Home Brewed Delusion

Last week we discussed 2018’s rather unusual growing season, from its dramatic and late beginnings, to its rather more benign and sunlit conclusion three weeks early.

2019 has so far had a more formulaic feel to it. Barring a couple of sodden weeks*, it has been an insipid sort of affair in Devon. Winter was neither especially wet, nor especially cold. I can definitely remember there being a period in the middle of February where I was absolutely convinced that the vines were about to start growing as the sap poured out of the pruning wounds and we nervously performed winter, ahem, “winter” pruning in our shirt sleeves; but they remained dormant. This definitely wasn’t the first time that I have thought that this was going to happen, so it’s possible that vines aren’t quite as awkward as I keep insisting that they are to anybody that will listen.

*The “vehicles that have become hopelessly stuck in a soggy field” (VBHSSF) rating (that I have just invented) remains steadfastly at one for the year to date. I’m afraid that this is a much, much lower number than normal, as my reckless and enduring optimism insists that I attempt to take on all but the most waterlogged land, with predictable results.

This may or may not have ramifications for the rest of the year. The farming sooth sayers around here always have some sort of crack pot idea as to what the climatic events of one month/year/decade mean for the next. Purveyors of these home brewed weather prediction methods must make absolutely sure that whoever they are prophesying to is unlikely to have the opportunity – due to the passage of time, or the fact that they are a tourist – to point out that their method of climatic prediction is perhaps less than perfect when the exact opposite of the predicted weather is happening at the allotted time. Then again, spoiling everybody’s fun like that is hardly playing the game anyway, is it?

Needless to say, having a spent a reasonable amount of time with these excellent and hard working chaps has inevitably driven me to develop my own demented method of long term climate prediction. It’s either spending time with them or all the Radon gas around here, one of those things is definitely to blame. Whatever the case, I proudly introduce you to the “There is only so much rain that can possibly fall out of the sky in any given year” method of future rainfall prediction.

Now, the bright ones amongst you will have already noted that clouds are not in possession of calendars. You may have also guessed that I am in receipt of no metrological training whatsoever, and you would be absolutely correct. But, but, but I’m absolutely convinced that dry winters seem to mean wet summers. Admittedly, I am not armed with much in the way of evidence.

Since we planted (that’s in 2007 for reference) we have had a pretty good run of it in terms of summers. It appears that across the historical wine producing world that the improving growing season is something that has been happening for quite some time. The “Good” and “Bad” years in more marginal wine producing regions (read: Burgundy and, to a lesser extent, Bordeaux) have been replaced with varying degrees of “Good” as the warming climate simplifies the ripening process. At the same time, for many areas, this has moved the growing season forwards into frost prone parts of the year – more on this next week.

I digress, all this means that my very excellent method of rainfall prediction is missing a few data points. Okay, a lot of data points. The one glaring one that I do have is the accursed, disgusting and altogether nefarious 2012. We had an exceptionally warm and dry winter in 2012, I distinctly remember attempting to plant a hedgerow around the house (that was at the time looking a little lost in the huge field that it lives in) in the February and the ground was like iron. The plants obviously died immediately in case you were wondering.

Having confidently strode out into the fields in normal, not waterproof clothes through much of the winter, we replaced them with a rotating collection of clothes that were very much waterproof for the better part of the summer. In November, we eventually picked the few grapes that had made it through that year’s sodden flowering and tossed them directly into the bin.

And guess how many cars I managed to get stuck in the field in 2012? None. Not a single one. What does this mean for 2019? Well, with a VBHSSF rating of one, it should be okay, but not stellar. The sun will definitely come out, but it will also rain quite a bit too, you just see if it doesn’t*.

*Top tip for the amateur sooth sayer: when you are stupid enough to put your predictions on the internet and leave them there, ambiguity is key.

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