Hello again! It has been a long time since we last met, so apologies for that. As to why we haven’t seen each other for a long time, I can definitely remember starting to build a new website at one point, and then the growing season started and everything sort of came over all, um, busy.
You will remember that we had a peculiar sort of spring last year. Winter 2017/18– in Devon at least – had that sort of industrial strength Old Testament feel to it that is becoming customary. It never really seems to get particularly cold any more, which, while it appeals to my burning desire to turn the heating on as little as possible, makes winter pruning a fairly miserable and soggy event. Then, just as our attention was turning towards the annual spring frost panic, we had a couple of enormous dumps of snow that nicely knocked the vines back into dormancy. By the time that the vines were growing, we were well into May and the risk of frost was in the rear view mirror. This allowed us ample opportunity to get on and concentrate on panicking about whether or not the vines would have time to ripen the grapes in the truncated growing season.
These fears were weirdly unfounded. I think that we have discussed before that the vines start growing really early in our part of the world, owing to all the water that surrounds Devon and its proximity to the end of the Gulf Stream. I’m generally convinced that this is good a thing, allowing the vines to steal a march on the year and allowing us to pick the grapes nice and early at the end of summer. This is obviously never the case, but when one stands alone in a field all day, a bit of positive thinking is never a bad idea. In reality, harvest is normally just before winter happens.
What tends to happen is that the vines start to show a bit of leg in early April, or even the end of March – cough, cough, I’m looking at you 2019 – and start to grow. At this point, we are obliged to start taking care of them as the new growth is more than capable of getting itself sick, and of course, frozen.
When the opposite happens, as it did in Spring 2018, for the first time ever, everything is kind of in flux. You know that it is probably for the best as the risk of frost diminishes massively and that the vines will undoubtedly sort themselves out in time for the end of the growing season. There is always that nagging doubt about this whole season turning into another 2012, where you pick the grapes in November, before tossing them all in the bin. We are usually gearing up for the growing season in April, so in 2018 there was also a certain amount of wandering around looking for something to do. Well, something other than snowball fights and snowman construction, obviously.
You will also recall that last summer was an absolute peach. The sort of summer that you remember happening every single year when you were a child, in spite of there being absolutely no metrological evidence for it. Within days, we went from wandering around in a scene from a Christmas card to confidently packing away all of the winter gear and thinking seriously about a pair of shorts. And it didn’t stop there either. There was a seemingly never ending supply of sunshine, barbecues and caravans on the A38 throughout the whole summer and the vines not only caught up, we spent quite a lot of time at the end of the growing season hacking them back.
As well as keeping the vines happy and healthy – they are natives of the near east, so don’t need much in the way of water and don’t much care for the cold – sunshine through the flowering season also means that all those flowers turn into lovely grapes (rain impedes this process). There were absolutely loads of them everywhere! Cue nervous excitement about where we were going to put all the wine and whether or not we should start removing some of those grapes to ensure that the vines would be able to ripen the rest. This is called green harvesting and we will probably cover that this summer, so there is something to, ahem, look forward to.
On account of the cracking summer, we rolled the dice on not removing any grapes and started to notice that, in spite of the late start to the year, strange things were happening. I was wandering around our German patch ‘en famille’ (and ‘en beer’, if I’m being honest) and noticed that the Siegerrebe was looking suspiciously ripe. On closer inspection, a bird had even had a nibble at a couple of grapes. This was very strange indeed, as it was the middle of August, and birds have this nasty habit of only eating grapes that are just about ready for turning into wine.
I rushed off to grab my refractometer – this is a device that does not take batteries but tells you how much sugar there is in your grape juice, apparently by magic – and the Avian Ingestion Method of Sugar Determination was absolutely correct. The grapes were very nearly ready to pick. Fast forward to the first week of October and all of the juice has been crammed into the winery and most of it has been turned into wine. Exciting times, it’s almost as if we live in some sort of non reckless wine making region!
All being well, we will meet again next week to discuss more contemporaneous matters, when vines start growing in the middle of winter. Here’s hoping that the rest of the year is exactly the same as the last year though, eh?