Competition – Peter Galvin


How Peter Galvin fits in to the world of wine and how he came to do so is evident from what he writes below. We would not normally accept a blog post such as the second half of this entry but it is so perverse to be growing vines in North Yorkshire that we thought you would be as amused as us by the unedited entry in our seminal wine competition that follows. 

My own eureka wine moment came in terms of having my own vineyard and making my own wine. Eureka moments in terms of actually drinking wine are too many to mention or lost in the mists of time. My moment was when we were living in Australia and one of our neighbours out in the Ferguson Valley, Western Australia, had his own vineyard, quite modest by Australian standards, and made his own wine in an even more modest winery – and it was superb. I was inspired. I had that classic moment, the one that makes a fool of so many of us, if he can do it …. Fine except that my translation of that was to return home and establish, what I believe, is the most Northerly vineyard in England. Spot the mistake.

However, as a result, I now ‘run’, an inappropriate word if ever there was one in the context of a vineyard ‘at the margins’, even one as small as ours (500 vines), our own vineyard. ‘Running’ implies being in control. It’s not been easy and the 50 or so blogs I’ve written on The Summerhouse give a pretty fair idea of the ups and downs of ‘running’ a vineyard in North Yorkshire. This adapted article is just one of the 50. I have to say we didn’t choose the land we just had it and wanted to do something with it. Obvious. And so the idea was born. I’m 70 now and have been retired for 5 years and that’s about how long our vineyard has been in existence. We may even make some decent wine this year.

Vineyard 50 : Not so grim up North

My fiftieth vineyard blog, now that’s something to celebrate and the weather seems to agree. I can’t quite remember a protracted period of hot weather like this at this time of year since we started with the vineyard. The vines, pruned or otherwise, look incredibly healthy and now, just over the last week, the buds have burst and turned into little, white flowers. I don’t want to tempt fate, but I suspect I am, by saying we’ve never had budburst so early in the year nor have we had so many flowers on both the Rondo and the Solaris. The Rondo always do well in terms of buds but the Solaris (the grape that is supposed to be good for our conditions), has barely had a bud in the five years they’ve been in.

If we don’t get to make some nice wine this year with the kind of start the vines have had then we never will make wine. But there’s the rub, they’ve had a great start but it’s only a start, there’s much that can go wrong between now and harvest in September / October. And the biggest threat is from the animals (assuming the weather stays decent if not as hot and sunny as it is at the moment, but assuming no more freak thunderstorms or, worse still, hail storms as we had a couple of years ago). The bunnies will kill off the vine altogether so we’ve put all the tubes back on to reduce the chances of this.

But errant sheep aside, our biggest threat are the bloody birds. We’ve lost the majority of our crop twice in the last three years or, probably worse still, been forced to pick early i.e. when the sugar levels weren’t right, to avoid losing the whole crop. Now a funny thing happened with the bird threat…

We were in the vineyard last weekend, in the hot sunshine and thinking what jolly fine fellows we were and how clever for planting a vineyard in this unlikely spot. Barely a cloud in the sky and the only clouds on our horizon were, is this weather too hot and dry for the willows we planted as windbreaks? The odd leaf is turning brown. Have I read somewhere that this is what trees do when it’s too dry as a way of reducing their need for water? This as opposed to it being a sign they’re dying which is another, more drastic, way of reducing the need for liquid. We found ourselves wishing for some rain which is quite perverse. The other cloud, as I say, is the birds. It’s a great spot for birds of all varieties but we observe each one with suspicion. Is this the bird that eats our grapes because we still don’t know who the culprit/s is/are?

And then that funny thing I mentioned happened – we had a visitor. A guy called Nick saying he had been hoping to catch me before but we didn’t seem to be there very often. But now he saw our vehicle and stopped by in order, wait for it, to pick my brains about starting a small vineyard of his own. He pointed out where he lived on the other side of the valley. His land is North facing but is more sheltered than ours. I offered to help in any way we could if he was serious about starting his own vineyard. It was nice to talk to somebody who appeared genuinely interested in what we were trying to do. So all good but not quite the point.

The point was Nick is a gamekeeper. He raises pheasants so people can shoot them, each to his own as they say. He was clear about the need to shoot the bunnies but I pointed out that I was a city boy and didn’t shoot things. He offered to shoot them for me but I wasn’t sure what kind of hypocrite this made me although I have to say (in case any bunnies are reading this) I don’t feel the bunnies have kept to their side of the bargain – you leave me alone (i.e. don’t eat my plants) and I will leave you alone. So shooting them might be on the cards.

But the big problem is ‘our’ birds and here Nick looks like he could be very helpful. For one thing he gave me a definite idea of which bird variety was doing the damage and here’s the thing, I’d never heard of it, true I’m no ornithologist, but I thought I knew the names of the birds even if I couldn’t actually identify any of them. He reckons the culprit was a bird called a Fieldfare. No me either. It’s a bird the size of a thrush with red markings and comes each year, later in the year, from Russia and by the time it gets here it’s starving (couldn’t they bring a packed lunch or something) and wants berries, any berries, ours will do nicely. Nick had some interesting suggestions for scaring them away rather than shooting them which you can’t because, it turns out, they are a protected species – a red, as high as you get, on the colour-coded list. But he had other plans which I will write about later in the year.

Except I’ll just say, it will be interesting to see what happens yield-wise between the pruned and the unpruned vines. Mrs Summerhouse has been de-suckering the pruned vines as per usual so they look all neat and tidy. But the unpruned vines are all over the place, de-suckering is pointless because there’s so much growth that shouldn’t technically be there that a few more suckers aren’t going to make much difference, or so we reason. But both seem to have equally significant numbers of flowers so it will be interesting to see what happens to the crop later in the year. Watch this space.