Winter on the Park Bench

On the first of November I distinctly recall standing next to our generator store in shirt sleeves. I was applying the third coat of paint to it in as many days in an attempt to cover up the first, which had claimed to be “Park Bench Green” but had in fact turned out to be “You’ll Never Convince Anyone That it’s Supposed to be This Colour Green”. The shocking nature of the lies told by companies on paint tins aside, things were decidedly idyllic. The sun was out, it was at least 20oC and there was the sort of communal good mood going around that can only come when a little piece of summer is chipped off and emerges unexpectedly in the wrong season.

You will imagine our surprise this week when – the children having allowed us eight hours sleep for once – a surprisingly large amount of light was sneaking into the room from around the curtains. As soon as I’d located the suspiciously quiet child number two and convinced him that three bananas was probably sufficient pre-breakfast fayre, I took a look out of the window and our suspicions were confirmed: frost. Actual, proper, chisel your way into the car, turn it on and ignore it for a bit frost. In November. I feel sure that this must have happened here before, but I don’t recall when. It never seems to happen this side of Christmas and probably means something, but I have no idea what. Probably lots of fracking and exciting earthquakes and whatnot if it goes on much longer.

What is absolutely certain is its effect on the vines, and pretty well everything else that had the temerity to hang on to any of its leaves at this time of year: they are now all brown and on the floor. Except the Alder that makes up the windbreaks, that appears to be made of sterner stuff. And that in turn means that we can now be fairly confident that the vines are absolutely, positively, 100% done with this year and are eagerly awaiting a spot of spring. I can’t pretend that I abandoned our slack season projects – burying pipes, making things, tidying up and fires, lots of fires – immediately, but I did assault my trusty secateurs with a whetstone and a can of WD40 and have definite plans to get cracking next week.

As well as irritating Lucy and generally getting myself into trouble, we spent the balance of the quiet period meeting suppliers and getting as much done for the following spring as possible. Having decided that a limited amount of damage by the ubiquitous rabbits over winter (they nibble some of the bark off some of the vines) was preferable to spending forever lifting up vine guards to attend to the vines’ trunks, we decided to go wild and remove the lot last summer. Before running out of time – and let’s be honest, inclination – and spending the next six months tripping over them and obliterating them with the mower.

I have now finished picking them up and am an absolute dab hand at slipping them inside each other and balancing cylinders of them on a wheelbarrow; I’m not entirely sure what use this skill may be going forward, but one never knows. It was also good to get some miles onto the hamstrings because I’m convinced that spring and the ritual abuse of them during bud rubbing will come all too quickly. In fact, the only fly in the ointment was when I spotted the large piles of them neatly stacked around the place, recalled that they filled one quarter of an articulated wagon and noticed that we don’t exactly have a spare outbuilding in which to store them. So if you are reading this and are interested in some well travelled (I have picked most of them out of our hedges at some point) and slightly tatty vine guards for the low price of, um, nothing, do get in touch.

Wine! After a month in the winery, the last of the wines has finally fallen clear, has been parted from its lees and, although they will all be filtered, poked and prodded a bit before bottling, we may now spend some time filling glasses from the tanks’ valves as opposed to measuring cylinders. If you are wondering what sort of alcoholic fermentation takes a month, the answer is none (to the best of my knowledge), we were yet again waiting for the Chardonnay to complete its typically languid malo-lactic fermentation.

This is always a magical and slightly nerve racking time of year, although, with experience, it gets less nerve racking and more magical every year as one is able to get a better idea during the growing season of what is likely to come out of the tank. No matter, once the winemaker has made his decisions and carried them out, there isn’t an awful lot more he can do to his wine without being hauled off in handcuffs, so he must live with them. I don’t know whether it is our increasing experience, our increasingly experienced and loyal workforce, or the sheer, unadulterated awesomeness of the weather this year, but 2014 has been rather less stressful than most.

We were toying with the idea of making an entirely new wine from the German varieties and a limited amount of Pinot Noir this year with no skin contact (it would be white). Making still white wine from Pinot Noir is something that I have always wanted to, but never actually gotten around to doing; and as we are planning on having a bash at fizz in a small way next year, it seemed the logical thing to get some experience doing. And I looked long and hard at all of that perfectly ripe, beautifully sun drenched Pinot Noir and decided that it was much too pretty to turn into white wine and it all became red and rosé.

And looking at my word count, I should probably tell you all about that next week. But the mention of rosé reminds me: fancy a bottle of pink for grown ups? We have just released the final bottling of the 2013s and are offering them to non-blood relatives for the very first time. It will be appearing on the shop page at the start of next week, or, if you’d rather, send us an email and we’ll arrange it all for you. 6 @ £50, 12 @ £95, UK delivery is £5 (singles available on request with delivery at cost).

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