Happy New Year!

Happy new year! Can you still do that in April? Let’s pretend that you can, which is just as well, as WordPress is telling me that it has been a whole year since I published one of these missives. Sorry about that, I promise to try harder.

Remember way back when we were all much younger and the world seemed a relatively sane place and we weren’t doing cold wars and that? You know, 2015? Well, as the contents of the increasingly shrill news output changes apace, things have changed quite a bit here too. In 2015, we had been making a reasonable amount of still wine that was finding its way into the homes of our loyal customers, and things were ticking along fairly well. We would have liked to have produced a lot more wine from our still fairly unenthusiastic vines – long suffering readers will be well aware that vines with not a lot of grapes on take almost as much looking after as those that have lots – but we were still managing to almost completely wet the bottom of our enormous tanks. By this point I had expected to have had the wine producers of Burgundy on their knees, financially crippled because we had stolen all of their customers; or at least to have them clubbing together to fund a bit of corporate espionage to steal our superior winemaking tactics, but one can’t have everything.

Never people to miss the wood for the trees – well, we generally find it after a certain amount of argument – we decided that something probably had to change. Enter our third (well, fourth, if you count me trying to work out which way up to hold a soil sample report as one) agronomist at the start of 2017.

I know that I covered this in detail the last time that we met, but in a nutshell he was fairly alarmed at the acidity of one of the fields, and none too happy at the level in the other field. This necessitated borrowing a spreader as correcting the acidity in particular would take tonnes and tonnes of lime. We eventually got the prescribed dose onto the land and hoped for the best. We had tried changing up a few things in the soil in the past with varying degrees of success, but had never worried particularly about the soil pH, as it was (just) within tolerance on the reports we had back from the, er, soil boffin dudes.

Fast forward six months and we are hauling tonne after tonne of grapes back into the winery and apologising to our committed (but thankfully also, familial) pickers for working them like dogs on their “Holiday”. Only joking! Right at the start of harvest, somebody told me that some enterprising/shameless chap has managed to convince high flying executives that they need to go and pick grapes to help them de-stress. Wandering around telling our volunteers that they are high achievers and that they should really be paying me to pick my grapes for me undoubtedly affected my work rate, but I imagine that it improved morale and overall output no end.

So 2017 was an unqualified success, incorporating wall to wall sunshine and lots of top quality outside time steeped in gin and tonic? Not so fast.

You might or might not have spotted some of the news coverage last spring about the appalling late frost that was clobbering much of the vine growing regions this side of Europe. There was absolute carnage as tender vine shoots were frozen to death all the way down at the Rhone valley and Switzerland. At some point, some enterprising reporter remembered that we also have vineyards, and that they probably get clobbered by frost too. Cue blanket coverage of some really horrible stories from around the country of people having their years ruined by frost. It’d be nice if they took notice when things aren’t all falling apart, but you take what you can get I suppose.

I digress, well, I digress a bit. The morning of the really naughty frost, your correspondent leapt out of bed at about eight and noted that we have managed to dodge another bout of frost for the most part; we had lost the shoots off maybe a couple of dozen vines. Now, if you are thinking that having a medium sized lie in when there is potentially disastrous weather about shows wild indifference, I put it you that you haven’t spent all day spraying a field full of vines, in receipt of a promise from the weather forecasters that it isn’t going to rain, only for that spray to be immediately washed off those vines and onto the ground by rain that definitely isn’t coming often enough. One learns to stop fretting about what one can’t change in this business, or one risks an early grave. Or one gets better at picking lottery numbers and pays somebody else to worry about it, or something like that.

After touching base with a couple of fellow growers, and expressing as much sympathy as possible, I was wandering around the vines and received a phone call from somebody at Radio Devon. They were doing a piece about a local grower who had had his vines clobbered by the frost and wanted somebody else to go onto their show and pour a bit more misery on their piece about frost. The enthusiastic producer told me that this was a great opportunity to get our name out there to the listeners. Presumably assuming that both of them were paying attention at the time.

If you have ever wondered if there is enough budget in local news for their over worked producers to make two phone calls to nail their story, wonder no longer. I was immediately invited on to have a chat the following morning. I’ll be completely honest, it didn’t immediately lead to the phone ringing off the hook with people demanding wine from our frost resistant vines – and I’m almost certain that the chap who was presenting the program wasn’t listening to a word I said – but it did lead to a kind offer from a friend to give me some media training, which was really interesting. So if the media does cover our little industry again, I shall be on hand, remembering to crowbar our brand name into the conversation and not disgracing myself. Well, probably not disgracing myself.

Since I’m in clear and present danger of overstaying my welcome, I’ll stop rambling. The rest of the year was a bit of a strange one. After the frost, the weather improved dramatically, it was hot throughout May and most of June, the vines absolutely powered ahead and were flowering in record time. Cue celebrations and predictions of an absolutely cracking early harvest, about the same time as the one in Bordeaux, with much sitting around and doing nothing in September.

Remember all of those hours we all spent sat in the garden, tending a barbecue last summer? No? Me either. July and August were pretty much a complete wash out, and it was absolute murder keeping the disease at bay as we counted our blessings for the early start to the season. September behaved itself and we managed to get the fruit off the vines perhaps a week early. But I’m getting ahead of myself, the harvest in the hurricane comes next week.

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