Neighbourly Thunder

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It’s now the middle of September, the Siegerrebe is up to a potential alcohol sugar level of about 6%, and the season is in the process of drawing to a close. This can only mean one thing: time to ingratiate ourselves with the neighbours by firing up the thundering bird banger! If you aren’t au fait with bird bangers, they are a box with a length of pipe at one end that is connected to a gas bottle and a battery. The banger’s electronic brain sucks gas from the bottle into the pipe, where it ignites it and fires out a mighty bang.

When we first moved to the land there was a chap who owned the field behind our estate who grew something that was of interest to the birds in about June. His banger started up at sunrise (5 on the dot) and didn’t stop until after we went to bed. He seems to have stopped growing whatever it was, or been shot by one of his neighbours, because we haven’t heard it for a couple of years now. Fortunately, it isn’t action stations around here until September, so the banger doesn’t turn itself on until well after 7, which helps to keep the locals onside and the children in bed until a reasonable hour.

We are actually quite lucky in our little bit of Devon as the only birds that we are likely to have trouble with is the occasional pigeon. And when they aren’t being bullied back into the woods by the magpies, they are being permanently removed from the food chain by one of our many local birds of prey.

This is the polar opposite from the vineyard where we learned to look after vines in Sussex. It had a set of power lines running through it which was extra handy for the Starlings to perch on when they turned up mob handed (with grinding monotony every harvest). Left unattended, they can cause a huge amount of damage to the carefully maintained grapes just when you are about to make some wine out of them.

And it’s not just the paucity of grape eating birds that we are thankful for. Our birds are also the type that one may shoot at if they ever get out of hand, or bright enough to work out that nothing is coming out of the end of the banger (Starlings, on the other hand, are protected). Admittedly this would necessitate Lucy agreeing to let me wander around the estate packing heat like an actual farmer, but if we cross that hurdle, I shan’t be clapped in irons for taking pot shots at pigeons and magpies. And let’s be honest, probably vines too.

Our Gallic cousins on the other side of the Channel have taken a completely different – and alarmingly right wing – view for keeping down the animal damage in their vine growing areas. We first started smelling a rat when we were wandering around the Cotes de Beaune and noticed that there were no fences anywhere, and that the vines were trellised at a height that would be extremely agreeable to rabbits. I enquired about this when we returned home (French wine types generally pretend that they don’t know what you are talking when you start asking awkward questions) and discovered that they have cleverly shot anything that might even think twice about looking at the green parts of a vine. And they have brilliantly solved the bird problem by cutting down all the trees that they might hide in when they are not stealing your grapes. The French are evil geniuses.

It was a sad day for us last week as I tucked away my working shorts for what will probably be the last time this year and dug out a pair of winter weight trousers. It’s appreciably cooler in Devon, and much of the rest of the country according to all media outlets all the time. It’s particularly depressing at the moment as we could really do with a spot of sunshine to finish off ripening the grapes before harvest and keep them clean, dry and disease free. For what it’s worth, the long range weather forecast is excellent, and as the Met Office is apparently officially the second best weather forecaster in the world, we can relax utterly and await an absolutely stunning harvest. On second thoughts, I may keep the shorts handy.

Exactly how well prepared are we for our imminent harvest? We aren’t doing badly. After giving it quite a lot of consideration, I cleverly sent mother to the shops to buy the discount cider for the wasps traps, having first decided that on balance she looks much less like a potential alcoholic who would be refused service from a concerned shop assistant. She returned with half a dozen glass bottles of upmarket cider, claiming that they were better value than the mysterious orange goo that comes in the sort of plastic bottle that one finds strewn all over parks and by bus shelters on Saturday mornings. Whatever the case, the wasps appear to love their better quality cider and are lining up to drown themselves in the traps, and we have also caught several enormous hornets. I understand that it’s an even toss as to whether they will be more likely to eat grapes or wasps, but when one factors in their enormous stinger and malignant appearance, I think that we’d prefer them in the traps.

The next time that we meet, it is entirely likely that the Siegerrebe will be out of the vineyard, smashed to its constituent parts and in a tank fermenting, which is very exciting indeed. And we will have absolutely no problem collecting all those grapes as we have been onto the internet and bought some new amazing picking boxes to replace the ones that we have been using that are now falling apart a bit and have holes big enough for grapes to fall out of the bottom. When I say new, I mean that they have “Property of Woolworths” written on the bottom of them, and when I say that they are amazing, I mean that they are so big that they will probably weigh as much as I do when they are full of grapes. Did I mention that they were cheap? Did I have to?

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