Swallow Tales – July 2012

Go on… says my supervisor.. write something interesting this month for the Sentinel. Instead of your usual drivel [nice word? – drivel]. Carol also wants you to write something about what we do out here on the farm [does she? – I sometimes wonder what we are doing out here too]. My supervisor continues her motivational address…oh, and don’t be so disparaging about people … and the economy…. and the weather….and the police …. be nice [I know --'if you can't say anything nice say nowt']

So, dear reader/listener [if indeed you are being read this at the breakfast table] here goes.

I am in fact writing this from Cumbria as we are back here for the summer. We are indeed – Swallows. Here’s the interesting bit: the European Swallow [recently renamed the Barn Swallow] is known as THE Swallow in Britain as it is the only swallow that is seen there. The bird-swallow, like it’s human namesake, makes the 6,000 mile journey twice a year so that it can enjoy summer twice and, in the case of the bird swallow only, breed in the northern hemisphere. Incredibly the bird-swallow will return to the exact place where it was born using only some inbuilt magnetism thing, a sort of bird satnav [no need for batteries or Eu/UK/SA electrical adapters!]. The bird-swallow takes a wee bit longer than the person-swallow to make the journey – but at least doesn’t have to endure airline food and the person in front fiddling with the seat recliner [personal hate]

Why the bird-swallow would want to spend summer in Cumbria, except for the err .. breeding opportunity – I do not know. The summers in our part of Cumbria, apart from 1976, have been colder and wetter than the winters in Greyton. This year is no exception. We migrated back to Cumbria in early May and have had ‘the coldest May since records began… and now the wettest June since records began and the foggiest July and worst record since records began.

You will all have seen the Queen shivering at her Jubilee? Her consort was confined to hospital with a chill on his kidneys. I rest my case.

Our local unemployables [could be disparaging?... sorry] who tend to get semi-naked at anything above 11oC, have been stymied this year. It hasn’t been above 7oC since August 2011. My supervisor (from the room with a fire in it) says- and don’t exaggerate.. and remember what I said about no disparaging remarks about those wastrels outside the pub. [yes dear].

Which brings me to: ‘what are we doing on the farm?’

It’s a small farm, out on the Krige Road and actually a vineyard and cellar. The farm/vineyard/cellar is called Swallow Hill on account of it being on a hill and we have a lot of swallows. Curiously the only European Swallows on the farm are us – the human version.  We do have White Throated and Greater Striped but no Barn (European) and a load more other birds including the dreaded starlings who managed to eat ALL of our 2011 trial grapes. If all else fails we could become a bird sanctuary.

We planted vines in November 2008 (the wettest since records began.) and then again in August 2009 – and have endured 2 years of drought (driest years since …. yes .. records began). Our trial grapes got ‘starlinged’ in January this year but the water held out and we are now on target for our first vintage in 2012/2013 to be called The First Swallow.

Sensibly, we believe, we are growing and operating in the most biodiversity friendly and sustainable way that we can: we use no pesticides or herbicides; we carry out manual/mechanical weed control; we make our own green manures; we do manual picking, de-stemming and crushing with the minimum of intervention in the wine making process. We use less than 5% of the farm for the vineyard and have a restoration/conservation programme for the rest to return it to veldt. We employ local labour and we buy 80% of what we need in Greyton or Caledon. Somethings we can only get by going beyond Botrivier.

We try to keep our carbon sandal print to an absolute minimum but still have to find a way to justify the 12,000 mile swallow’s journey to enjoy the British summer.

 We had a cellar proofing run this year to test what was needed and to make sure that that things were neither too big or too small or too heavy or too awkward or too fiddly and ironed out processes. We made mistakes which could have been disastrous if we had have been doing a large tonnage. The main thing learnt was that by destemming and crushing manually we are able to pick out the snails and spiders and general non-grape detritus. Snails count was 4 per 100kg of grapes. I think that this means that we will be able to have on the bottle some words to the effect that ‘this wine is snail free’. Should be a good selling point. [ummm … ‘no snails were harmed in the making of this wine’- sounds good to me.

Oh…  and don’t be so flippant in tone – comes the voice from the warm room.


About brian

engineer; musician; artist; plumber; vine grower; wine maker
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