Monday, 29 June 2009

Clos St. Pierre – my vineyard.

In 2006 my good neighbour, Jim Page-Roberts, gave me a couple of vine cuttings. I actually asked for them, but Jim always generously has a few cuttings ready for the needy! He did warn me that I was likely to regret planting this particular varietal, a red Triomphe d’Alsace, as it would deliver a heavy fight for control. He was right on the latter, but wrong on the former.

On 29 June 2009, the single cutting that I actually thought was dead – I was ready to pull it out and ask for another one – has grown to form the most delightful arbour in our patio.
(Photo on the right).

As usual it was Natali who calmed my impatient mind and said: just leave it for a couple of weeks. I did, and the question now is how far I must let it grow. I have trained it to an impressive 27m of well-controlled branches in 5 lengths and with 5-10m more planned. I had also planted a specimen in front of the house, but I think this one should be stopped when the total length of the branches reaches about 10m. One recently planted vine will fill a smaller area and should be stopped at ca. 10m length.
Finally I have planted a Triomphe d’Alsace in a pot, where it will be fountain pruned. Just to see how this works. This will provide me with ca 60m of Triomphe d’Alsace – which is still almost 20m short of Jim’s impressive 78m of a 25 year old vine!

I also have one sample of the Cascade varietal, now fighting for its right to exist, with space planned for ca 6m branches. Its reputation is dubious in respect of disease resistance and I am not sure I will like the ‘foxyness’ of the juice, but we shall see.

The Cascade grape bunch picture was taken 10 June 2009 - obs the openness of the bunch, quite different from Triomphe d'Alsace.

2009, the third year of my vines, will be the first production year and the grapes are developing very well on all the vines, although each grape is rather small and contains a very large pip. This is typical for wine-grapes as opposed to eating grapes.

My concern with Triomphe d’Alsace is that the grape bunches seem to develop a little irregularly. There always seems to be several green, non-ripened grapes in each bunch and for some reason they develop differently along the stems. In France, the classical vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux have very strict rules for planting and number of grapes pr. plant. At the moment of writing I can count a total of approximately 250 bunches on the Triomphe d’Alsace – compare that to the number 8 allowed - and 50 on the Cascade! I shall come back with an assessment in the autumn, when the grapes have been picked and vinified.

Triomphe d’Alsace is ostensibly hardy and disease resistant. With a bit of luck – and when I have honed my skills as a ‘viticulteur’ – it should produce sturdy, well coloured wines that are best drunk reasonably young. I tasted Jim’s and it was excellent. No, it is not Mouton Rotschild, and never will be, but if the object is to produce a quaffable, organic wine, with good structure and a clean taste that will go well with cheeses, spaghetti and a round of grilled hamburgers on a warm summer’s evening in the patio, nothing will beat it.

The photo shows a typical early Triomphe d'Alsace (10 June), with a congested number of little grapes trying to squeeze each other off the stem.

And here is a selection of grapes as of 29 June. It goes fast!

I shall try to describe my progress and experience as time goes and the results are filling my wine rack! It will help me improve the process and perhaps help other people, interested in growing vines.

This is what it looks like on 14 July 2009

One note on the arbour: The partition walls between us and the neighbours are only 1.80m tall (ca 6 ft) and the distance between them is 5m (16ft). This meant I couldn't use wire-suspension for the stems, as we wouldn't be able to stand up in the patio! I designed all sorts of arbour support before settling on a really simple, fast and cheap one: 6m lengths of 12mm glass-fibre rods. The suspension proved to be equally simple: 3 holes drilled in each of the partition walls at a 45 degree angle and sticking the end of each rod into a hole. The 6m rod thereby formed a neat arch over the 5m span! After fastening with green garden wire, I could leave the rest to the vines!
Perhaps over time I shall have to adjust this contraption, as the vines due to their weight tend to bend the flexible rod a little. A little? I forgot that there might be 15-20 Kg grapes, with juices sucked from my 'terroir' to the canopy. So far a steel wire across the arbour helps lift the weight.
The rods were acquired from in Chester, 01244 676000.

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