"I'm off to strip in the Pinot......."
........leaf stripping of course! But more on that later.
I feel ashamed that so many weeks have gone by since my last Blog! An absolute age in fact! A whole summer no less! But, good people, rest assured we have been busy in the vineyard!
In my last scribblings I wrote about the tying down process that was going on and it was a relief (for Andy & Ryan!) to get that finished - although, later than we would have ideally wanted as there were lots of flowers on the vines and extra care had to be taken not to knock them off. So next year we will start tying down the Seyval Blanc much earlier, then the more susceptible Pinot Noir and lastly the frost vulnerable Solaris. Learning as we go folks!
Tying down finished! Ryan still smiling but small amigo is exhausted!
After the tying down process was finished, our efforts turned to canopy management and trying to keep the under vine area free from weeds. Once the vines start throwing out shoots they can very quickly become bushy and difficult to control - a bit like a lockdown hairdo!
The vine leaves are the 'engine room' of the plant. They absorb solar energy and carbon dioxide from the air and convert this to sugars which help the plants to grow, buds to form and fruit to ripen - never thought I'd be dragging out O-grade biology notes on photosynthesis at my age! But the leaves need access to sunlight to be able to photosynthesise so if the leaf canopy becomes too thick and dense the unexposed leaves will start to go yellow and demand more energy from the plant than they create which diverts resources from the fruit.
So this is where the metres and metres of wires come into their own - and out comes the hedge trimmer!
Multitasking at its best! Hedge trimmer attached to the tractor bucket topping the canopy and mowing the grass at the same time!
In our trellising system, we have a fruiting wire and three pairs of wires above this. We can gather up all the straggly shoots by lowering the first pair of wires to the ground and then lifting them back up scooping shoots as we go. After that it is a case of removing some lateral shoots and giving the leaves a 'hair-cut' top and sides to keep the canopy thinned and efficient. This process has to go on all through the growing season because as soon as your back is turned out pops another shoot!
Weeds can compete with the vines for much needed minerals plus bare soil soaks up the heat of the sun and emits this back to help ripen the grapes. To keep the ground beneath the vines free of weeds, we use a nifty piece of equipment called a Rollhacke which goes on the back of the tractor and turns the soil over between and round the vines.
The weather this summer has been, for the most part, wonderful! During July it got so hot that vineyard work was done early morning and later in the evening in an attempt not to bake ourselves! The little rain we have had has been very welcome - not least to enable the Rollhacke to get into the soil rather than skimming over the baked hard surface which we had for weeks. But it's definitely more fun (leaf) stripping in the sunshine!
Yes, back to the stripping! We've been stripping leaves from round the bunches of grapes to help them to ripen and expose them more to the sun, for spraying and - ultimately harvest!
Stripping n the sunshine with some help from the amigo's!
We spray the vines as naturally as we can - seaweed extract and minerals, for example, to act as foliar feed and help keep diseases away. We've also made tisanes this year using comfrey and nettle leaves. The picked leaves are steeped in water, left, strained and then sprayed on to the vines. The vines love it and they are looking healthy and clean. The 'aroma' as the comfrey and nettles are steeping however is...um...interesting!
Making (smelly!) tisane! And weeding the garden as we go!
As well as all the processes going on in the vineyard, we have been really busy with visitors for tours, afternoon teas plus travel writers, wine experts and just generally curious passers by! We've had newly weds on a mini-moon who sat in the sunshine, drinking Velfrey; we've welcomed big family groups who are just happy to be out making memories again - a feeling we all know only too well.
We've even had a celebrity! We were contacted by Visit Pembrokeshire to say that a travel writer for the Daily Telegraph would like to visit the vineyard as part of a write-up about the county. The writer's name was Kathy Lette (of QI and Loose Women fame, author and comedian -multi-talented!)! Well, we were chuffed, slightly shocked and more than a bit nervous! Kathy and her partner did come and what a lovely (slightly surreal) afternoon we had! We ended up being listed in the newspaper's 'Top 20 things to do in Pembrokeshire'!
We love having visitors to the vineyard and we have hosted wonderful people this summer. We've found that the folks who book on the tour tend to fall into a range of categories. For example, you get the sceptics - "a vineyard in Pembrokeshire??! this I've got to see!". More often than not the sceptics do a complete about turn and become our biggest fans! They go home with bottles of wine and adopt a vine which they caress lovingly as they leave telling it to "be strong and do us proud". They depart with moist eyes promising to make the pilgrimage back for harvest.
We get visitors who love their wine and visiting vineyards and will search them out wherever they go . You might be thinking 'if you've seen one, surely you've seen them all' - but no! There are two things and two things only that all the vineyards in Wales have in common - they are in Wales and they grow grapes to make wine - and that's it! Each vineyard has its own story to tell; there is a diversity of locations, grape varieties grown, methods of production and wine produced. The vineyard owners have their own stories to tell too. There are some who always had a dream to have a vineyard, found land and planted; some bought a property which already had a vineyard established and then there's us - who never had a dream to plant a vineyard, had no idea how to start and are still learning! (The tale of how the process of establishing Velfrey Vineyard came about I'll leave for a Winter's fireside tale when the vines are asleep!) If you have a look at www.vineyards.wales you will see a full list of the vineyards in Wales - it's probably more than you think - but it will give you a little insight into how diverse we all are.
So, how are the grapes doing? Well, I'm going to say my usual 'so far so good'! I am not going to use the word that starts with 'b' and rhymes with jumper, thumper and dumper but let's just say we have lots of bunches of grapes across the vineyard and they are looking plump and juicy. There are still a lot more things that could go wrong - lack of sun to ripen, too much rain, not enough rain, too much wind, badgers, birds, wasps!!!!!! We don't have the experience to be able to estimate with confidence just how big the crop will be this year, although, our wonderful winemaker, Martin Vickers from Halfpenny Green estate is coming to visit next week so he will be able to give us more of a guide.
Our Solaris will ripen first and go to make a still white wine and already the kitchen is beginning to resemble a sticky chemistry lab! The grapes are ready to be picked when the acids and sugars reach the right levels and you keep your fingers crossed that when these two things happen at roughly the same time and that the weather is good for picking! So as we get nearer to when we think the grapes are ripening, we pick a few, crush them (hence the sticky work surfaces!) and analyse the juice for sugar levels (using a refractometer) and the acids . And the Solaris are getting there!
But, as things are looking at the moment we are going to need lots of help with harvest!
When we started planning the vineyard we always wanted to make harvest a community event bringing people together and last year this was even more important for people after the lockdowns and restrictions. Over the years we have been blown away with how generous people are with their time and willingness to help us and be a part of harvesting the grapes.
SO if you think you would like to come along and help on harvest day send us an email to info@velfreycom or message us through our Facebook page and we'll add you to the list, contact you nearer the time and hopefully you'll be able to join the event.
AND we need to order considerably more buckets!