Thursday, July 12, 2007

Let us spray.....

Now the hours of backbreaking work are over!

Finally delivered from the man in Marmande is a power-driven, tractor-mounted mechanical sprayer, with four jets each side of a large fan. There's even a control so that you can spray only to your left or right, so's not to douse your neighbours maize with vine bug-killer. So instead of each spraying taking about six days by hand (which is a bit tricky when you have to spray every eight days) it only takes about three hours!

Strangely, it doesn't seem to have improved the vines resistance to infection, and the leaves are looking as brown as they did last year, and there are an awful lot of shrivelled up grapes, but at least I'm not having to work so hard to produce my measly crop!

In fact, I'm probably more dangerous now I've got a slightly wider tractor and a huge spraying machine on the back, as I can't really see where I'm going most of the time and the whole contraption only just fits between the vines. It was so hot a couple of weeks ago that I could only start spraying at 9:30 pm by tractor headlights, and by 11:00 I think I'd rammed and destroyed more vines than I'd sprayed

Monday, April 23, 2007


Just had to use that title, even though the subject isn't that interesting!

Of the 1000 or so posts holding up the wires, at least 100 have to be replaced each year due to the ravages of time, the elements of the French winter or me hitting them with the tractor.

The old posts were made of Acacia, a really hard wood that seems to last forever except for the bit at ground level. These are being slowly replaced by thick pine posts at the ends, or fancy metal posts in the middle.

The secret seems to be to replace them when the spring rains have softened the ground enough, but of course there are loads of other things to be doing so I usually forget.

I bought 50 metal posts and 10 wooden end posts, although the end posts are more complicated, requiring a special drilling tool to make the hole - looks like a key to turn off the water mains when you get a leak - and another special tool to corkscrew the tent-peg thing into the ground to hold the wire. A couple more fine examples of how there is only one way to do things in French viticulture - they simply don't sell anything except these special tools and the gadgets that go with them.

The metal poles for the supporting wires seem like a simple proposition - they supply them in various lengths and there are notches in them for the wires. All you have to do is get them into the ground so that the top wire is about four feet from the ground.
But of course the pole supplied is about six feet six, so there's a lot of banging with a sledgehammer by your own French Farmer standing on the top rung of a rickety stepladder. And once they've gone down about a foot they hit some stones or something and start bending at the top (see picture - mine is in the foreground). Maybe there's yet another French secret I haven't unlocked.
Could it be as simple as them using shorter poles?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A New Season begins...

Well, it actually began on New Years Day, as we decided we'd try to start early so that it wouldn't be a rush in the spring. Unfortunately, the weather was the wettest since we've been here, and there were a few personal crises which meant being back in England a few times. But still, on April 4th Jules tied down the final twig of the 6000 + vines. She's been concentrating on that while I've been doing the pruning and clearing the sticks. All of those are now stacked up waiting for the "bonfire ban" to end on May 1st. We burned about 30% of the twigs before the spring ban took effect on March 15th. Now we've started attaching a lot of the stems to the lower wire with the special elastic stuff, and I've replaced 50 poles. Plenty of work left to do if anyone wants to visit, though....

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Better than expected!

Took a sample of 200 Merlot grapes to the winery, and the results were good, but we'll need a visit from Carine to see if they can be picked. She suggested just throwing them in with the Cabernet, as there were very few to pick anyway. So on 25th September I took a sample of Cabernet and it was OK, so I then arranged with Mr Daney to pick them by machine on Friday 29th. The big machine arrived and proceeded to pick what it could, but there was no Merlot left for us to add to it - the birds had eaten it all! Mr Daney said he had a friend whose vineyard was even worse, which made me feel a little betterWe did pick any left-over Cabernet so added a few bucket-fulls to the total, then left Mr Daney to take them to the weigh-in, fearing the worst as we could only fill one trailer this year compared with two last year.

So, surprisingly, the result was not bad. A total of 4,270 kilos of cabernet at 11.7 degrees potential alcohol. This compares with 7,050 kilos at average 13.2 degrees last year. And Zero Merlot this year compared with 640 kilos last year.

We're hoping this will just about cover our costs for the vineyard this year, although of course we won't actually see any of this money until September 2008......

Saturday, September 02, 2006

better luck next year?

Well, Carinne, the lady from the winery, came to visit and gave the verdict that the Merlot (8 rows) was a complete write-off, but maybe the Cabernet (140 rows) could be saved. I explained that it would cost me 500 euros to get the Cabernet picked, so the grapes would have to be worth at least that! She reckons we've lost at least 60% of the Cabernet, but what we have left could be worth about 1500 to 1800 euros, so at the moment we're still planning to pick.

The first picture shows one of the vines bady affected.

According to the diary I've kept, the protection against greenfly ran out the day before the hailstorm, so the vines were subsceptible to that and to mildew.

The second picture was taken on July 17, and shows how the bunches each have some grapes affected by mildew. The risk is that the mildew can spread to the rest of the grapes.

Of course, what I didn't realise was that the mildew wasn't the big killer - it's the greenfly!

The third picture shows the same bunches on August 31 - the good grapes have turned purple and the mildew-ed grapes have just dried up, so there's still some hope...

The biggest problem now is that the greenfly has really taken hold so I'll have to spray at least twice to keep it in check (otherwise there'll be no leaves as well as no grapes, and that will affect next years crop).

Curiously, the pink stuff I'm spraying on now also protects against the "flavescence doree", subject of the earlier obligatory spraying, and is about a quarter the price. I still can't understand why we weren't told to use that one, and kill two bugs with one stone....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Autumn comes early

On July 4th we had a massive storm, with water running down the inside walls of the end bedroom. There were also hailstones, which damaged Francis maize field and left our vineyard looking very sad.

The winery said I should spray against infection immediately, but as I was leaving for England that day for my Dads 80th birthday, I had to leave it till I got back. The next week it was even worse, with the mildew having spread through all the leaves and a good 30 percent of the grapes!

I've been spraying with Bouille Bordelaise and Sulphur ever since, but all I can do now is hope. I've taken some close-up pictures of some bunches and will compare with photos I'm taking next week, to see if the disease is still spreading....

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Four-Mile hedge

A bit of rain makes quite a difference to these vines. We had a few thunderstorms a couple of weeks ago which made it difficult to do any spraying, as the stuff just gets washed off. But of course rain brings lots of potential infections too, so I've been playing catch-up. Now I'm almost up-to-date with the spraying (just waiting for the notice from the winery to tell me when to do the third "obligatory" treatment) and didn't think to look up while I was singing to my walkman and lugging the back-pack of spray up and down. The vines are about eight feet high, and drooping down over the wires so that they touch the floor! Some are actually entwining themselves around the vines in the next row, so I'm spraying in a weird kind of Jack-in-the-beanstalk tunnel. So now it's out with the garden shears. They do, of course, make a special machine with blades which hack the vines into three perfect sides, but Renee the tractor has died again (head-gasket?) so I couldn't pull it even if I had the machine. So same as last year, it's walking up and down chopping the vines to about six inches above the top wire. After I've done a row it looks like a battlefield behind me, but the trimmings will just rot down in a week or two.