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.