Grow your own wine

I cannot instantly recall a more tiresome spring for raising plants. The frosty nights and dry days of April slowed down seedling growth to near standstill, tender plants like tomatoes suffered when put outside only for the day, then the constant rain and cold of May set the whole season back by a good two weeks.

Wisteria is usually well in flower in the last week in April and this year some of the buds got blasted by the frost, so there are fewer flowers than last year. Worst of all, the vines in Bordeaux and Burgundy got hit hard by the frost, turning emerging buds to powder. To stir up the air, bonfires were lit in the vineyards and army helicopters deployed, but with limited success. The grape harvest is forecast to be the lowest for 70 years, 40% below normal years. The Champagne region was not affected so badly, so civilisation as we know it will continue a while longer.

How the British wine harvest will be affected I don’t know, but my own 2 year-old vines on my allotment lost buds on the top branches which crumbled to dust, whereas the buds beside the west facing hamstone wall have survived. I am growing a Lakemont vine, a white seedless grape, and a Madeleine Angevine white seeded grape of good reliability and mildew resistance. It remains to be seen whether I shall one day be able to make some wine and if it will be drinkable. The vines have grown well, and I will train them right along the allotment fences, one day hoping to be ringed with grapes.

My late grandfather had a large Black Hamburg grape vine growing down the length of his garden wall in Coventry. Wine making was popular in the 1970’s when good wine was expensive compared to today, and palettes less critical. Home made wine ranged from lethal to awful. My parsnip wine tasted like bad sherry, the broom flower wine was an experiment I shall never repeat, the orange wine was like alcoholic essence of marmalade.

Grandpa was very proud of his vine and his sweet red wine making efforts, despite red grape vines not growing well enough as far north as Coventry to ever produce a really decent wine. My father, from working with a German company, had got the taste for German wines, delighting in Riesling and Auslese wines at the time when you were considered posh if a bottle of Black Tower or Blue Nun was served with Sunday dinner.

Sitting in the back garden, father poured Grandpa’s murky wine into a glass and took a cautious sip. He made a great show of swishing and slurping and gazed at the depths with a frown, as Grandpa asked him what he thought of it. Pa paused for effect and asked when the wine came from. It was home made. And how old was it? Quite fresh, it was last year’s harvest. And where did the grapes come from (knowing full well). You silly beggar, says grandpa, my vine of course, just behind you!

Hmmm, said father. It doesn’t travel well….