Snapshot from our farm and vineyard – a small personal blog. (scroll down for earlier posts)
Week 12: Delivering
I accidentally stumbled upon insights In the online payments system whilst accessing a report for bookkeeping. We are experiencing a 2000% increase in online sales. Wow! Of course this giant leap is down to comparing it with a pretty modest starting point. But, without our open cellar door tasting and sales and vineyard tours, the online sales have been been a lifesaver. And thoroughly enjoyable too. An opportunity to explore, discover and admire some pretty beautiful places, gardens, dogs and characters that greet you. The ‘world’ used to come to our door, and right now we’re going to theirs.
A huge thank you to everyone who has ordered from us so far.
Earlier blogs in this series – Week 1 onwards…
Week 1: Isolation starts…
It’s eerie. The spring and summer of tours and tastings, events and festivals has evaporated from the diary. Not just wine and farm related ones, but things we love to do too; our daughter competing her pony, and avid mountain bike outings for our son.
The calm that has descended is not altogether unpleasant. The pressure is off. But how long for?
We worry for the small businesses we work with, cafes and restaurants and local pubs. The phone has stopped ringing and tour bookings and cellar door dates are suspended. We’re too small to be stocked in supermarkets however we plan to offer local doorstep deliveries and online sales will stay open.
We have completed the winter pruning and have finished tying down the canes as a family, working together in the vineyard with space between us. Here we can chat, catch up without contact or visiting each other’s houses.
On the farm, there’s dry weather. For the first time in months we can get onto the fields. Spring drilling is underway. We weren’t able to plant any crops in the autumn due to the saturated ground and continuous rain so it’s a huge relief to be sowing.
Our pedigree Hereford herd of cattle that graze the water meadows and chalk downs are due to calve in a couple of weeks- a time of vigilance and long days, we hope our tiny team stays well.
As farmers are on the key workers list our children could stay in school (a lifeline for many) but ours are old enough to be useful and we’d rather be together. Today is the last day at school for the foreseeable future and they will need to motivate themselves to put in the 5 hours of daily learning!
One week of later….
Spring sowing has gone well; the barley and beans are drilled and rolled and the landscape looks masterpiece tidy. Our family farm is 1800 acres in the South Downs national park near Winchester – mostly wheat, barley, OSR, beans and our 10 acre vineyard with champagne grapes, plus a fair amount of chalk grassland and water meadows grazed by our traditional pedigree Hereford mums. The cows have started to give birth, our first ones arrived earlier this week and will keep coming over the next 4 weeks. The boys stay in the herd until they are fully grown and go for beef. The girls will stay forever, our mums of the future.
A right of way goes past the farmhouse and all the way up the farm lane joining the South Downs Way and is criss-crossed by a large network of footpaths, bridleways and green lanes. There is a steady trickle of couples and families walking and cycling, taking their daily exercise.
Our seasonal workers have returned home so I’ll continue with the hand work in the vineyard; it will get done, just more slowly. My next job will be laying out the candles for frost fighting.
The children have done a week of home schooling and now are on Easter holidays. Being located where we are they have relative freedom and space when not surgically attached to their devices chatting with friends!
Lockdown week 3
A particular upside of lockdown has been the range of delicious and abundant local produce delivered to our door including fruit, vegetable and salad boxes and the sourdough bread and pastries from the farm shop. ‘The Cheese Stall’ is usually an artisanal market stall now cleverly working together with small Independent traders to provide a wonderful selection in one doorstep drop. Mutually delighted to find each other, a quick phone call to licensing to check how we could join the collaboration and Raimes is now dispatched from here to join their other deliveries of incredibly good cheeses, eggs, bacon and locally roasted coffee.
Easter has encouraged me to discover more luxury local produce and we’ve found gorgeous handmade chocolates and some unique wines from a local restaurant delivering mixed cases from their cellar. The quality of what we’ve eaten has been far superior to normal and there’ll be no going back.
We now have 22 calves born, half way through. And budburst across the vineyard. The hot weather has propelled the buds out of their woolly protection and we are off with vintage 2020. We spread 1200 bougies through the vineyard on Sunday; we will light these environmentally friendly candles should temperatures plunge below freezing in the early hours. Now begins frost watch and a few sleepless nights.
Week 4 – frost fighting and wind
PS I would like to thank everyone who has generously offered help. I am keeping a list and will be in touch if we need a supersized team, and am incredibly grateful.
Week 6 & 7 – Reasons for a celebratory drink
Week 8 – Frost!!
I didn’t expect to be writing about this again, especially not in mid May. Suddenly the forecast was for an end to the gorgeous temperatures and arctic weather heading our way on a wind storm. We could see one big frost event forecast for Tuesday but then along came a second on Thursday and a third on Friday. We are used to fighting to save buds in April and we understand their cold tolerance. But this was different, we had shoots up to 20cms long.
First the vines were battered for 24 hours with north winds and given a proper chilling. Then, Tuesday morning we had a whoppa! Not the normal cold snap at dawn, but a full-on air frost. Temps were plunging at 1am, four of us frantically lighting bougies as fast as we can. This was harsh, an aggressive cold air attack. The next day fortunately gave us a night off and time to move every bougie into the most strategic positions and grab every half can and dregs from the shed and get them into position for consecutive nights forecast on a Thursday and Friday. Thursday was every bit as cold but due to the lightest of wind whispers the temperature drop was slower and we didn’t have to light till 3am. This proved strategically wonderful, we could use up the tin ends and stitch them in to get through till 6am saving full cans for the next night. Friday was the longest. We were lighting by 12.30 hardly worth going to bed and the best part of 6 hours alight. Somehow we make it through to dawn, just.
There’s damage on a few outside rows. I’m sad for this loss, but overall it is small. And, with reports coming in from other vineyards across the country of frost devastation we count our lucky stars. We’ve battled minus 2 to 3. Others weren’t so lucky with minus 4-5. A tough, stressful and sleepless week for English winegrowers everywhere.
Week 9 & 10 & 11 – Where has time gone!
Busy busy in the vineyard. My team and I have rubbed off the trunk suckers twice. We have thinned the crowns and completed three passes lifting the wires. The crown thinning is vital to keep the head from becoming too dense – airflow and sunlight must easily filter through the canopy. Crouching over the head of the vine and deciding what to keep and what to lose has been slow, but we are winning.
Happily, government guidelines hint that we can start to plan for being open again. Small groups in the vineyard with social distancing is easily manageable but opening the cellar door may have to wait until July. If we can devise a suitably stylish way we will relocate the cellar door experience to the vineyard for June so opening is looking imminent, and we can’t wait.