Thursday, 10 June 2010

Organics - Doing the right thing.

I sometimes wonder whether non interventionist organic agriculture is a ruse from the big oil companies to encourage consumption.
You can use one spray of one litre of glyphosate weed killer and go off and find something better to do or, you can invest in kilometres of plastic mulch, buy a gas weed burner and mow ten times a year using gallons of diesel pumping loads of Co2 into the atmosphere. It's the same with plant sprays - you can go through your vineyard burning up gas every day with compost teas and biodynamic treatments but one single spray of a chemical like CBZ will do the job.
How organic can we be when oil gets too expensive or runs out? The amount of work that you can acheive in spraying, mowing, trimming and general transport of heavy stuff with one small tractor is amazing and you really appreciate the back breaking toil that agricultural workers had to go through. Trust me, I've shovelled enough shit to know what it must have been like!
I rejoice that we have the choice in how we manage land but can't help feeling that taking the completely "natural" way is actually a luxury in that you have a lot of spare money to invest in labour and the risk that you can lose a whole years crop without going bust.
Rightly or wrongly we have taken a middle route where sometimes you just have to spray to avoid days if not weeks of work but, there is also huge biodiversity in the vineyard. Ladybirds are eating aphids, grasses are suppressing nettles in the rows, foxes are keeping the rabbits down and if you remove a single thing from the whole chain then you immediately get something else predominating. We have just put down bait for mice because they are killing some of the vines... now waiting to see what will have lost it's predator.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

When I'm 64

This picture is of what was once Pilton Manor Vineyard. It is now planted with an orchard so maybe it has reverted to its true self. The wine they made was truly excellent and there has been a lot of talk in the UK wine business about why so many of the vineyards planted in the 70's and 80's are no longer around. What with all the new plantings I suppose people are questioning whether they will last.The first thing to say is all credit to those pioneers who were really experimenting in a brave new world with varietals and trellising methods. The reality was that for many of them the vineyard was a retirement hobby and the produce only had to reach a basic quality level. They were also told that only obscure German varietals would work and that anything else was a waste of time. Funnily enough, I was also told this by a self proclaimed English Wine expert in the early 1990's.
Once they became too old quality often wasn't sufficiently good to make it worthwhile anybody else taking it over. Todays self proclaimed experts are really quite snooty about these people now that they feel they're part of a real proper wine region but, the old guard gained a  lot of satisfaction and made many of the mistakes that we now routinely avoid. Their wines were often searingly acid and packed with sulphur but, I bet some of these 15-20 years later are suprisingly good.
When we planted, we had the view that possibly our only measure of success would be in 20-30 years time would it still be here and would somebody want to buy it or take it over. You don't hear about Clos Vougeot or Stags Leap being grubbed up for lack of interest when somebody retires! Our aim is to make really full on no compromise great wine, well, you have to have a goal. It may not happen very often if at all, it may not be universally recognised and it most certainly won't make us a fortune but it will be viable.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Ice in the Veins

2009 is looking good so far with the vines catching up after a slow start from the cold winter. We are hearing that a lot of people were hit by frost which will set them back with a smaller crop. The sap in new buds feezes and it kills them. Secondary buds will grow but they are never as good. This has affected good as well as bad sites and it reminds you that some years you may just have to accept that the climate is against you and you aren't going to get a crop despite all your work. Luckily here we never went below 2 degrees but mentally some years you have to be prepared to lose everything.The next step for us is getting our antiquated sprayer running. You have to complete training courses to use it which sounds a bit nanny state until the practicalities set in of getting the right dose for 3200 vines and not killing your self overturning a third of a ton of liquid in a tank on the back of a tractor.