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On the Hunt for Springtime...

Updated: May 8

Having successfully made it one week into this brave new world of non-biblical rainfall, your correspondent emerges heroically from the fields, having failed to bury his pick up in those fields even once. Whether this is a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but this temporary victory over the mud has been very welcome indeed.

As green parts of the vine begin to show themselves again, our faithful vine grower must once again be on the look out for mildew. As a quick reminder, the reason that growers of Vitis vinifera (vines for wines that you might actually want to drink) are so agitated by downy and powdery mildews is that they were imported by our ancestors to Europe on American vines that are a sort of cousin to them. The problem with this is that Vitis vinifera has not evolved along with mildew, and, as a result, is somewhat defenceless in the face of it. We must therefore get out in front of this disease problem and apply sprays to prevent it damaging our precious vines.

Many years ago, we used to spray the vines with a knapsack sprayer right through the season. As the vines and canopy grow through the year, this goes from being a nice walk, applying a small amount of product to the small shoots, to a fairly marathon slog up and down either side of the rows. At this point, the coverage of the spray from the exhausted man and his little rucksack isn't really as good as it should be, in spite of his best efforts. It also takes a long time. We therefore switched to the sort of sprayer that is so massive that one must pull it around with a tractor.

Somewhat predictably, we have gotten very comfortable using this sprayer over the years, enjoying the view of hill from the comfort of the cab of the tractor. You might already have worked out where this is going, but it occurred to me – with unalloyed horror – that, given all the rainfall we have had, that I would have no choice but to spray the vines with a knapsack sprayer, as driving over the not yet properly drained soil with a tractor would do it no good at all.

I shall be completely honest here, I actually enjoyed the process. It's really nice and reassuring to have a good look at the vines while you wander past them, and there never really seems to be enough time in the day to just go out and exist alongside them. As an added bonus, a glass of something cold at the close of play is rarely more delicious than after a day doing battle with the hills.

Spraying by hand has another huge bonus: it massively reduces the amount of product that you need to apply to the plant at this time in their development, and it really helps you to direct that product where it needs to be, and away from where it doesn't. At the risk of inducing a collective eye roll, we really do like to have as light a footprint on the land as possible. There are obviously pragmatic reasons at play here too, sprays are expensive, but we want to be able to leave the land in the best possible condition for whoever takes it on from us. If it doesn't kill you first, the land you tend has this way of making its way under your skin. It's sort of like a massive family member at this point, so we like to take care of it.

Which is a long sort of way of explaining why I have invested in some new trail running shoes and shall be marching around with my knapsack until it is no longer practicable – which is probably towards the end of May, weather permitting. Well, it better had permit, we are owed some dry weather.

Weird sort of post script this week, and I'm only putting it in so I can come back here in the future and make absolutely sure that it wasn't some sort of fever dream.

We adopted a Beagle puppy a little over a year ago. He is a lovely little chap who is the single most disobedient thing that has ever walked the face of the earth. I'm told that this is a fairly common thing with Beagles, but I'm certain that they wouldn't have made it this far if they were all as obstinate as little Apollo.

Our dogs have always had a fairly free run around here, and the five we have had over the years have enjoyed investigating the vineyard and surrounding area to a lesser or greater degree. They aren't quite like cats, but country dogs do like to go and find their own food, we have had a couple of veracious eaters of mice and a stunning collector of rabbits in the past.

I assumed that Apollo had himself turned hunter when I wandered out into the field a few weeks back and noticed that he had custody of something that appeared to be very precious to him. Knowing better than to simply ask for him to hand it over and be totally ignored, I swapped a treat for his complete and unopened tin of sardines. On closer inspection, I noticed that this tin had been buried at some point and was three

years out of date.

This was odd enough, but he has now returned home with at least 12 full tins of years old sardines. All the same brand, all very much out of date.

I did wonder if he has discovered the doomsday apocalypse cupboard for the world's least inspired chef, but I'd be interested if anybody has felt the need to bury sardines and would like to suggest an alternative use of well aged sardines?

On the Hunt for Springtime

Tinned sardines in the vineyard

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