Hurricane Irony

What goes “I don’t know what you are talking about mother, I see absolutely no evidence of hurricane Bertha here” and then spends all week picking up entire rows of vines that have been knocked over by the aforementioned storm? Well, er, me. (This also partially explains the unacceptably large gap between this and the last missive from the viticultural front line). And it was all going so well until the elements turned up and started making work for us. The weather was mostly good – well good enough, we’d like it a little hotter, but one takes what one can get when the children are summer holidaying – the weeds and the grass had started to relax after their excesses in June and July and the vines were just about ready to stop growing and start getting down to the important task of ripening their delicious grapey offspring.

Being sort of reverse omnipotent, I hold myself entirely responsible for this turn of events. Had the conversation with mother gone something along the lines of “I’m really worried about this storm, I doubt that anything will be upright when it passes”, it would doubtless have passed with nary a snapped post. We have had some pretty lively stuff pass through before – notably in the “Barbecue summer” of 2009 (ho ho ho) and the equally appalling summer of 2012 – but our not at all excellent wooden posts were not in their current parlous state then.

At this point you will doubtless be thinking “Aren’t you quite a new vineyard, did you buy second hand posts, you irrepressible cheapskate?”. Sadly this isn’t the case, and what’s more, I detect the distinct whiff of a marketing racket. When we were looking to source our posts, we had the choice of using wood or metal. I had seen little metal posts (3′ high or so) in Burgundy before and thought that they weren’t particularly aesthetically pleasing, and just before we ordered had a look at some 6′ metal posts that are used for English style trellising (which is borrowed from New Zealand). While I’m sure that they are just the trick for some folks – folks who want trellising that doesn’t immediately fall to pieces – I personally think that they have an air of Soviet style architecture about them and didn’t want to spend the next, er, as long as it takes Lucy to see sense and kick me out, looking at them. So it had to be wood.

The chap that we bought the land from has been farming for longer than I have been alive, so we went to canvass his opinion and he immediately started darkly muttering about how posts are now entirely rubbish and that they were much better when television was in black in white. I asked around and discovered that this is because that blue stuff that they treat them with isn’t full of arsenic and other equally appalling goodies any more. But how bad could they be? Answer: very, very bad. By the time that I had finished clobbering the last ones into the ground, the first ones had already assumed a sinister grey colour after spending just a few months in the rain. I still needed to buy some (slightly thicker) end posts, so went and bought them somewhere else, same result. You might recall that we came up with the brilliant scheme of painting the bottom of the replacement posts, the jury is still out on that solution, but I’m not holding my breath.

But what’s this? New and incredible posts that are guaranteed to last for 15 years and only cost twice the price of the other snappy ones! A less cynical man wouldn’t suggest that whoever makes that blue gloop that they treat wood with has been deliberately producing ineffective gloop so that they can manufacture a market for their premier league gloop. If you think this is unlikely, I politely draw your attention to everything that you have ever owned that mysteriously stopped working the very moment that the warranty ran out.

Okay, less whine, more wine. At the end of last week’s drama, we cracked open a bottle of rosé last weekend and were absolutely delighted with the result. I’ll confess that we, okay I, couldn’t resist having a go at it much too early and found it a little flat, but in common with every other bottle of wine that we have ever made, leaving it for the appropriate period of time seems to have done the trick. It’s now back to its glorious strawberries and cream best. We’ll be arranging some labels in the next week or so and we will be able to finally get the world’s most hard won bottle of wine (see previous entries for ad nauseam generator woe) onto the market. You’ve been warned.

I’m currently writing this wearing a dressing gown under the watchful eye of a pair of soaking wet trousers, but it hasn’t rained at all today. This can only mean one thing: we have mechanised the water supply and now have proper water pressure and a limitless supply of water like normal people. Unfortunately the limitless supply of water has a couple of small leaks, so I’ll tell you all about that when I have attended to the leaks and have developed a sense of humour about it, let’s say about this time next week?

Climate Change Peculiarities

At the end of the strangest July that I can remember, things aren’t quite calming down yet, but we can certainly see the merest suggestion of light at the end of the tunnel. And why has this been a peculiar July? Take a look out of the window, marvel at the sunshine, check that you aren’t in fact holidaying in southern Europe, and give thanks for not having to stand around for hours waiting to collect your much abused luggage to enjoy such magnificent weather. I appreciate that by the time that you read this you will probably be hiding from the appalling storms that will doubtless have been ushered in by the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, but since we last met it has been wall to wall al fresco dining, shirt sleeve order and muttered complaints from over heating workers.

