With harvest and the fermentations over, the discerning Devonian vineyard owner generally doesn’t give two hoots about the contents of the weather forecast, as the vines are pretty well inured to anything that mother nature can throw at them in the off season. Barring some sort of polar vortex* (at -15oC or so they have the nasty habit of keeling over and dying), they are pretty good at weathering the winter. Which is at least something in the credit column for the world’s sickliest plant. And while a particularly bitter winter has accounted for a vine or two among the intrepid vine growers of the north, the Gulf Stream has prevented anything so beastly happening in our bit of Devon.
*We were delighted to hear the first meteorologically challenged reporter on the news this week insisting that we were in for the most appalling winter, and that said polar vortex was about to unleash hell on the good people of Devon; and everywhere else for that matter. You may take it from me that, given this excitable proclamation of doom, nothing of the sort is about to happen; it’s the predictions of a warm and wet winter that you want to watch out for.
I was therefore somewhat surprised when – after a seemingly endless Indian summer – I was looking at something on my mobile telephone and noticed that the Met Office forecast was covered in pretty colours, indicating that some particularly horrible weather was on the way. And how! As I type, I am safely billeted in the living room, watching the last of the season’s leaves being unceremoniously ripped from the vines and the wind turbine attempting a sort of limbo dance as its pole threatens to bend double.
It is also raining. A lot. The formerly wonderfully dry vineyard that had allowed the easy passage of man and machine alike for pretty well the entire growing season has turned into the sort of quagmire not seen since, well, the end of last winter when bits of the local infrastructure started slipping into the waterways, en route to the English Channel. This was doubly depressing for me as – although I hadn’t dared voice this opinion – I was pretty sure that the land, being so parched during the summer, could take plenty of stick come the winter and would remain navigable throughout. Which goes to show that I don’t know anything about the weather either.
No matter, this was exactly the sort of thing that I was complaining about last winter before we were treated to the best growing season that we have ever had, so probably the exact same thing is going to happen again this year. We have already established my fortune telling ability, so rush out and buy several barbecues immediately.
As well as ensuring an immaculate growing season in 2015, another plus for the surprising change in the weather is that I am once again replacing the posts that were so rudely snapped by the remains of hurricane Gonzalez the other month. You might recall that, after the storm, we were only replacing the posts that were essential to keep the vines upright, on account of the decidedly firm soil (about 25% of the total snapees). If you do recall that, you may also remember that I’d cleverly talked my way into banging the lot in with one of those old fashioned hand banger things instead of shoe-horning a tractor mounted job into the original vineyard budget. You will imagine my utter delight at having the opportunity to knock the balance of the replacements into something a little more yielding.
It’s a strange time of year here when the grapes are picked and the wine is processed because, for the first time in 6 months or so, one can look around and pick something to do, as opposed to charging out at the crack of dawn and attempting to assault everything in one go. Particularly given the winter’s big job – winter pruning – shouldn’t really be attempted before the end of the month** at the earliest, no matter how tempting it is to steal a march on it, get it all done and sit around smugly looking for something else to do in the middle of January.
**The vineyard cognoscenti will have their own opinions on when the correct time to prune your vines is. Many people think that the correct time is as late as possible as doing so can cause the vines to start growing later (when the risk of frost has departed) and can help to prevent disease (as the sap is rising as opposed to falling and, in theory, pushes the baddies from the pruning wounds out of the plant). Until we have our very own legion of well trained pruners, I shall continue to start it in winter and hope to have it finished by the end of winter, but have conceded to prune the most eager vines last, in the hope of slowing them down a little.
The uncomfortable period of indolence – farming appears to have knocked the ability to sit around and do nothing right out of us – lead me to turn my attention to our poor old pick up. I thought that it was about time to give the old girl a spot of pampering as she had decided that, after seven years of uncomplaining service, the turning of the key was less of a demand and more of a suggestion to burst into life, before failing entirely last week. This conveniently happened just after harvest, which is as well, because asking our pickers to man-haul the grapes back from the far vineyard may very well have lead to a full scale mutiny.
My enthusiasm to avoid knocking in posts was so great that, along with a starter motor, it has also had its first service of our ownership, has wiper blades that actually clear the windscreen and Lucy has even cleaned the inside out. Which should dramatically reduce my chances of returning from the fields with Legionnaires disease or something. What a rare treat to look under the bonnet and see shiny new things attached to the decrepit engine and to slide in behind the wheel without being impaled upon a pair of abandoned secateurs and enjoy the refreshing scent of washing powder (the seat covers have even been through the washing machine). And when you consider that the cost of all this was a very reasonable £60 – bringing our total pick up expenditure to, er, £60 – you begin to realise why those chaps in the middle east go around bolting machine guns to them.