End Of Season Alchemy

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The view from the window is a fairly forlorn one of twiggy vines, just clinging to their last few leaves, leaden skies and squidgy fields that were still behaving themselves not two weeks ago. My nemesis pheasant that I had been chasing around is pecking around at something in the field, but I’m still happily tapping away at my laptop because there are no longer any grapes for him steal from the vines, so we have formed an uneasy friendship on the proviso that he makes himself scarce in time for harvest 2015.

Once we had attended to harvest 2014 in the vineyard, it was time to turn the grapes that hadn’t disappeared into our resident pheasant into wine. We had initially thought that we would have a bash at picking the German varieties first along with the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier* in this field to make something white and interesting. Unfortunately, the rotbrenner that we had some trouble with about half way through the growing season had taken its toll on the Bacchus (which makes up the better part of the German planting) and there wasn’t much fruit on it that we were willing to take off, which put paid to those plans. Fortunately, I have recorded the idea here, so when we are absolutely swamped with Bacchus next year (the vines are in perfect health otherwise), we will know exactly what to do with it.

*If extra fruity German varieties and two of the Champagne triumvirate appear to be strange bedfellows, you’d be 100% right. However I have the idea that the classy acidity and guts of Pinot Noir in particular should help turn the slightly two dimensional German chaps into something considerably better than its constituent parts. Well, that’s the theory, in practice, we will ferment them individually and do lots of sampling with as many people as possible; which is one job that it’s relatively easy to find a workforce for.

So first up this year was the exceedingly ripe and plentiful Pinot Noir that I had been paying very close attention to for the month before we picked. Having a whole lot of grapes was obviously a very welcome development, particularly when it was Pinot Noir, which is an incredibly versatile grape. I can remember vividly last year standing at the top of a ladder, tipping crushed Pinot Noir goo** into one of the red wine tanks, flipping a metaphorical coin and deciding to turn it all into rosé, as there was hardly enough to make red too. Not so this year.

**Okay, so goo probably doesn’t sound quite as romantic as it is supposed to, but it serves a purpose. When one tips in tact grapes into our archaic crusher/de-stemmer, they are smashed to pieces and the stems whiz out of the end of the contraption while the skins, pulp and pips drop out of the bottom. If you prefer, when you see goo, mentally substitute it for fruit based porridge.

This year I was stood at the top of the ladders, tipping the billionth bucket of Pinot Noir/Meunier goo into a tank, trying to decide whether we could do with more rosé or red wine this year. What a difference a year (and an agronomist) makes. I was also thinking that we should probably have worked one of those clever pumps that moves the goo from the crusher/de-stemmer into the tank all by itself into the winery budget as I was on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless, the red wine tank was as full as it had ever been (which is quite, but not completely full, as it is enormous), there was very little goo on the floor and we were contentedly nursing a beer and enjoying the company of our pickers/winery hands/slaves at the end of day two.

It was as well that we finished picking at the end of day two as the third day brought some utterly old testament style rain with it – which isn’t conducive for picking as it can affect the quality of your juice and will definitely affect the morale of your pickers. So we all had a day off, allowing our pickers to spend some time exploring the interior places of Devon and me to repeatedly drag Lucy into the winery and point out how full one of our family red wine tanks was this year.

Refreshed, we assaulted the Chardonnay. The Chardonnay had performed less well than the Pinot Noir this year in terms of grapes (the vines themselves are looking very well, so we are hopeful for next year), so we fairly motored through. Right up to the last five rows that confusingly had about 100kg of grapes each attached to them, which slowed us all down a bit. Well, when I say us, I mean everyone else, as I was busy berating the other 35 rows of Chardonnay for not pulling its finger out and working as hard as the other, genetically identical vines that are planted in the exact same field.

Once the Chardonnay was crushed and pressed, the free run rosé removed from the big tank after 24 hours (it looks absolutely gorgeous) and with everything fermenting nicely, it was once again time to turn our attention to infrastructure projects! Which is always the most entertaining part of the week as we get to watch a gaggle of engineers (our pickers are horribly overqualified) argue about how best to build the things that we save up for this time every year.

You may recall that we had a disaster at the start of season when the winery generator exploded on account of its being out in the rain in a canopy that was not quite waterproof enough (and a saga lasting literally months as I attempted to install a new bit on it without the relevant expertise). Well, we decided to make a charming little bus shelter type thing on the side of the winery for it to live in – apparently a tarpaulin weighed down by a dead battery isn’t exactly the thing for the discerning wine estate owner. It is now erected, has been battered by a largish storm and is still standing resolute. Once we had similarly waterproofed the tractor’s rusty little container and rebuilt the chicken coop – probably escapologist chickens to follow next spring – the week was over, and we waved our astonishingly loyal workers off once more with a distinct feeling of a job well done…

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