The View from the Lane

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The view from the window is currently pretty much perfect. There is an ocean of blue overhead, the vines are verdant and gorgeous, the grass cut and the dog has been driven from her usual vigil watching rabbits on the driveway to the relative shelter of a plastic climbing frame by the fierce summer heat. I can’t pretend that it has been like this right through the period since we last met, but the weather has mostly been behaving itself through the end of flowering and we can now settle into the period when the vines are able to shrug off a bit of rain without too much trouble. Not that the weather forecasters haven’t had us on our toes with regular promises of rain that never arrived. No matter, we are now checking the forecast for barbecue suitability like normal people, as opposed to looking for signs of impending doom, which is a huge relief.

 And the weather is a real treat at this time of year, as the legion of caravans that arrive as the schools close usually bring some absolutely filthy weather with them. And the added heat means that the vines have not only made it through flowering, but were well on the way to producing grapes in extra quick time this year. I’ll stop short of the industry’s annual “This is going to be the best year ever, rush out and buy all of our wine immediately” proclaimation, but we are reasonably confident of taking some decent fruit off in three months or so. There are obviously still bits of caravan and broken cars vomiting steam strewn over much of Devon and the traffic jams are nothing short of epic, but one can’t have everything.

 A large present arrived for us from Devon’s congested roads last week. I had just posted the last blog and was field bound putting some wonky trellising to rights in the rain. Rather a lot of rain had emerged from a deceitful blue sky that had caused me to rashly wander out in a not at all waterproof outfit and, feeling quite sorry for myself, I was in the process of adopting the visage of a drowned rat. Imagine my surprise and delight when Lucy called to inform me that a wagon had arrived complete with a consignment of lovely clear glass bottles, and presumably much of the flora of South Devon as he smashed his way through little our little lane.

 I know that I have probably, okay certainly, mentioned this ad nauseam, but this was no mean feat. Not for months has a wagon driver been bold enough to navigate his unit up our lane, and it is particularly hazardous at the moment on account of the better part of a season’s growth and some industrial weather to blow it here, there and everywhere. But mostly into the lane. I was particularly surprised as our farming friend – who brings large things to the vineyard – had just finished cutting the grass on our spare land and collected it for his cows and I had taken the opportunity to put him on notice to receive this consignment while he was doing it. I had also instructed our supplier to send them to his farm.

 Quick as a flash, Lucy ran out of the house with the intention of demanding that he leave his consignment and entertain no notions of taking it anywhere else. But we were doing him a disservice as not only had he visited us some years before, he had also remembered that we owned a vineyard and taken it upon himself to divert the delivery from the farm to us. And when you also consider that he was even good enough to partially dismantle the enormous pile of bottles to squeeze them under our door that is fractionally too low and help Lucy put them in the corner of the winery with his little fork truck thing, you will realise that this man’s efforts were nothing short of legendary. My only complaint of Lucy’s stoicism was that she neglected to take his name and address so that I might demand his services each and every time that we have anything larger than a box of corks delivered ever again.

 Delight was poured on delight when I remembered that we had a new consignment of familial inmates arriving 48 hours later that I might coerce into doing a spot of bottling. And lo, at very nearly the crack of dawn we were marching out to fire up the new and improved generator with it’s new special control box. Fingers crossed, we plugged the pump in, turned it on and very nearly fell over when it burst into life without bursting into flames.

Once everything was sterilised and ready to go, we filtered the rosé through some increasingly fine filters and are happy with the result. Eventually. It took five hours to encourage it through the finest filter, and three for us to work out that we could be actually bottling it at the same time, as opposed to just standing around and looking at it. I shall be petitioning the key holder to the bank account for an earth filter (which uses a special type of, er, earth to filter your wine through some plates; sounds delicious, no?) before this time next year, as I shall never get back those three hours stood staring at a hose full of wine.

 We haven’t opened one yet, but the wine looks incredible. There should be an image at the top of this page if I am sufficiently organised. If not, think of some wine in a clear bottle that is sort of pink rose coloured. And tempting as it may be, we won’t be making the mistake of cracking one open for a couple of weeks yet, as it takes them that long to get over the indignity of filtering and sulphur correction (this is called bottle shock) and they taste appalling in the intervening period before returning to their original state. Needless to say, I never really believe anything until I have fallen into the trap at least twice, but working out how you are going to explain what you have done to your previously lovely wine to your wife and adoring public over a bottle of horrible wine is absolutely no fun at all.

