Monday, 22 September 2008

Grape Vines and a Plague of Chickens

A little off-topic for a cidermaking blog, but the Rockingham Forest micro-Vineyard has finally come to fruition.

One of the first things we planted when we moved to Middleton, were three grape vines given to us by the owners of a Leicestershire Vineyard. The two Regent, and one Rondo vines produced a modest crop of dark purple grapes last year, which unfortunately ended up in the beaks of the local Blackbirds before we could turn them into wine. This year we netted the vines more effectively, and have ended up with a healthy crop of grapes suitable for making a gallon or two of red wine.

Producing red wine in the English climate can be a thankless task. Even when blessed with good Summer weather we're unlikely to achieve sugar levels to match the heavy-duty offerings of Australian wine makers. Our vines are planted against an (almost) South-facing stone wall which absorbs a tremendous amount of heat during the day, and radiates it out to the vines throughout the night. It was this factor which influenced our decision to plant red wine varieties, though only time will tell whether we've achieved the ripeness we need after such a poor Summer.

Gauging the ripeness of grapes for winemaking is a tricky business without the aid of expensive measuring equipment. We would normally be looking to harvest from the end of September, but circumstances prevailed and we had to pick now, ready or not. Our free-ranging hens were taking a very keen interest in what grapes they could reach through the netting. The sweet and juicy treats were working them up into a bacchanalian frenzy, and the greedy gobblers were threatening to break through the flimsy netting and consume the lot. If all was not to be lost, we had to pick now.

Actually, the chickens seem to have done us a bit of a favour. The grapes are soft and juicy, with a hint that some were on the point of going over to rot. We may therefore have picked them at their optimum ripeness. We've ended up with around 2 gallons of crushed grapes (we used hands rather than the traditional feet to crush the grapes), and hope to produce at least half a dozen bottles of 'Chateau Middleton' strictly for home use.

Normal cider service will now be resumed...

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