Powering into the Growing Season

Hello again. Isn’t everything looking a bit nicer outside? I have heard legend about the lovely bit of weather that took hold of the country around Easter, but this is our first opportunity to enjoy some sunshine and associated fair weather accoutrements* at home. Why is it our first opportunity to enjoy nice weather at home? Because we cleverly booked ourselves into a house in Spain when that was happening and enjoyed some torrential rain and a bit of low wattage flooding instead. I’m off topic, but for the record, people who live in Spain will tell you that their roads do not need drains, but their roads do need drains; it was a toss up between coming back from the bar on foot or renting a canoe.

*gin and tonic.

We did just get to catch the end of that nice weather in April and were astonished by the way that everything had grown in the week that we were away. There was blossom all over everything, the trees had all sprung into life and the vines had started to look a little less startled and had started to behave a bit more like they are supposed to at the start of the growing season. There were now proper leaves on the shoots, things were starting to progress, which was nice after watching them for the previous month become a frost risk and then sort of slam the anchors on.

Now, I’d be telling fibs if I were to suggest that they haven’t done much since Easter, but as we have discussed previously, cold weather makes for soporific vines. And it has been cold, until this week, I could count on the fingers of one hand how many times that I have been able to stride out into the fields wearing shirt sleeves, the vines have responded accordingly. We have a really sheltered spot in our larger field, at this time of year you can usually actually see the Chardonnay shooting up on a day by day basis, but even they are dragging their feet a bit this year. If history tells us anything, it is that this might or might not have some impact on the quality of the harvest this year.

You know what else has really gotten a wriggle on in this lovely weather? The weeds. This wouldn’t normally have been much of a problem for us, as under normal circumstances we would have climbed aboard the trusty tractor and obliterated them with our slightly less trusty mower; but these are not normal circumstances.

We take care of the weeds directly underneath the vines by spraying them off with weedkiller just before the start of the growing season, and then periodically see them off through the growing season with a strimmer. This is a solution that works reasonably well, the maintenance with the strimmer is pretty quick as the vast majority of the grass is gone and you only have to whip off a few weeds here and there. In the dim and distant past, I had the bright idea of clearing the area up and down the rows with a strimmer too. There is a reason why this is not common practice in vineyards around the world: it is because it is terrible idea. It takes forever because it is roughly analogous to trimming your back garden with a pair of scissors, and equally rewarding.

I’m getting ahead of myself. All those years ago, I found myself in the middle of a growing season armed with a ridiculously inappropriate strimmer because we had initially decided that we were going to keep the rows between the vines clear of grass entirely and had a device that was very much suited to that job, instead of a mower. We had made this decision as our fields are absolutely full of lovely stones. For your average arable farmer stones are not good because they make your carrots wonky and smash up your equipment, but for your vine grower, they can be a big help. Stones and bare earth help to reflect sunlight into the underside of the canopy (where the grapes are), and, if you are blessed with dark coloured stones – as in our case – they can retain the heat from the sun during the day and release it slowly, helping to keep the vines warm overnight.

So far, so good, eh? Correct. Those are all excellent reasons for not having any grass in your vineyard. What the text books don’t tell you is that once the grass is gone there is nothing stopping the rain from collecting the soil from the top of your hill and depositing it at the bottom of your hill and off down the road, if you happen to have some hard standing at the bottom of your hill. As an added bonus, the soil that you have just chopped up with your harrow/cultivator/rotavator is all lovely and soft, which facilitates this great soil exodus nicely.

A couple of goes with the harrow told us that it probably wasn’t going to be a goer, which brought us to repurposing the strimmer – which was arguably even less of a goer – so we bought a mower for the tractor. Now, at this point I had decided that we had wasted quite a lot of time, and let’s be honest, money, on working out how to keep the rows tidy, so we didn’t exactly push the boat out on our new mower.

And, the predictable consequences of that are quite a long story, so we shall cover why buying things that are not of good quality is a bad idea next week. Enjoy the sunshine!

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