The temptation for anyone writing anything during a time of world crisis is to respond to the crisis − it seems ostrich-like not to. On the other hand, at least in the response to the current Covid-19 pandemic, there is an ever-increasing amount of stories, analyses, statistics, and meaningless chatter. And a lot of us are spending huge parts of our day sucking it all up.
There’s an expression, probably medieval, that I’ve heard during difficult times: “God is speaking to us.” I buy it. I’m trying to listen. I’ve got nothing further to say on the current crisis. Nothing that follows in this piece is intended to be any sort of commentary.
I pruned the grape vines at the end of February. I can’t really say I know what I’m doing, but I’ve watched a couple of YouTube videos. It’s quite a job and I was glad to have my older sons with me. The tedious part is ripping all the old vines off the wires – each bit of the old growth wraps its tendrils around the wire, hanging on for dear life.
Our little vineyard is right on the main drive coming into Darvell. It’s a lovely spot and fun to see people both from our community and from the village of Robertsbridge as they walk past. All shapes and sizes. As we were working, a few of them commented that it seemed like we were cutting back an awful lot. It is in fact shocking how much of the vine gets whacked off every year, almost the whole thing except for a couple of canes. Come May though, those canes start shooting out like billy-o.
The vines are a variety called Solaris, a sweet white wine grape graft designed to work well for organic vineyards. Not that I’m especially turned on by organic farming (I also don’t chew garlic or read books by Noam Chomsky and I do wash my hair), but I’m a naturally lazy person and will go to some lengths to avoid walking up and down the rows with a spray pack on my back. There is plenty to do in any case over the course of the year: weeding, mowing, tightening wires, tying vines in place through the growing season. I tend to watch the growing bunches of grapes with a mixture of pride and apprehension, much in the same way I watch my kids.
Our first harvest was last September. My 11-year-old son and I took the morning off from school and office to work our way up and down the rows, clipping bunches of grapes into buckets and stacking them at the ends of the rows. We got a good deal more than expected. In the afternoon we loaded the buckets into a van and delivered them to a local winery to be made into a “co-op” batch, with grapes from a few other growers. We backed up to the door of an old shed and watched in the crisp sunlight as each bucket was hefted out, weighed, and dumped into an apple bin already half full of grapes. It was both rewarding and sobering to see the total of a couple years of work: 120 kilos or almost 265 pounds.
A week or so before the current lockdown, I got a call that the wine was finished so I drove in to collect it. I certainly prefer red wine but it was not a bad result: a light, sweet, tasty white. Our family had a lengthy discussion about naming it. I wanted to call it Four Trolls, in honor of our sons, but was vetoed. Darvell Wine sounds hokey. Sussex sounded too much like that wretched couple who just moved to California. In the end, the inspiration came from Keane as we were sitting around the living room listening to “Sovereign Light Café,” a song written about the nearby town of Bexhill. Bing. We are calling it Sovereign Light, and using a picture of the ugliest lighthouse ever built.
God willing, we’ll have a bigger harvest this autumn.