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Class of '23 progress report!

Yup - you guessed it - it's raining!

In fact I started writing this long overdue blog on the first rainy day we had had for weeks, back in early July. Since then it is safe to say that conditions could be described as changeable, unseasonable and (apparently) unforecastable! We all have various weather apps on our phones and some days no two forecasts agree with one another. One morning recently we had a slightly anxious call from a lady who was booked on the tour that morning, saying that she had seen that there was a weather warning for thunderstorms in our area and asking what would happen with the tour. We reassured her that the whole visit could take place in our lodge if need be but, sure enough, our visitors were greeted with blue skies, sunshine and a need for sunscreen!

But the fact that it has taken me so long to get round to writing this blog tells you a number of things. Firstly, on the whole, we have had the most incredible weather here pretty much all year - until July of course; secondly we have just published the latest issue of our magazine; and thirdly - drum roll please! - Ryan and Sophie's wedding has taken place!!!

Yes, at the end of June Ryan and Sophie were married at Elmore Court in Gloucestershire, surrounded by family, friends, laughter and a whole load of love! It was a wonderful celebratory weekend and nothing could have gone any better - even a 'mishap' with one of the groomsman's trousers became an adventure and source of humour!

We are delighted to have a new Mrs Mounsey on the team and some wonderful memories.

So how are the vines looking in the summer of 2023?

Well, so far so good!

The weather post-pruning as they were starting to wake up could not have been better or kinder to the vines. It was cold when it should be but no late frosts; it was dry for the most part but with the odd sprinkling of rain to help them to bud.

Archie & Billy enjoying mild pruning weather

The drought during June I think was harder on us and the vineyard dogs than it was for the vines - they loved it! As you'll know from previous blogs, the clever vines have tap roots which in times of drought will bury their way down to search for water. In fact drought conditions are said to make the vines stronger.

Vines looking happy the June heat

And then we reached July, where in one day we had more rain than we had in the whole of June!

A couple of weeks ago, we did think that the leaf wall was not as tall as we'd expect and that it was probably due to the drought as we were also seeing it in other plants around the site. But the rain we have had during July has rectified that!

July brought the rain!

Anyway, the little, white, starry vine flowers appeared, pollination took place and very quickly we started to see the little baby grapes developing. The rain we are having at the moment has helped the baby grapes to swell and take up minerals so they are now recognisable as bunches of grapes.

Starry flowers ready to pollinate

We always find it so difficult to estimate crop size as there is so much of the season to go and you just never know what is going to happen, but at the moment we have lots of developing bunches of grapes, the vines are looking healthy and productive and the site is looking lush.

Seyval Blanc looking good!

Like I said - so far so good!

This time of year it is a case of keeping the vines tidy and healthy. So when it's not raining we are out there tucking in the canopy, taking off the lateral shoots, trimming the tops and leaf stripping round the burgeoning bunches of grapes.

Keeping the bunches exposed helps with grape health and ultimately ripening.

Throughout the growing season we make tisanes from health giving plants around the site. As you might remember we use comfrey, nettles, dandelions and willow - and this year we are adding in horsetail. Now horsetail helps keep disease away and rather than fighting it in the veg beds it looks like we're growing it for a reason!

Sometimes the vineyard feels similar to what they say about painting the Forth Road Bridge - when you get to the end you have to go back and start all over again! We get across the vineyard, all tucked in and laterals off, you turn round and the vines you started on have chucked out more growth and gone into triffid mode!

But our attention to detail is reaping rewards or awards to be precise! Our most recent included a silver for our sparkling Velfrey NV in the WineGB awards and winning Small Drinks Producer 2023 in the Food and Drink Wales Awards!

We have been really blown away, amazed and overwhelmed with the response our wines have had within the industry but we won't rest on our laurels and continue to do everything in our power to produce the best quality, clean, healthy grapes that we can.

We are just waiting on delivery of our next tranche of traditional method sparkling wine which has come from our 2021 harvest and, for the first time, this will include a sparkling rose - which we are really excited about!

One question we are often asked is what is 'terroir' and does it have an effect?

Well, terroir is a French term which, when you look it up, has a range of definitions but basically is a romantic term to say that a wine's characters come from the particular place where the grapes are grown - their natural environment. To me this implies that terroir is more than just soil type (ours is a sandy clay loam much favoured by the Romans!) but complete surroundings and weather. It is nice to think that our grapes soak up their environment reflecting their beautiful natural home.

Did you notice how wonderful the hawthorn blossom was this year? We have lots of hawthorn in the hedgerow round the vineyard and it was so heavy with blossom it looked liked it had snowed - will that honey sweet aroma reach our wine I wonder? Also in the hedgerow we have dog roses, honeysuckle and brambles - all of which are wild and this year have had the most beautiful flowers.

We had far more buttery yellow cowslips, incredibly bright orchids, majestic foxgloves and vibrant bluebells this year than we have ever had since we moved here in 2014 - they form part of our terroir.

As I sit writing this I'm watching house martins and swallows swooping over the vines probably getting bugs to feed their growing broods. It never fails to amaze me that these wonderful, beautiful small creatures make their way back over thousands of miles, to our shores and our house - what a feat for them and honour for us. And they form part of the ecosystem of our site.

My latest nature discovery is the incredible leaf cutter bee. Whilst pottering around in the greenhouse I was very conscious of some bees and quite bewildered as the doors and windows were all open and wondering if I needed to herd them out in case they were trapped. But then as I watched in flew one with a bit of bright green leaf and it proceeded to take the leaf down a little tunnel in a pot of soil. I was intrigued and just left them to it!

But when I was planting out some summer bedding plants, I tipped one out and in amongst the soil was a number of precise, green packages! I had no idea what they were and quickly popped them back in the soil, into the pot and back to the greenhouse. Quick visit to the internet and lo and behold discovered leaf cutter bees! Look at the lids of the little grub bedroom - isn't it incredible? How do the bees know how and why to do this?? And how can they get the little packages so precise and uniform - just incredible!

So what will be the taste of our class of 2023? That's part of the excitement as it is such a long time before we'll know and there is so much of this season still to go. But with this rain the grapes are certainly going to be plump so now we just need some ripening sun - let me just check my weather apps.......


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