Monday, 15 March 2010

Where should you plant your vineyard?

For many people, the reasons for planting in a particular spot are
- it comes with a nice house,
- close to good schools
- a decent pub just down the road.
Other reason - it's in a tourist area and you'll make as much money selling souvenirs in the shop as you do from the vineyard.
But, if you are looking to make world beating ultra fine wine then site selection is imperative, if you are only looking for something that is going to give a consistent crop then you have more choice.
Despite climate change, our charming climate is still marginal for grape growing . For those deniers I would look at the way peoples harvests have crept forward from as late as November to as early as 1st October in the last 20 years.  If you are going for the highest possible quality I would say you have to have all of the following -
Top tips for site selection -
South Facing
Well Drained
Low Altitude
Right Soil

If you don't have all four then you'll always struggle - maybe great ripeness if only you hadn't been hit by frost or lots of vigour but no grapes - there's no prizes for growing leaves unless you're thinking of starting a Dolmades business.

and... beware of consultants who want you to plant and would tell you that you have a great site on the top of a scrap heap, if they can get years of fees trying to cure the problems. There are large plantings out there with three to four year old vines that have grown less than a metre high who employed very expensive advice!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sitting down at the end of the day with a glass of your own wine overlooking your vineyard

Yup - that's one of the most frequent motivations you hear along with "livin the dream". Fine, a great ambition but, are you really sure that's enough -  can you answer these questions -
- Do you like being outside year round in all weathers?
- Are you happy repeating the a task 2000 times?
- Can you stand repeating the same task 2000 times because you got it wrong the first time?
- Are you prepared to work all year for nothing if frost hits your crop?
- How are your back/shoulders/wrists and joints in general?

For me -
- By being outside all year round you see things that you would never otherwise see, changing seasons, animals and birds that come to treat you as part of the landscape.
- Doing a simple task that requires a little thought each time can lull you into a zen like state and you find your mind wandering in the same way that it can when you do along walk.
- A frost or hail storm is part of the risk of planting in a marginal climate and you should draw on your zen like calm developed whilst pruning to overcome the pain.
- Getting that task wrong, no there's no diguising that, it's tough
- As for the physical demands, there is the use it or lose it school. There are instances of rsi but for each of these there are people in their seventies and eighties bounding up rows of vines secateurs in hand fit as a fiddle.

If you do want to do it then plant very little, half an acre could give you 500 bottles in a very good year and even this will require year round attention so that you don't lose a crop to mildew or botrytis. Maybe rent a few vines? It is easy to get absorbed in growing grapes and it can be rewarding but on a larger scale it can be hard work as there's only so much you can mechanise!

So, why should you plant a vineyard? To make money? This continues to be the subject of deabte which, considering people have been doing this with varying amounts of seriousness for around 40 years yyou'd think that the answer would be obvious. I will come back to this when the mood takes me but for now, I think that you should be able to make some sort of living with a hectare or more if the site is right but, the old wine trade adage always comes back to haunt me - if you want to make a small fortune then start with a large one!

What they don't teach you at Plumpton

More and more people are thinking about planting vines in the UK and there are plenty of people who will take your money and give you advice on planting the right types of vine and how they should be sprayed but, I'm not sure that it's easy to find out about what it's actually like doing it day to day, how do you start, how much or little work is needed and what sort of results can you expect and most importantly, will you enjoy it?

We planted a hectare of Chardonnay Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in 2007 and are expecting our first harvest this year although we have been thinking about how to do it on and off since the early 1990's.