Contributed by Diana Stevens
I have to confess I am not a fan of hot dry weather. This prolonged hot spell makes it difficult to plant, weed or dig, and constant watering just to keep struggling crops alive has become a chore. However, we have one crop that flourishes in these conditions – grapes.
We decided to try our hand at wine making after planting vines in our south facing garden at home for shade and discovering that they produced a good supply of white grapes each autumn. My husband Mike likes red wine, so he then decided to plant vines for red grapes on our allotment plot in about 2004.
The variety he chose was Triomphe d’Alsace, although we also have a small number of Gagarin Blue, which is a dessert variety. Apart from one year (2012) when the crop failed due to bad weather, we have had a reliable harvest each autumn, resulting in approximately 20 gallons of juice after pressing, from which we produce more wine than we can actually drink! The amount does vary, but the conditions this year, a cold spring followed by a dry hot summer, look right for a bumper harvest.
The grapes are usually harvested in October but they could be ready earlier this year. The vines need minimal attention, just pruning to allow the developing fruit access to sunlight. The sunnier the summer, the sweeter the grapes and little or no sugar needs to be added in a good year.
Climate change is ensuring wine making in the south of England is becoming a mainstream industry, with many commercial vineyards now established nearby.
Having had great fun over the years and a lot of satisfaction when it goes well, we have decided to call a halt to this activity. As I said earlier, we can’t actually drink all the wine, not being alcoholics, and there is a limit to what we can give away. So after harvesting this year’s grapes we will start to dig up the vines and restore the plot for other produce. Before we do this, if anyone would like to take them over with a view to trying their hand at wine making (subject to site manager approval) please let me know.