After the glorious wall to wall sunshine, open windows and al fresco dining that we were enjoying when we last met, the weather is currently vacillating from the sublime to the ridiculous; often on the same day. One moment, we will be marching through the vineyard in the aforementioned unbroken sunshine, surrounded by more birds, bees, dogs and rabbits than Snow White had for company at the height of her powers. The next, we are running for cover from the torrential rain that has just been blown in by gale force wind, leaving only a lone black bird digging in the garden looking for worms. In fact, that’s not entirely true, at the time of writing, there is also a woodpecker out in the rain, hammering its head into the ground outside the kitchen window, but I think that it may have gone insane or something, so probably that doesn’t count.
And exactly why is summer on hold for the moment? It’s just possible that we are responsible. Not in the general way that our most local farmer insists that we are responsible, specifically that we have broken summer in Devon in perpetuity for having the temerity and stupidity to plant anything racier than a heard of cows in our fields. I think that the weather turned when our new sprayer was delivered and I attempted to spray the vines with our new super brilliant fertiliser cocktail for the first time. Fortunately the collection of weather boffins who have just announced that it is going to rain for the next ten years should help to rectify the situation any moment and we can expect, ahem, barbecue summers for at least the next ten years.
As the vines have finally started to motor, we are now moving towards the time of year that we really need some settled weather as we are about a fortnight away from when they are due to start flowering. If you weren’t with us this time last year, flowering happened at about the same time as our friends at the other end of the valley were frantically attempting to prevent the River Teign from making its way into their house, and all the rain washed the pollen from the flowers onto the ground before they could become grapes. Depending on your point of view, this was in many ways a blessing as the few bunches of grapes that did make it through spent the rest of the season being rained on, were picked in November and made a very small amount of revolting wine (which we then threw away). So at least we didn’t have to go around wasting our time spraying lots of grapes that weren’t going to make anything other than extremely sour wine. I suppose that small victories are still victories, no?
We finally had to give in and cut the vineyards last week. That short sentence doesn’t really do justice to the fun that we had making the mower work after its 6 months living in its container over winter. I had a quick whiz around the driveway and non vineyardy bits of land with the mower as they were the most needful of its attentions. Having had a couple of years off mowing (Lucy has been doing it, but now spends her weekends juggling children instead), I also thought that it would be a good idea to have a go somewhere that you can’t run into anything (read: posts, vines, dogs, children etc.). I was highly delighted that I had retained the ability to drive the tractor in roughly the intended direction, but less impressed with the mower, which wouldn’t cut any grass. Which sort of defeated the point.
This meant that it was time to take my life into my own hands and have a look underneath the mower again. The mower is attached to the back of the tractor and it is possible to prop it up at a height of about two feet, which is just enough to crawl under and investigate its inner workings. The time spent under it is usually fraught (the mower is very heavy and the tractor very old) and this was a special case as we couldn’t work out what the problem was. No matter how much I hit it with our largest spanner and swore at it, it did not seem to make the slightest difference. I looked at our puny strimmer, and then at the enormous field behind it, then back at the puny strimmer, considering using that instead of the mower. Then decided that it was time for us to break the glass and use our Get Out of Jail Free card; namely calling someone who knows how tractors work and beg him for assistance. Do you know how long it takes for someone who knows what he is doing to fix your mower? Not even long enough to have a coffee. It turns out that our problems lay on the top part of the mower – specifically the bit that stops the tractor rattling the mower to pieces. And by simply over tightening the bolts that hold that bit together, one may make the mower cut grass! So the vineyards changed from yellow to green overnight and are looking as lovely as they are easy to navigate. And I expect them to continue looking lovely until the mower rattles itself to death (one piece missing so far). It’s almost as if buying the cheapest one available is in some ways a bad idea.