Monday, 10 May 2010

Field into Vineyard

It’s a chilly Sunday afternoon and we’ve just finished a very exciting week in our lives. The planting was delayed until Wednesday because of the rain last weekend, but our German friend Volka and his team turned up at 7am with their machine. A large military like Mercedes truck with the planting machine attached to the back.

He had a polish couple who’s job it was to sit on the machine and feed the vines into the claws, which grab the vines and then insert them into the ground. Inside his truck he has a GPS machine that latches on to Russian satellites accurately spacing out the rows to a standard error of 7mm. It all sounded pretty high tech, which sometimes worries me as the more complicated things are the more often they seem to go wrong.

We started with the Chardonnay which we had decided to put in the lower half of the field as there is more shelter from the wind and this variety is going to be the hardest to ripen so it needs any help we can give it. Volka then lines up his truck and then gently lowers his machine into the soil, where a blade digs in 40cm creating a space to insert the vines. At the bottom he stops, reverses back up the hill and them lines up the next row, pretty simple really. The vines go in at the perfect depth and straighter than if you did it by hand, truly wonderful. Sometimes when you see a machine that works so well you wonder how they must have coped back in the day when these machines didn’t exist!

By lunch we had planted 8000 Chardonnay vines, and much to our surprise there was quite a lot of space left! Kaye prepared a picnic and we sat down, all very relaxed and wondering when something was going to go wrong. Volka said one of his wheels had collapsed on the M20 coming from Dover, and held up the traffic for hours costing him a lot of money to fix.

We got cracking into the Pinot Noir after lunch which is going in the top half. Walking down the hill there is a noticeable change in the soil profile, with more flint and redder soil at the top moving to whiter chalkier soil in the middle with less flint and then finally arriving at the bottom where there is much more clay. I think this is going to give quite a variation in ripening and flavour profile which will add a nice complexity to the finished product ... I hope!

I had a arranged for a few press photographers to turn up and take photos of the machine at work and to hopefully try and spread the word about what we are trying to do. A lot of people already know it is going to be a vineyard as there is a footpath that runs along the field and people always ask what we are up to. But they then scratch their head when I tell them the we won’t be able to drink the finished product for another 6 years!

By 7pm we had planted 15000 vines with just the Pinot Meunier to finish on Thursday. A fine days work with not one problem. The next day they finished the job by 10am and were then off to the next job.

We now looked over our newly created vineyard and that’s when I knew the hard work was still to come. First up there is the small matter of hammering in 20,000 wooden stakes, a job that will take about a month!

Both myself and Kaye are very excited about what we have started, but are fully aware of how much time and effort it will take to turn these little lifeless twigs into world class sparkling wine.


P.S. An hour after Volka had left he had a tyre blow out on his way to Guildford!!?!?


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Ripping it Up!

This week was all about men and big machinery! It was ploughing week and conditions could not have been more perfect. The wonderful two-week spell of weather had made the soil bone dry, perfect for the first pass with the sub-soiler.

This contraption consists of 3 long legs with a flat angled arrow head at the bottom which goes about 60cm deep, straight into the chalk bedrock and then lifts the soil up, de-compacting and aerating. This will help the young vine roots spread quickly into the soil and establish better. This had obviously never been done before and consequently it took a 250 horse power tractor 2 days to get it done, using around 50 litres of diesel an hour!

We then had two passes of a standard plough, which broke up the turf and leveled it out to give a nice 10cm seedbed ready for planting on Tuesday. The weather doesn’t look great for the weekend and so there is a chance it might get pushed back. But fear not we will be taking a stupid number of photos and video to make sure we capture this moment!


P.S. Alfie and friends are really loving the field as I’m sure it’s starting to remind him of his life back in Castillon!