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Do birds get tipsy when they eat grapes? In other words, it's getting close.........HARVEST!!!!!!

Harvest is rapidly approaching and we will need your help! (details at the end of this blog)

Storm Agnes is blowing a hooley outside so an ideal time to stay indoors, write a blog about what we've been up to and how things are looking in the vineyard - and put you all on harvest alert!

So what has been happening at Velfrey Vineyard?

Well, in summary - most of our tours have been fully booked which has been wonderful and we have had people visiting from far and wide including New Zealand, Australia and the US.

Our Solaris still white wine sold out in less than two months and our Naturiol 2021 stocks are getting low - just in time, as the 2022 vintage will be here soon. Our next tranche of Velfrey NV sparkling arrived, also just in the nick of time - in fact, as the pallet arrived at the vineyard 200 bottles went straight out to waiting customers! Our first sparkling rosé is still going through the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) certification scheme, but we have had a few unlabeled bottles to let people taste and it is going down a storm.

Some of you may remember that we have a phrase here, which we seem to say quite regularly, and that is 'normal for Velfrey'. Well, that's what we said when Andy got a call from the BBC to tell us that we are one of the three finalists in the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards for the category Best Food and Drinks Producer for Wales! To be honest, I don't think this has fully sunk in yet, even though we have had a BBC crew and the judge here at the vineyard, but for us this is huge! The winner will be announced at the award ceremony later in October but we are just chuffed to be in the mix.

Normal for Velfrey!

In early September we exhibited at the WineGB Trade and Press Tasting in London. We were part of the regional table for the Welsh Vineyards Association along with our friends from Dell Vineyard and Montgomery Vineyard. It was a great event and really satisfying to fly the flag for Wales and to let people experience quality Welsh wine.

WineGB Trade & Press Tasting at the Battersea Art Centre

It was also great to talk to other vineyard owners and compare notes for the season. It's fair to say that some parts of the country have not had a brilliant year so we think ourselves to be lucky. At every stage of the season (so far!) we have had the weather we wanted, or rather the grapes wanted! From flowering, to pollination, to ripening - if we had put in a weather request for the season this would have been it!!

August sunshine

Although the weather during August wasn't the best for holidaymakers, our vines and grapes loved it! They needed the rain to help the canopy grow and the baby grapes to swell.

Summer visitors

During this time we tuck the new shoots in between the wires to keep the canopy contained and neat. You might think the canopy wall of leaves should be left to grow as thick as possible but this isn't the case. The grapes need enough leaves to help produce the sugars but too many and the vines will be putting energy where it isn't needed. So we take off side shoots and Andy and Ryan have been going through with a rechargeable battery-powered hedge trimmer to take off excess greenery.

As the grapes ripen we strip the leaves from around the bunches to expose them to the sun and allow the air to circulate. All this helps the grapes to ripen and stay clean and healthy.

So, first we leaf stripped the early ripening Solaris and once this was complete on went the blue 'hair net'! It works an absolute treat in keeping the grapes safe from birds and wasps but still allows them to ripen further.

All the boys leaf stripping Solaris!

Now, we normally harvest our Solaris grapes at the end of September and it takes four of us to pick them. This year as we were testing the sugars and the acids it became very apparent that they were going to be ready much earlier than normal and there was a lot more fruit.

Fortunately, in mid-September Craig and Jemma were here for the weekend and our Solaris grapes hit the golden figures we wanted for both sugar and acids. Excellent, we thought, with the six of us we'll get these in no problem and the vineyard dogs thought it was the best day ever!

Solaris harvest at the start...

However, when I filled a crate with grapes but hadn't completed a bay of vines the alarm bells started ringing.

The sun dropped, the dogs waved their white flags and disappeared indoors and we started hunting for torches.

When we finished, it was approaching midnight - and we realised we are rubbish at estimating our crop size!

...nearing the end! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

But the Solaris grapes made it safely to Halfpenny Green winery and the results are bang on. So we can look forward to more delicious Velfrey Solaris wine next year!

Now we turn all our attention to our Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc.

Our Pinot Noir is the next to be leaf stripped and, as you can imagine, the beautiful rich colour of these grapes is just a magnet for birds so the blue netting was transferred over from the Solaris.

Pinot Noir leaf stripped, looking great and wrapped!

There are a number of visible signs which tell us the grapes are getting ripe and sweet:

  1. the colour of the grapes and their pips

  2. the taste of the grapes

  3. birds turn from friends to foes

  4. the worry lines on our faces deepen

  5. we spend more time looking at weather apps than is healthy

  6. the kitchen turns into a chemistry lab

  7. did I mention the worry lines???

Now, I love birds and find it quite incredible the distances our visiting birds travel to spend either summer or winter with us - and what instincts drive them to make their perilous journeys. BUT (you could tell there was a 'but' coming) at this time of year the screech of our winter visiting fieldfares and redwings plus our local blackbirds sends us running for every bird scarer we can lay our hands on!

Oh the irony! Bird's nest in the bird netting in the barn!

So at the moment we have an audible bird scarer which mimics predatory birds, kites that look like angry hawks, hawkeye whirly balls, scare crows, silver foil and we have the vineyard dogs doing laps of the vineyard!

Can you spot all our bird scaring devices?

The birdy activity and their determination to get to the grapes does tell us that they are getting sweet, and we don't mind them taking the odd one or two, but not too many!

But it did get me thinking - do birds get tipsy after eating grapes? Does anyone know? Are there fieldfares out there on the oak tree hiccupping, leaning on a branch...?

At this stage we are regularly testing the grapes for their sugars which we want to increase and the acids which we want to decrease but we also want them both to be within a range to make the best quality sparkling wine.

AND - they are getting close!

AND - once again, we need your help! We can't say exactly when the harvest will be, it could possibly be as early as next week or, more likely - we think - it could be in a couple of weeks.

At the moment we would just like to get an idea of who would like to help with our harvest this year so if you think you would like to come along and help pick the grapes, please could you drop us an email to


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