Exactly what are the wages of all this decent weather? In spite of the fact that we are often encouraged by people to rush out and buy a car with the sort of fuel economy that would make a Texan blush, climate change’s predicted hotter summers do have both good and bad implications for the vines. But let’s be honest, mostly good.

As we are at about the frozen northern limit of wine making country, a cooler summer makes ripening our grapes somewhat difficult – they came out of our wine press in 2012 and went directly into the bin. Having an atypically warm summer means that everything happens a little earlier in the year, which should mean that ripening happens earlier when the weather is warmer and drier. As well as encouraging some interesting flavours in the wine and softening the acidity of the juice (which makes the wine making easier, more on this in October), it also means a more hostile environment for the dreaded botrytis.

If you are reading this and thinking “I don’t know what botrytis is, tell me what you have exploded this week”, I put it to you that you do know what botrytis is and that I’m fresh out of Laurel and Hardy anecdotes*. Botrytis is that furry stuff that you find on your strawberries when there is a bruised one in the bottom of the packet after the container has apparently been used as the ball in a game of store room football by the helpful staff at your local supermarket. Botrytis generally lives on dead things (like your long suffering strawberries), but when the weather is conducive (cool and damp), it can make the leap to parasite and live on your lovely bunches of unpicked grapes. As it is invariably warmer and usually drier earlier in the season, there is a much lower chance of botrytis affecting your crop and spoiling your wine.

*Don’t fret, over the next couple of weeks we will be attempting to automate the borehole pump, without the assistance of a professional, so that we may have water on demand like normal people. As a result, I expect that our next installment will contain little other than me kicking things and swearing at inanimate objects.

As I type in the living room, there is a veritable cottage industry taking place in the kitchen. My mother – who is an absolute saint – is down to help with the children over the summer holidays (they even close the pre-school in summer) and has made the gargantuan mistake of asking if we need help with anything. I indicated a large collection of empty plastic bottles that we have been saving in the kitchen and asked if she would like to turn them into dozens of wasp traps. And that is the first of the problems that has been caused by the clement summer.

I mostly hold myself responsible for the onset of wasps (feel free to forward abuse over the usual channels). One moment, I was sermonising about how it was literally impossible for a single wasp to have survived that horrible, horrible winter – they don’t overwinter well in monsoons – the next, one of the little bundles of fun was droning its way past my head. After some investigation, it appears that having made a slow start, they are now gathering strength and numbers due to the bumper harvest caused by our cracking summer. And if you weren’t here last summer, you perhaps won’t know that wasps are about as bad as it can get on a vineyard that has thin skinned German varieties in it.

I don’t know much about the olfactory system of a wasp, but I suspect that they are rather better at sniffing out perfectly ripe Bacchus grapes than your average human being. If you were to take the opportunity to wander around our German patch at the end of September, you will first notice from the tropical fruit flavours emanating from the vines that the grapes are ripe and then that there are wasps everywhere. This year, we are attempting to mitigate the problem by getting on the front foot and trapping them before they start eating grapes. Which with luck should mean that we don’t have to spray any insecticides at all, as these also wipe out the good guys who eat the thrips and mites. Whatever the case, I shall have no option other than doing the walk of shame to the local discounter for a quantity of cut priced cider in due course (cider is a brilliant wasp attractant), so I expect my standing in the community to plummet still further by the end of the week.

Weirdly, the lack of rain and super humid heat has ushered in a new problem for us this year: Rotbrenner. This is strange because the fungal problems tend to happen in wetter years (as with botrytis), so when we saw something peculiar on the Bacchus (which is the gift that just keeps on giving), it was met with a certain amount of head scratching. In common with everyone else, we are obliged to spray for the usual grape vine suspects – downy and powdery mildew – but Rotbrenner was fairly new to us. We consulted the text books and the internet and there wasn’t too much information about it, then had a panicky call to the expert who supplies our chemicals and he came back mostly blank too.

I strode out into the fields for a good stare at the affected vines, took another look on the internet, and confirmed that the product that the Germans use to kill Rotbrenner isn’t approved for use in the UK with the aforementioned expert. Having imposed myself outrageously on his time and goodwill, between us we came up with a cocktail to assault it with that should do the trick, wish us luck.

And the last problem is perhaps the most obvious. I’m finishing off the tucking in at the moment and am obliged to replace the occasional wonky post as I do so, guess how much fun manually banging posts into iron hard land is. No fun at all. I expect to look like the Incredible Hulk by the time that I have finished.