A Thunderous Harvest

It’s October. Honestly. Way back in July when we were digging out the jumpers and cursing the holiday makers – who we inevitably hold accountable for any sort of inclement weather during the school holidays – it seemed certain that the excellent start to the growing season would be arrested. In turn, the vines would notice that they are planted at a recklessly northern latitude, start misbehaving and we’d have the devil’s own time keeping the frost off the grapes before picking them. Some time around Christmas. Imagine our delight when this vineyard operative is still leaping out of bed and climbing into our dilapidated pick up in shirt sleeves on the first day of October.

It has been the strangest second half to a growing season that we have ever had. The sun has shone remorselessly, there has been no repeat of July’s hysterical little hurricane (or anything to trouble the wind turbine at all for that matter) and there has been practically no rain at all. I mentioned last time that we met that the grass around the place is slowly yellowing owing to the parched soil – which is irritating the beef farming locals no end, things have moved along since then.

I was in the process of dismantling the elaborate security system on one of the water butts this week to water the equally parched tomatoes – which are apparently still in season in Devon – and noticed that the butts are now empty. It can now only be a matter of time before frantic news stories about hosepipe bans are the order of the day, leading to the mandatory flooding over much of the country, so it’s probably as well that the growing season is just about over. This also means that months of frustration for child number two at not being able to attempt to drown himself under the water butts are also over. He shall once again be able to dive headlong into one of the many puddles that skirt our driveway during much of the off season the very moment that his mother puts him into clean clothing.

I don’t wish to belabour the point, but if you are wondering if this is harming the vines at all, it isn’t. Their ancestors having evolved in the near east, vines take the precaution of putting down some very deep roots indeed, so a spot of dry weather is grist to their mill so to speak. It would appear that this is also true for the Alder that makes up the windbreaks between the patches of vines, but untrue of the willow that lines the driveway, which are looking very peaky indeed.

So what of the grapes? Well, as we are now on the receiving end of a top notch agronomist who has the vines performing as they should, the harvest is looking promising in terms of quantity. The superb growing conditions also means that they should be riper than ever before. We intend to pick the German varieties in the middle of next week, along with some of our Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (for reasons that I’ll explain another time) and have a consignment of family arriving the week after to attend to the mother load in our other vineyard. Which is all very exciting as it means that we shall be able to employ another skill set in the winery and think long and hard about taking the occasional weekend off.

Another consequence of this year’s prematurely ripe grapes is that I noticed some losses to the birds for the first time. Well not exactly the first time, we have lost the occasional exposed grape to the accursed magpies from the always excessively ripe Siegerrebe before, but we have never lost much in the far field. The grapes that have gone have disappeared from the edges of the Pinot Noir patch are the ones that are furthest away from our blue pretend hawk balloon kite thing (we will invest in another next year). That they are missing is a bit of a surprise, but that it’s the Pinot is no surprise at all, as they are sort of aubergine coloured this year, which makes for a striking contrast against the leaves of the vine and a whopping great advertisement for our passing avian chums. Needless to say, this has taken bird scaring to the top of the list of important jobs to attend to over the next couple of weeks.

Our first line of attack was to spend quite a lot of time driving around in the wonky pickup, making lots of noise with its even wonkier exhaust. This might seem a particularly ridiculous method of bird scaring, but it is borrowed from one of the very exclusive places that I worked at during my vine growing education, and it seemed to work okay there.

Problem solved? Not a bit of it! I’m much more paranoid than that. I had noticed that our resident cabal of ravens were bright enough to work out that I was of no threat in my dilapidated machine and were hopping around looking disinterested as I drove by. I’m pretty confident that ravens don’t eat grapes (they hop around confidently pecking the grass for most of the year), but I was worried that they might inform their feathered chums that the coast was essentially clear. If you think that this is paranoid, consider that I was convinced that they were serving as lookouts for the deer that were hammering our young vines just after we planted, and you will understand how mistrustful I have become of ravens after a diet of wall to wall Tolkein during my formative years.

I was busy cutting the grass under the vines with the strimmer the other day, making an enormous racket and thinking “This is all well and good, but I am tired and feel that I could be making much more noise, given the correct equipment”, that it came to me. There was an easy way that I could make much more noise without even standing up!

And lo, birds and people alike across all of Devon ran for cover as our prehistoric tractor rumbled across the fields with an almighty roar amid billowing clouds of blue smoke. In retrospect, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before. The fields can occasionally be a bit dicey in October as the change in season asserts itself and they become a little slippery, but they are absolutely rock hard this year. And the thunderous racket not only shakes the birds from the trees, it acts as a clarion call for Devon’s buzzards, who follow the tractor as the gull follows the trawler, looking for the carcasses of the small furry things that the mower inevitably dispatches. So we now have our own, ready made legion of terrifying birds of prey that are absolutely knocking the unconvincing blue hawk into a cocked hat. Assuming that they don’t go and pick a fight with the balloon, we should be all set.

As an added bonus, the vineyards look great and our familial slaves/pickers shall go home with dry feet this year, so presumably we’ll get away without paying them with anything other than booze again. Wish us luck!

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