UK vineyards have not enjoyed this summer any more than we have. Incessant rain is not what you need to ripen grapes. The foliage copes well – in fact it goes berserk – but grapes need more sun.
Barbara and I came home from France just as her vineyard partner Cherry was going away after a summer fighting their rampant vine growth. Had she not won that battle they'd have a vineyard resembling the Matto Grosso – probably with Cherry trapped in the middle!
We went for a look as soon as we got home. Bit of a shock contrast with our Bordeaux vineyards where all the grapes are now black (even though the season is very, very late.) In South Oxfordshire the grapes are all still bright green. Very worrying. Last year though, was worse. Last year they got no crop at all. Tiny green berries that could hardly be called grapes.
This year the Chardonnay bunches look like they might ripen … if the sun comes out and stays for an Indian Summer. But the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier don't not look they are going to ripen even under ideal conditions.
So that means that after three years production at Wyfold, the ladies will have had one good year, one total write-off and (with luck) one year of less than half a crop.
So you see it’s a tough life being a wine producer. The hours of work put in! Repeated passes up and down all 47 long rows; to prune, to tie down, to de-bud, to remove suckers, to weed, to tuck-in, to trim, to rotovate, to spray, to net ( see previous diary entries ) ... It’s never-ending. And then at the end … maybe nothing! You have to be mad. Or just in love with the plants, the fresh air, the working with nature's most special of plants.
OK, so it’s no kind of way to run a business but I admit I do see why they do it. And why I – after a lifetime in wine spent avoiding the hard work in the vines – now do my bit. And why a whole bunch of Laithwaites staff turn up once a month, after work, to put in a couple of hours before dark in return only for hot soup, a couple of sausages/chicken legs, salad, cheese, chocolate and a glass of wine or so!
But standing around the fire (of vine cuttings) as the light fades chomping a hot sausage and admiring our now neat rows, it does feel worthwhile.
We ARE indeed mad. But quite happy.
If we are also lucky the Chardonnay will be picked end October. And if miracles still happen the pinots will be in November. But I think this may be a Blanc de Blanc vintage.