Having almost forgotten what it is to be cold and wet over the last, well, let’s be honest, year, it came as a big shock (okay, big ish) when it at first turned cold last week and then wet. There was actual frost on the grass and we even saw the sun for a moment or two at the start of the week before it turned wet. On second thoughts, wet is putting too fine a point on it, I have been staggering back into the base camp looking very much like a drowned rat and feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I am then ordered back to my executive shed* to change out of the clothes that are transferring the rain and quite a bit of the vineyard onto the kitchen floor in huge drops of brown goo.
*If you haven’t been with us for long, the executive shed has been flattened by a snow drift, rebuilt, flattened again, and then rebuilt again, properly, by not less than three engineers. We did this while we were supposed to be picking grapes this year (there weren’t an awful lot of grapes).
It is even more disappointing as I have been working in just a couple of layers and navigating the vineyard quite easily until last week. The land was apparently made from something solid and I even noticed that some of the locals had their cows out and about roaming the fields. You might not have noticed that cows usually go to live in sheds in the winter, they do this partly because it is easier to feed them (there is no grass for them to feed themselves) but mostly because they make an incredible amount of mess in wet fields. (We had four escapee cows in one of our fields the winter before last and the gateways are still a mess!) The wet weather appears to have also taken our neighbour by surprise too as I note that the corner of his field around the feeding trough is inexorably turning from green to brown and there are cows slip-sliding all over the place. Half tonne chunks of prime beef fighting over a feed trough makes for extremely amusing viewing.
As it’s cold, that means that it’s time for pruning. It is always uncanny how quickly the feverish activity that comes with harvest (and then wine making) turns into the absolute calm of winter pruning. And generally standing around, wishing that you were brave enough to get close enough to the mud wrestling cows to become a You Tube millionaire. Our peers who are lucky enough to have the sort of employees that you pay in money (as opposed to occasional staff prepared to work for wine and food) are usually extremely keen to jettison this activity at the first available opportunity, usually in favour of spending the winter driving a desk in a warm office, but I absolutely love it.
I’m not entirely sure if this is because of the feeling of satisfaction that one receives from doing a job on the vineyard that, once you have completed it, is actually done for a whole year, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. This is where I am supposed to pretend that I actually dislike cutting the grass and spraying the vines et al over the growing season because we have to do it over and over throughout the summer. Unfortunately for my well reasoned argument, one of the these pursuits is a nice walk in the stunning countryside, albeit attached to a heavyish knapsack sprayer. And the other is literally a drive through the stunning countryside, albeit in a clapped out tractor with a seat that one is obliged to prise one’s self out of, as I have cleverly upholstered it in gaffer tape. No matter, much as I love – you are welcome to remind me how much I love spraying when I am next whining about having to do it six months from now – the other jobs around here, pruning is extra good because it is a one hit wonder.
Once we have dusted down the cold and wet weather gear after it’s summer packed away and sharpened up the secateurs, the next job is usually to digest what happened last year and then make some decisions about your pruning. If the vines are looking super fit and healthy, with lots of shoots that have grown over the top of the trellising, one may wish to leave more buds (and therefore shoots) on the vine if space allows. Conversely, the opposite is true if the vines have been a bit weedy the previous year. Most of our vines fall into the latter category this year, so we are being a little conservative with what we leave on the vines. This will obviously cause them all to grow over the top of the trellising and we will be cursing leaving so few buds on the vines as we wander up and down the rows, chopping the tops off them. But then again,that’s probably better than wandering up and down wondering where all the grapes are.
I’d go on, but one has to save something to write about in the dead of winter. So that’s just about it for another year, enjoy the festive season and Merry Christmas from everyone here (as Lucy is at work, that’s me, two dogs and still, still, two chickens).