our ancestral seat (Manchester) and listen to them tell me how much worse the weather is there. And if there happens to be a river bursting its banks or a car floating down the road, so much the better. What I absolutely do not need to hear is mother sat in the garden debating the relative merits of an assault on a second ice cold beer. I appreciate that the weather there being awful wouldn’t actually help either of us, and I wish the people long and lazy days sunning themselves in their atypical Indian summer, but if you can’t depend on miserable weather in Manchester, what else can you rely on?

It occurred to me that it’s high time that we went back to weekly blogs last week because I completely missed an opportunity to contradict myself again. We were out walking the vines, looking for the occasional pigeon and were delighted to see that there weren’t any and that the wasn’t a wasp to be seen anywhere either. Other than those that were floating in the traps after being enticed into the traps by discount cider. After bravely sending my mother to the shops for cheap cider a couple of weeks ago (she returned with upmarket cider, probably because she didn’t want to look like a homeless person), I took the plunge and went to the country’s largest retailer and picked up a quantity of truly revolting (and impossibly cheap) cider. I had to do this as the small amount of goodness that remained in the upmarket cider appeared to have caused it to go off, and the remnants were looking decidedly furry.

As the replacement cider has absolutely no goodness in it at all – having tasted it, I very much doubt that it had any apples in either – it appears to be impervious to the ravages of time and has enticed a good crop of wasps to their demise. As well as refreshing the wasp traps, after careful consideration, we had also applied our first treatment of insecticide for a couple of years to make sure that there might be some of the Siegerrebe left come harvest time. I was looking at the last of the wasps struggling in one of the traps and it occurred to me that I was actually starting to feel sorry for the poor little chap. After all, wasn’t he just doing what came naturally when he went around eating our grapes and telling all his mates where to find them? My cross species empathy didn’t extend as far as letting him go, but it had certainly changed my view on wasps.

This hiatus in hostilities lasted for exactly 24 hours, when I noticed that the wasps had started to have a go at our as yet untreated and previously spotless Pinot Noir. By the time that I had finished spraying it, I was well and truly back in the “All wasps must die painfully” camp, but it was fun to have a walk on the wild side, even if was only for one day. I haven’t seen many wasps since then, and the Chardonnay, which is just a little behind the Pinot will have a similar treatment later on this week, so we should hopefully be out of the woods in this regard for another year.

The imminent harvest (we’ll probably be picking while you are reading this) means that it was time for taking on the winery last week. Our instructor told me while we were learning how to make wine that if you don’t like cleaning, you should probably go and find yourself another job as making wine involves quite a lot of cleaning. And how! When you aren’t cleaning the winery itself, you are cleaning hoses, tanks, bottling machines, pumps and sterilising the inside of bottles, it’s absolutely relentless. And the pending harvest means having a go at my favourite job of all: climbing through the door of the white wine tanks sideways to clean the inside of them with a pressure washer.

I’m sure that there are lots of things that the Victorians got wrong, but they were absolutely correct about sending children into inaccessible spaces to clean things. The very instant that either one of our children is sufficiently responsible to be trusted to do it properly, I’m stuffing that child straight into one of these tanks. It’s the worst job imaginable. If you can ignore climbing through the door sideways and the claustrophobia when you are in the thing, there is the utter joy of coordinating sufficiently to blast the water in the relevant place while holding a torch and dodging the splash back. And if you can do all that, one has to remember not to irritate Lucy (who claims to be unable to squeeze through the doors of the tanks) sufficiently for her to lock me in one of them. I still haven’t spent an evening in one, but it’s probably only a matter of time. But just imagine how clean it will be when she lets me out again…