Stamina & Bonding

In between spraying and suckering (stripping excess side-shoots), you need to be weeding. The well-prepared soil of the new vineyard quickly becomes a forest of weeds and vines hate weeds. It is fine to have ground-cover in the avenues but you have to keep your ridges clean and you cannot use weed killers when your vines are young so this work must be done by hand.

The local indigenous grass is called Buffalo grass. It is very different to Kikuyu insofar as it forms a think mat rather than reaching desperately for the sky. Once the buffalo grass dominates, you have to mow far less often. There is some Kikuyu on the farm, but like the alien trees, we are gradually getting rid of it. I don’t know why anyone in the area plants Kikuyu apart from the fact that it grows so quickly. To do so is really to cut a stick for your back.

In the early spring there aren’t enough daylight hours to keep up with the work if you are holding down a day-job so weekends become your chance to catch up. You have to develop a particular kind of field-work stamina that involves working steadily for long hours rather than frantically in short bursts. You have to learn not to count or even think about the number of rows you still have left to do and to just concentrate on the plant in front of you.

Doing a lot of this work myself has led me into a special relationship with these plants. When I walk down a row I can remember details about the development of many of them. In particular, I remember where the weaker vines were situated and I can admire the way they have overcome their slow starts. In that first year I noticed that many of the vines towards the south end of the block were behaving oddly. Their new leaves were grey and sometimes almost white and the internodes were really small and the leaves didn’t get big in the way that they should have. It was a kind of dwarfism but nobody could give me a clear diagnosis or a treatment. I spent a lot of time on the internet, called in many experts, and tried a lot of treatments including mixing feeds and watering individual plants with a watering can! The vines came right in the end but I still don’t know exactly what they were suffering from.

It was a difficult first season. At the time I really had my doubts that we’d ever get to see a harvest. Every setback felt like a total disaster. We have subsequently heard stories of people like us who started doing Pinot and gave up after a season or two. Pinot is a tricky grape, especially if it is grown in a genuine Pinot terroir. Just how tricky, we were still to learn.