Friday 9 Oct
Harrow and Hope vineyard, Marlow
I’d washed 150 grape baskets before the sun came up, this morning, before I paused to think “what the **** am I doing? In a few weeks I’ll be 70 so why am I standing here, all wet, on the top of a hill, with the biting northeast wind removing all sense of feeling?”
The answer is ‘Wine’. It makes you do daft things … even stone cold and very sober.
The 2015 English wine harvest is turning out to be very exciting … and addictive. For us it started last Friday. Just back from Bordeaux, where the harvesting had paused, it was straight back into it here at Marlow.
Thirty-five trained pickers – and the baskets – came thick and fast. Luckily for me, the basket cleaner – my job for all our vintages in France, then here; a minor role but quite crucial, I feel – we had invested in a real basket washing machine. Previously the machine was me with a Kärcher jet washer. And that was very slow. I would still be cleaning after the others had gone home.
Now we have this thing – labeled ‘Tony 2.0’ by a cheeky son – that looks like an airport security ‘remove all laptops and liquids’ tunnel. So all I have to do is put the baskets in and get very wet … but it’s progress. Very little mud, this year. And very healthy, robust grapes so not much sticky oozing juice, either. So super-clean fruit … from my super-clean baskets!
I am proud of this. It was us who introduced the notion of picking into small, clean, washed baskets to Bordeaux. I nicked the idea off Peter Vinding Diers; a Dane, who had got the idea from Brian Crozer. Well, if you want wine that tastes of fruit you have to keep the dirt out.
But perhaps I go on too much.
The pickers pick about twice as fast as the wine press presses. So Saturday we were at it all day finishing Friday’s grapes. A second wine press would be nice but they are rather expensive.
We only finished on Sunday morning.
Then it was over to Windsor Great Park for their first picking there. The Windsor fruit was superb. A lovely day’s picking in the sun with the little lake below, glittering brightly. Maybe it is the reflected lake sunshine that helps Windsor ripen so beautifully? There was again evidence of bird damage but we didn’t actually see the hordes of parakeets we did last year. Maybe they went back to Australia.
Monday was another big sunny picking day at Marlow. The weather really has come good at the crucial moment.
Wednesday 14 Oct
They tell me the weather is the same in France, so they are holding back the final harvest for days there. The Cabernets have been left to ripen, ripen, ripen. And the weather still looks good. Jean-Marc says we are on the way to making ‘Un Monstre’; the big, black, low-tannin stuff which he knows I love … wine which is already delicious before we even bottle it. Cabernet that looks like it will come in super-ripe at 14.7, or so, is something he says he has never seen before in his 26 years. I certainly haven’t.
Sunday 18 Oct
We picked Henry’s last Harrow and Hope grapes an hour ago. We now have to press them, which will take today and most of tomorrow. But a great harvest safely in is a very nice feeling.
Yesterday, we picked the Pinots at tardy Wyfold. The villagers – the Wyfoldians – had signed up, ready to go. But the Pinots provided only a small crop. As usual, Barbara’s high vineyard is taking us down to the wire and the poor girl is back to lying awake fretting. Her vines are still a healthy green, photosynthesising away, and she has a big leaf canopy. But the weather is getting colder, and the days shorter. There will come a point when ripening will stop. Her Pinots (Noir and Meunier) were ripe enough to pick and will make good wine but the Chardonnay grapes are still short on the sugars. Will they get there? We cannot help but keep remembering 2007 and 2012 … when they didn’t … so no wine could be made … after a whole year’s hard work!
We have netted them against the birds. That’s all we can do … except pray, for the next week or so.