Midsummer’s story

Midsummer’s story

The vines are in very good health, thanks to a long, warm spell followed (just in time) by rain. The same rain is less welcome now, in early August, but it has helped growth, the availability of nutrients and establishment of root systems. So, for all the difficulties in getting the tractor and sprayer out in the mud, the vines just keep growing! So much so that the second and final shoot tipping is just coming to an end. It’s a big job on a large vineyard at the best of times, but the April frost has meant that vines have been developing at different speeds in different places, and every job has required at least two ‘passes’. Still, we will look back and think of it as a successful season, and the vines did what they had to do in their second year!

Recovering from the frost

Recovering from the frost

April saw the vines get off to a flying start, only for the night of the 26th to damage around 70% of them with a heavy air frost. There was little which could have been done about it, not that it’s much of a consolation to know that!  The ones which miraculously survived the night of sub zero temperatures are doing very well, and a month on from the frost, the not so fortunate vines are staging a recovery. Helped by a seaweed stimulant, and some warm weather and eventually rain in May, there’s now enough new life in the vines to find at least one strong shoot. They’ve still got much of the growing season to catch up, and we’re optimistic!

Spring tidy up

Spring tidy up

The trellising team finished a few weeks ago, but the effects of tractor and trailer wheels on the bare land through the winter months are still to be seen. So one of the early jobs is to level out the headlands and the aisles, even though the ground is really too dry and hard to make it ideal. Not even the weeds are happy growing, and the earth looks more lunar like than Sussex Weald!  Local farmer, Andrew, has done a great job of the headlands, and for the next two or three weeks, we’re running the vineyard tractor through the aisles with a harrow. Some rain would be helpful. And the hundreds of native hedging whips which have been planted would be grateful too. Tim Bennett’s rigged up a makeshift bowser to try to keep them alive.

A bird’s eye view

A bird’s eye view

Sam Moore at Visual Air took an aerial picture of the barn area last May, when the old barns were still standing. He was back a few days ago, to get a similar shot of the site, with the new barn structure, before the roof was installed. What a difference! He’ll do us a favour and come back in April when the whole site should be finished and landscaped. I must get one of these drones! While he was up there, he took a few more of the vineyard and the landscape, and it all looks rather stunning, even in winter.

ROOM for a BARN

ROOM for a BARN

The old barns stood on this site for many years, but have finally been removed. The site for the new building is clear and ready for the foundations to be dug. If the weather’s helpful, the new barn (at 25m x 12m) will take just a few weeks for the contractors R&B Construction to complete and be ready in time for the arrival of machinery and our first team member in April! It’s an exciting time and it feels like we’re about to embark on a new chapter.

Bats and Owls

Bats and Owls

The end of the year arrives (how did that happen?) with lots of activity at Pookchurch. The persistent trellising team have finished 5 of the 9 fields and are now in the southerly block. They’ll have a break before resuming in January. In the meantime, there are hedges to be trimmed and trees to be thinned. And while someone’s up there, we decided to install some new homes for bats and barn owls in the mature trees near the old barns. Thanks to Kevin Rodgers the tree surgeon, pictured wrestling with the barn owl nest box in a beautiful mature oak. We now have bat boxes for groups of summer visitors and also for smaller British bats. Thanks to The Ecology Partnership too, for their advice on the best boxes and where to put them. Next year we’ll go hunting for droppings! Well, someone will.

Still taking shape

Still taking shape

As we move into autumn, we’re focused on the physical structure of the vineyard. The bridleway running through the site has been surfaced, making it useable during the winter months. The trellising system is being installed, but with over 20,000 posts to position carefully, it’s a job which will extend into the winter and the new year. And the drainage contractors are back, this time dealing with the water which runs to the eastern edge of some parts of the vineyard. 

Demolition of the old barns, and construction of the new general purpose building will keep us occupied through the winter and into spring, when there’ll be a functioning centre for the operation. Just in time for the 2017 growing season!

Vineyard dogs

Vineyard dogs

The bridleway and footpath give riders and walkers the opportunity to follow progress, and as a result, we are visited by the occasional horse, but many dogs and their owners. This saluki (Maisie) is a frequent visitor, and seems to like being on the same side of the fencing as the vines. We’re not quite sure how that happens either. 

The ‘pook’ effect

The ‘pook’ effect

The creation of the vineyard has changed the local landscape, and continues to do so as the infrastructure is still being built. We have seen this year how the new fencing becomes weathered quite quickly, even the stakes and tubes look less prominent, and most of all the vines fill out to soften the wonderful geometry of the vineyard layout. There is something strangely pleasing about the sense of order which the vine rows create in contrast to the centuries old less formal landscape.

A good summer for growing everything

A good summer for growing everything

The weeds did extremely well too, with various parts of the vineyard favoured by contrastingly different types. No doubt we’ll also discover how the vines fare differently across the 70 or so acres. But for this summer, the weeds provided added interest, with the southern fields most liked by various members of the thistle family, including many award winning milk thistles, such as this one pictured here in September. 

From planting to trimming

From planting to trimming

Our progress at Pookchurch moved from preparing the land at the start of the year to planting in April and May. The vines have done well, helped by a wet June and a warm end to the summer. In July we selected the strongest shoots to encourage stronger growth and root development, and reduce crowding in the tubes. Removing 120,000 tubes ( and then replacing them) is a lot of work, but was done in two weeks by the Vine Works’ team.