The Inclement Courier

20140704_112420 (Copy) 20140704_113252 (Copy)Hmm, so what happened to all that immaculate weather then? Wandering around the vineyard in the waterproof gear that I had spent most of the morning looking for made the previous week’s balmy paradise seem like the fading memory of a summer holiday. We were braving the weather so we could take a closer look at the vines and hope that their flowers weren’t yet exposed to the elements. I don’t wish to labour the point, but to sum up, the puny flowers of a grape vine stay closed until their petals fall off at about this time of year, at which point they do their thing and turn into tiny little grapes. When this happens, lots of rain tosses a largish spanner into the works, washing the magical pollen off onto the floor and preventing them from fulfilling their biological destiny of becoming the plump and delicious grapes that we nick to turn into wine in October.

After a good talking to, the vines decided that discretion was the better part of valour and (other than a few obstinate pioneers) elected to hang onto their petals and ride out the storm. We now have a couple of decent days in the forecast, followed by a little more rain. We are hopeful that they are going to play ball this week, all flower at exactly the same time and be well on the way to becoming grapes before the rain sets in. And if you take a look out of the window, you will no doubt see a squadron of pigs flying past the window. Either way, I was delighted to see that some of our more enthusiastic flowers have already managed to make it through this process in the rain this morning, so perhaps not all hope* is lost if the weather reasserts itself at an inopportune moment.

*In all seriousness the vines do tend to find a way (the flowers are able to pollinate themselves after all) and produce a smaller amount of fruit in even the worst of years. Unfortunately, in 2012 the weather continued to assert itself for the entire ripening period, so both of the bunches of grapes that we picked were of more use as artillery than for making wine. Nevertheless, I shall continue to retain the right to stand around shaking my fist at every single drop of rain that has the temerity to drop between now and, um, let’s say October.

So, what delights does the vineyard hold, other than a fairly rigorous spraying regime at this time of year? Well, my hamstrings are telling me that the bud rubbing is done, so that means that it’s time for tucking in! And do you know what is more fun than tucking in? Absolutely nothing!

At about this time of year the vines are mid way through their growing period and are starting to slow down after some frantic action in June. They will continue to grow until about the end of August in ever decreasing increments as they turn their attentions to ripening grapes and stockpiling goodness in their roots for winter. The weekend’s wind and rain means that their are shoots all over the place, just about anywhere other than in the trellising where they belong. Until now, this has necessitated manhandling the shoots into the trellising one at a time, but not so this year.

Since taking our new agronomist on to get the vines functioning properly, the weaker spots around the place have to started to even out, so the vines on each row now have shoots that are roughly the same length. This in turn allows us to move the wires that hold the shoots in place into position (from the ground up), and pull the floppy shoots into place all in one go. This makes the whole job a lot quicker and infinitely more rewarding. Particularly as we may now add tidy, verdant and healthy to our vines’ growing list of positive adjectives. As an added bonus, Lucy and the children are in great shape too, as I am regularly dragging them over to see just how tidy everything is over there and demanding compliments. In fact, the only fly in the ointment is that I’m now obliged to spray either side of each row – which at 16 miles for the big field is a pretty decent work out – but on the plus side, I like eating. With one hand he giveth, with the other he taketh away, no?

This week I have also spent rather a lot of time on the phone directing couriers to our land and chatting up the local farmer. Although it may sound like I am exploring alternative lifestyle choices, it actually means that we have corks and (delightful colourless) bottles on route, for it is time to bottle the rosé (at last)! Lost couriers are fairly standard – apparently different drivers from the same company treat the location of our place as a closely guarded secret – but the horror of getting palletised bottles to the winery is an appalling annual event. The problem is that the lane that we live on is somewhat inaccessible and only the most determined of drivers will attempt to navigate it, so we have them delivered to a neighbour, who lives on a less ridiculous road, who puts them on the back of a trailer and tows them up with his tractor.

Watching a top heavy pallet of bottles of 7 plus feet dangling from the forks of an aged tractor is not for the faint hearted. But then again, I suppose that it could be one of us at the wheel, which would inevitably result in a 100% bottle attrition rate and a smashed up winery. And it is nowhere near as alarming as watching him juggle a (very) expensive grape press on those same forks on the way up to the winery, so we should probably get on and count our blessings.