Saturday 21/07 saw a motley collection of social misfits gathered on a Devonhillside intent upon inflicting GBH on some vines, owned by Janice and Ivan Jordan, near Silverton. They specialise in growing herbs and edible flowers (www.greensherbs.com) for restaurants but have also planted 2000Phoenix vines (planted 2010) and approx 100 Pinot Gris (2011). These are young vines so they needed ’training’ rather than hard pruning at this stage. The vineyard is south facing with superb views towards Dartmoor and Woodbury Common but this also means that it is exposed to the wind so, after the appalling weather between April and mid July, these vines had taken quite a battering. However, when the fruit does come ‘on line’, the air currents will keep mildew, botrytis etc (these plant diseases thrive in our climate) at bay so there will be healthy grapes needing minimal intervention from fungicides/herbicides. The vineyard is surrounded by mixed usage farmland so there is a rabbit infestation problem… these vines are not living a life of pampered luxury!
The job involved hacking back any unwanted shoots/spurs until left with a strong upright vine and two healthy canes, spread in opposite directions and tied onto the support wires. Anything else is severed from the vine (the ground was littered with cuttings by the time we’d finished) and the rabbit proof ‘tree guards’ are then replaced. Any grape clusters are culled so that the vine puts its vigour into continued growth rather then bearing fruit. However, once it’s old enough to start producing fruit, the roles are reversed so you get less ‘tree’ but more big, juicy grapes! Move on to the next vine and repeat…and repeat…and repeat. It sounds monotonous but the vines are not a uniform size or shape so there is a surprising degree of ‘creativity’. At first, the work is slow and very deliberate but you soon spot what needs to be done as you approach each vine and then it’s a speedy snip, snip, tie, snip, fold, snip and onto the next one.
It’s very sociable work and much laughter and ‘banter’ could be heard all day, especially as people got more practiced and were less stressed about hacking off the wrong bits. Janice and Ivan (aka Brian Aldridge) laid on food and lashings of grog for the ‘workers’, most of whom had brought their families. Whilst the adults pruned, the children promptly went feral and then ate nearly all the food before the workers could get anywhere near it…grrrrrr!
I have traipsed around a lot of vineyards but I learned more about practical viticulture from a single day of hacking at young vines. Perhaps it ought to be mandatory for anybody coming into the wine trade to put in a few days of pukka hard graft in a English vineyard, getting dirt under their nails, crud in their hair, being bitten by insects and stung by nettles?