And they're off!!!
What a busy old month it has been since our last blog and I must say the Isle of Wight seems an age ago!
As we said in our last blog, we delayed this tying down process to help protect the tender young shoots from any late frost. With confidence high that the danger of frost had past the tying down commenced!
Now, tying down the canes is not for the faint hearted (like me!). Of course the canes are woody and as they are bent over to meet the fruiting wire they creak, they resist and occasionally they snap! The canes are attached to the fruiting wire by a twisted, biodegradable tie which is very cleverly done by our battery powered hand-held tying machine. The tying down process takes concentration, lots of time and is very slow - especially with just the one tying machine (they are not cheap!). So Andy and Ryan have been working through the 8000 canes (two per plant) like a sort of relay team but they are into the home straight - and still smiling!
Now that most of the vines are tied down it is easy to see the effect of 'apical dominance' on the growth pattern. Apical dominance is the description used for the vine allocating most resources to the higher parts of the plant; by tying down two canes on to a horizontal wire, and removing all other canes, the shoots growing from these canes are all at the same height. So each shoot is allocated equal resources and they all grow evenly - and it is this growth which will form the all important leaf wall.
All over the vineyard we can see inflorescences which are the vines' flowers. They look like mini bunches of grapes but they will actually undergo an intermediate stage before the grapes are formed, during which they will more closely resemble very sparsely covered dandelion seed heads. At the current stage, the petals are fused to form a cap, each of which looks like a tiny grape, but as they develop this cap will (fingers crossed) detach itself to leave the male and female parts of the flower ready to self-pollinate (fingers crossed again!). And once pollination takes place, only then do we move onto fruit set and the development of the grapes (fingers and toes crossed!)
There are so many things which can go wrong during this flowering/pollination/fruit set stage - you need breeze to help the caps come off but not too windy or it could prevent successful pollination; you want some rain so the vines aren't stressed but not too much as this either prevent the caps from dropping off or, later, can damage the flowers or knock the pollen off - I sometimes think it is a miracle we ever get fully formed sweet grapes at all!
But at the moment we are saying 'so far so good' and the fabulous weather we have been enjoying is helping to bring the vines on a treat - in fact the growth in the space of a month is quite phenomenal!
Another process happening at the moment is going round the newly planted vines and shoot selecting. This has reminded me of when we first planted our 3500 and quickly realising that having a vineyard is like painting the Forth road bridge! We had just finished protecting them with the rabbit guards when we realised we had to go right back to the beginning as they had started sending out shoots. The basic principle is that you want your new vine to put all its energy into one, strong, straight shoot which will eventually form the trunk of your plant. So all the other shoots, buds and little inflorescences are removed - and this process will continue all summer.
When we started this mad caper there were two things I thought would be really good - only to discover my ignorance! One was that we could get some bees to help with pollination (not needed!) and two that 4000 flowering vines would be a beautiful sight - well wrong again. The flowers at the moment are just little green bunches which you can only see close up and are not exactly breathtakingly beautiful (sorry vines). Don't get me wrong - the overall impression of the vineyard is still lovely. It's just that the flowers themselves are not exactly pretty.
However, our wild flowers more than make up for it!
The bluebells and hawthorn now past, we moved smoothly and seamlessly to the majestic foxgloves all round the vineyard; the early purple orchids are also past but now we are being amazed by the marsh orchids and others which seem to be popping up all over the place! In amongst the foxgloves and the hedgerow the next phase of flowering is starting with the dog roses, honeysuckle and brambles - not to mention the campion, buttercups and clover! Although we need to keep the grass short in the rows, we leave as much of the area surrounding the vineyard longer so we, the insects and the birds can all enjoy the wild flowers and grasses. And sometimes you have to study the ground for the vetch, ground ivy and my latest discovery - bird's-foot trefoil (sometimes known as Granny's toenails - yuk!).
Our house martins and swallows are back and we just love their chatter and watching their flying displays over the pond and the vines. The pond is having its own dragonfly party and the colours of the different damsel flies are amazing. Larger birds too are regular visitors - red kites and buzzards often shadow us over the vineyard and are quite a sight from the lodge patio. We even had a great white egret visit the pond last summer!
We've also had Welsh Wine Week which, despite the ongoing restrictions, was still a lot of fun and it was great to see the different events hosted by the Welsh vineyards. At Velfrey Vineyard we did a spot the ball competition featuring our three vineyard dogs playing with a tennis ball (digitally removed from the picture) and out of the 434 participants only one lucky winner guessed the right square! So a bottle of our Velfrey headed to Edinburgh (which is where Andy & I met so that was rather nice!).
There were various events over the week and we were thrilled to be part of tastings at Vin Van Caerdydd and Chilled and Tannin, with great feedback! We were also delighted to welcome Ivan from Fire and Ice in Narberth (which is a wonderful shop and well worth a visit!) who has been stocking our Velfrey sparkling wine and suggested using it to make a sorbet which he brought along for a first tasting - live on Facebook! And it was absolutely delicious! Velfrey, pear and cardamom - and very cleverly you could taste each of the components - that's mixology for you!
AND we are open again!! Fridays and Saturdays for wine sales, tours, tastings and afternoon teas - which is great as we meet so many wonderful, interested and interesting people. It is also brilliant to be working again with the lovely Tracey and Chris of The Coffee Lounge in Whitland who supply us with the boxed afternoon and cream teas. These ladies are perfectionists and the food is delicious - well obviously we had to try them all - quality control don't you know!
When we started our vineyard project we never anticipated how it would evolve, opportunities that would arise and the people we would meet. For example over this last month we were visited by Ed Dallimore who is writing a book entitled 'Great British Vineyards' and we felt so honoured (and proud!) that he would even consider us! We've been contacted by a national newspaper, a television producer and, on Sunday, we are going to have another exciting visitor - but more of that in coming days on social media and in the next blog!
So we very often say 'normal for Velfrey' and wonder where it will take us next!
If you would like more details on our opening hours, how to book a tour, teas, order wine head over to our web site - www.velfreyvineyard.com To be kept up to date more regularly, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Hope you enjoy this blog and if there are any aspect of the vineyard/ growing of the vines you would like to know about just drop us a message to firstname.lastname@example.org