Diary - a Year in the Life of Our Vineyard

This is the unfolding story of one year in our vineyards, a year in which we struggled with the weather amongst the established vines and planted a new vineyard too. Read what we got up to and join the fun......



Harvest - the end of the year - 03/11/2011

We started the last pick of harvest early, at first light on a mid-October Monday morning. The golden fingers of an autumn dawn were webbed with mist, brushing bronze and blush-rose tints across the vineyard.

‘It’s beautiful,’ breathed one well seasoned picker. And it was. The mist lifted; sunshine filled the vineyard. The fruit gleamed where we had removed the leaves to let it ripen fully. No sound beyond birdsong, the gentle rustle of vine leaves and the grass-muffled trudge of pickers.



The anxious season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness - 04/10/2011

I am never quite sure if September is the last month of summer or the first of autumn.

Whichever it is, the first of September marks a turning point. We go into countdown mode. Instead of looking forwards into the time ahead, as we do for the rest of the growing season, we switch and look backwards. Backwards from the future that is.

On the first of September we begin to plan harvest. A harvest that will be between 6 and 8 weeks away depending on the summer weather, the long-range forecast and our nerves.



Grapes like Frozen Peas - 03/08/2011

If I had a least favourite month in the vineyard it would be August. It’s the month of determined, repetitive work. Tucking the vines up, tucking them up again, trimming the tops, removing the side shoots and tucking up, trimming and round and round again.

We spend a lot of time on canopy management, pulling the long new canes back into manicured hedge-like shape. Each cane wants to grow sideways or out into the alleys; we want them perfectly vertical, leaves exposed to maximum sunlight, not too densely packed.



Raindancing and Fruitset - 11/06/2011

We ended May with divided loyalties. A seemingly endless succession of sun-drenched perfect days meant a glorious start to the season for the established vines and a truly testing one for the new ones.

My ever-lurking obsession with weather developed to new levels of tragic geekiness. Websites and animated forecasts were checked obsessively for even the slightest hint of rain; even Sci-Fi movies featuring implausibly extreme weather became enthralling.

My name is Jonica: I am a weather junkie.



The Darling buds of May - 02/05/2011

The darling buds of May are fading fast – after all, they were all out and in full flower in April thanks to this endless-sunny-days-of-childhood spring.

Now, mid-May, the vines are three weeks ahead. I’m already beginning to work on harvest plans. Careful forecasting and organisation is needed to get the right people at the right time and enough of them to make picking tons of grapes by hand a pleasure not a punishment.

There’s plenty of time for growth to slow: a cool, wet month (like August last year) will put a break on ripening and harvest dates can shift back. And plenty of time for things still to go wrong.



Planting vines at Lake street - 05/04/2011

Yesterday we planted 5,600 vines before lunch. Yup! Just like that…

Of course, we’d been months in the planning and preparation. Our vines were chosen last autumn, careful attention paid to selecting clones of the various Pinots (Noir, Gris and Meunier) before picking those that best suit our soils, aspect and microclimates and to give some complexity to the eventual wines.

These get grafted onto rootstocks that protect the vines from phylloxera – the evil aphid that wiped out so many European vineyards a century-and-a-half ago.



Time and tempo accelerate - 03/03/2011

If February is all linear progression – vine by vine, row by row, snip by snip until the pruning is done – then March is distinctly random, a hither-thither pattern of catch-up and sit-waiting with more work done outside the vineyard than in it.

March is the gap between finishing pruning, completing tying-down and the emergence of new shoots in April.

March is evenings spent with the past year’s diaries looking at the key tasks across the coming growing season, text books and academic tracts on sustainable viticulture, thinking about cost control and crop quality, adjusting budgets, filling in the VAT return, doing the company accounts, thinking of names and labels, logos and legislation, planning the new plantings, repairing trellis and replacing rotting end pots.



Cold feet and neoprene - 10/02/2011

I never thought I would find neoprene that interesting. But after nearly six weeks of standing on cold, slimy clay pruning vines: what can I tell you… Neoprene is close to my heart. Gone are the days when my feet got so cold I ceased to believe they existed. Warm feet and a secure grip on the soil beneath them are both great aids to happiness when faced by long rows of vines, each in need of a good cut back to balance this year’s growth when it comes.

Winter vines show their individuality. Their strengths and weaknesses are laid bare by the absence of leaves and by the relative strength of trunks, last year’s canes, and older wood. Some is tucked up between the foliage wires and some tied down on the fruiting wires – a seemingly mad tangle that is at odds with memories of last summer’s manicured canopies and glowing fruit.



Setting The Scene - 13/01/2011

We decided to plant a vineyard on a summer’s day in 2003.

Gerard and I were in the daisy-dusted meadow on the south-facing slope below our High Weald home. We were admiring the rich carpet of butter-cups, moon-daisies and sneezeweed (prettier than it sounds) waving gently amongst the grasses. The rams had gone, victims of foot-and-mouth precautions, and the land was idle.

I was idle. This displeased my husband.

With a gentle smile, he suggested that a vineyard would be a good idea. Good use of the land; an enjoyable job for me.