The idea first started from a holiday in Sark two years ago. Whilst ambling around the island after lunch (isn’t that the joy of a holiday in Sark – nothing to do but enjoy lunch and then amble around until dinner) we came across the vineyards of Sark Estate Management.
Vines, in Sark? With hard granite soils blasted by Atlantic gales carrying salt laden winds? Surely not, but yet, here were the vines and they looked like it might work.
Now, we have always enjoyed home brewing. It is that delightful mix of plantsmanship with the growing, community activity at picking, a mix of science and art with the brewing and, of course, the tasting.
Enjoying the process is not the same as getting it right – the cider that always turned to vinegar and the explosive elderflower champagne testify to that – but each time it is a little better.
So, if it can be done in Sark why not in St Peters which is another granite landscape blasted by the Atlantic winds? At this point I skirt over the fact that the Barclay brothers may have a slightly larger budget set aside for their project than we had in mind. Still a reduced budget may be offset by pure enthusiasm and a large dose of vraic fertiliser each year.
And so the experiment started in 2013 and now, in the spring of 2015 about 80% of the vines we planted are still alive (some much more healthy than others – but as I will tell you in another article that was probably my fault) and the test field looked like this on 5 May when the photo was taken.
There are three rows of white grapes called Seyval and three rows of red grapes called Regent. Bud break is just happening so we are praying for no sudden cold snap (or worse still hail) to damage the delicate growth.
The success (well, at least not a total disaster) of the first field has led to another small test planting this time of other red and white varieties as we try and see what types of grapes (red or white, normal or vigorous growth types, early or late ripeners) suit our “terroir”.
The eagle eyed will notice that the planting looks a bit uneven. This is because, in addition to different grape types, we are trying out growing techniques. Notice how the green tubes appear random but there is method there. They are in groups of three. The first vine has no tube (easy, cheap but leaves it exposed to rabbits and the wind). The second vine has half a tube (to offer some protection from the wind but not much from the rabbits). The third vine has a full tube (full protection from the rabbits and wind but risking a too violent “heat up in the day but sudden cooling at night” greenhouse effect the vines may not like). Then we repeat this.
We do not know if the presence, or height of the tube, will make any difference. Only a year or two will tell – a subject for another article.
And finally, here is a photo of what it is all about – a baby vine (or “maiden” as it is called by the wine boffins).
They arrive as a twig (costing £2 or so) and are about a foot long with a modest root system. The bottom half goes into the ground and the top half, with wax on top, is above ground. All of this is done in the winter. You then have to hope that in the spring you will see the plant wake up and push its leaves through the wax. The one in the photo has just done that.
So there we are – an experiment in action. We will let you know how things look in the summer. Who knows the 2013 vines may even produce some grapes this year.
Best wishes to all.
St Pierre du Bois