The nadir of the season is now in my rear view mirror and it feels wonderful.
We are occasionally asked – usually by friends and/or family in the middle of summer in the process of assaulting a bottle of our own wine in the garden – whether it is ever not absolutely awesome to own and operate a vineyard. If this happens towards the end of the evening, one tends to reply in the negative, look a little misty eyed and scurry off to the winery for another bottle. At the start of the evening, one is more likely to answer honestly that it is occasionally less than awesome in the middle of winter. This year is different as I’m able to pin down the very moment of ultimate winter misery. It was distinctly non-awesome to own and operate a vineyard on the 29th January at precisely 2PM.
The absolute best thing about having a go at everything on a wine estate* is variety. There are any number of things to have a bash at, one moment you will be climbing into the tractor for a whiz around the vineyard and the next you are attempting to weave a little magic in the winery. This time of year is all about pruning. And after our agronomist worked his own bit of magic on the vines last year and has very nearly all of them performing as they should, there is a lot more of it to do. That and do battle with the plus sized prunings that have become inextricably tangled in the trellising and have developed the nasty habit of vindictively whipping me when I attempt to evict them.
So I was stood in the middle of our larger field, mind wandering and admiring the snow covered and mighty Dartmoor, er, hills? Junior mountains? Whatever, wondering if there was much chance of me talking Lucy into letting me have a day off to go and buy a sledge and attempt to kill myself on it, when I noticed a particularly filthy cabal of clouds sneaking up behind me. The outrageous turncoat of a dog took one look at them, bolted for home and moments later I was pruning in a charming little blizzard that had helpfully arrived hours before clocking off time.
A few more vines and I had started the next row and noticed something wonderful: salvation! Salvation may come in many forms, but I’ll wager that it hasn’t often come in the form of a cut priced speaker that is attached to a wooden post.
The speaker is the ruin of a bird scaring invention from our conceptual period (read: tight fisted) that proved absolutely no use in terms of scaring birds, but is placed about three fifths of the way across the field and indicates that the vineyard worker is on the leeward side of his travails. We still spray the old way here (with a knapsack), so the speaker usually serves as a pick me up to keep the vineyard operative charging up and down the hills. It happens that it is also just the stuff to keep him chopping away and being brutalised by twigs in the eye of the storm. And a timely reminder to call Lucy and get her to stick a bottle of something delicious and alcoholic in the fridge to go with dinner. For the record, my call records indicate that owning and operating a vineyard stopped being non-awesome at precisely 2.33PM.
Three weeks later and the outlook in all senses has improved dramatically. The opportunity to do something other than pruning is so close that one can almost touch it (doubtless I’ll have something else to talk about the next time that we meet), so I’m happy. In both fields, the vast majority of the vines have been beaten into submission, the prunings are piled up at the end of the rows and the vines themselves are looking neat and tidy. And, blessed relief, the days are getting longer, when the sun deigns to show its face, we notice that he is gradually returning to the height of his power and the sap is beginning to rise in the vines (and out of the pruning wounds). And every now and again, just once in a while, I’m strolling out into the fields wearing fewer than three pairs of socks; bless you spring time.