Grapes - posh plants or down and dirty agriculture - Featured Blog Post at PumpjackPiddlewick

Romancing the grapes – posh plants or down and dirty agriculture?

I don’t know about you, but I never really thought about wine grapes and their vines as part of agriculture. In fact it sounds almost like a dirty word, when associated with wine.

To me grapes aren’t a crop, like wheat. They are too posh for that. They are more like a seasonal delicacy. Think asparagus or artichokes. They are something I enjoy but don’t really pay attention to how they are grown. I just liked the taste.

The Vagaries of Wine

I have always liked wine. Ok, maybe not so much when I was younger, but as I grow older I appreciate it more and more. The taste of course, but also the variations, the vagaries and sometimes the sheer fun. Of course, living with a wine maker has given me a whole new perception. He has added to my level of knowledge immensely. And, I am still trying to decide if that is a good thing.

Gone are the days where I just tasted a wine and thought, yeah, nice. He’s taught me to really taste it. You know, all that rolling around in the mouth thing. Many laughs were had as I tried to learn to breathe in the wine whilst also tasting it. You can just imagine. But it was worth the various snorting messes I caused as, once I got the hang of it, it opened up whole new levels of taste. So, okay, that’s a good thing.

A Slave to Grapes

I knew moving to France to make our wine would change my perspectives, maybe add to my knowledge. I just didn’t realise how much. Gone are the days where I simply drank my wine. Now I have intimate knowledge of where it comes from and how it is made.

I have been roped in over the past couple years to help in our vineyard and winery, learning to prune, tuck in, of course harvest, squish grapes and actually make wine. Well, maybe not the finer points, after all I am not a trained Oenologist like Pumpjack, but I get the gist.

The Down and Dirty

Are grapes for wine a crop - find out at PumpjackPiddlewick_
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In particular, one of the areas I do appreciate understanding better is the agricultural side, the vineyard if you will. The mystique that was wine has changed for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but I have got over the whole ‘posh’ thing that seems to be associated with wine. All it took was some very long hours of back breaking, get my hands dirty, build a few callouses work in our vineyard to knock over that pedestal.

And, although I may prefer to wear my rosy coloured glasses when it comes to wine tasting, I like the reality that is behind wine making. What is in affect an agricultural crop. A crop with a lot of potential, one of the few that people are actually willing to pay money for (well mostly). But, like any crop, one that can also hit hard times.

A Bad Year

2016 will go down as a very bad year here in the  Chablis area of France, definitely as a very hard year. The rain simply did not stop. The odd sunny days amongst were lost in the mire of fog, frost, hail and mud. There was a deep frost on the 27th of April that killed about 40 – 50% of our crop. Bud burst was just under way (when the leaves start to come out) and the frost killed the new growth.

And one month later hail hit. We were lucky with our vineyard as it is lower down, thus warmer, but nearby Chablis was not so lucky, not to mention Champagne, Cognac, Beaujolais and other parts of Burgundy.

On top of this, with the continuous rain it was not possible to treat the vines against disease and mold. We lost what was left of our crop. All that work and… nothing. 2016 became a moot harvest. No grapes, no wine to make. No income.

A Price to Pay

I remember in the past hearing on the news about hail devastating France’s vineyards, and didn’t truly pay much attention. Now, with my new found knowledge, and callouses, I understand and have seen first hand the reality. Frosts kill growth. Wet weather brings disease. Hail hits hard. This latter tears and strips the leaves off the vines. Without foliage, even broken foliage, the vines can’t produce the grapes, or what they may produce will have no protection from the elements, particularly the sun (should it come). They are in affect of no use. And it impacts not just on this year, but the next.

So you see, although wine has its romance, and I am all for it, the industry lends itself to a harsh reality behind the label. The vagaries of nature determine whether this years crop will be good, bad or simply not at all. But it is this vagary that makes for the vast variety and thus interest in wine. And it might go a bit toward explaining why some wine is worth the price.

 

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