Now the ‘wine’ is in the barrel, but things were different back in September when the prospect of harvesting the grapes and making the first batch of wine lay ahead. For anyone wondering how not to do it, here’s the complete guide.
September 10: I have had headaches from wine before; this time it is different. It’s the prospect of making wine not the result of drinking it that’s responsible for the skull-shrinking ache and sense of co-mingled guilt and doom I’ve experienced each morning lately. It only lasts around 10 minutes, the time it takes to finish my coffee outside in the sun, round the back of the kitchen, a position which provides a fine view of what we refer to as the vineyard.
I mean, it is a vineyard, just not the spaced-out, well-ordered, forever sunset ones on labels from California; it’s an impenetrable mess. As I think I’ve mentioned, for the first month we were working on the house, I thought it was rows of old sticks; stakes for some obscure Andaluz farming practice I needed to ask Fernando about. Shortly after that the entire area had sunk from view under a head height spread of thistles, poppies, and michaelmas daisies. It was only in late May that I began to notice lime green shoots, as thick as my wrist stretching up in all directions above the sea of flowers, waving speculatively, big leaves flapping in the breeze. From then on, each day the vines were a foot longer, and meaner – lunging and grabbing at each other, clawing their way up anything they could find (other than the rows of wires).
When I set off down there in a sundress, straw hat, and flip-flops armed with a pair of clippers to ‘tidy them up’, I found they’d colluded, and woven long, dark tunnels full of snares and nooses, and moving through the rows involved shuffling at a low crouch, the vines sealing the exit as I passed. I got caught up and fell over a dozen or so times, usually into crispy thistles. There were hundreds of heavy bunches of ripening grapes (good), loud with the whining hum of what I thought were bees but turned out to be wasps (bad). I never knew wasps made nests the size and shape of Ikea’s iconic paper lampshades, nor that some made nests in the ground and were primed to attack on sensing even the most tentative approaching feet.
Anyway after two stings, a Navy Seal style retreat crawl, the loss of hat and flipflop, several cuts and grazes, and hair so thick with burrs and things I had to chop out great clumps, I decided to let the grapes do their thing until it was harvest time. I’d only infiltrated two rows out of . . . I don’t know . . . maybe 10, each with an uncountable number of vines.
Once or twice after that I googled ‘can wasp stings kill you’, and the answers were sometimes ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘no’.
Now, I sense from the number of friends and neighbours asking whether I’ve picked the grapes and made my wine yet, that harvest time has arrived. They’ve been asking for a while, and I keep thinking I’ll do it tomorrow before realising that I just can’t do it tomorrow because I don’t want to pick the grapes, and I don’t know how to make the wine.
I’ve googled wine making too. It seems people in the googlesphere make an average of 5 litres, add a lot of this and that, run a lot of tests, and pass it in and out of sterilised demijohns. Wine making anoraks. Fernando mentioned that he made around 100 litres last year, and that if all the grapes were picked, on a good year, it should be possible to get around 130 litres. It’s tantamount to a challenge. However I can’t even think what sort of containers we could use, or how to sterilise them, or how – even where – to press the grapes, hence the passing days, the growing tension, the growing grapes.
Inevitably I’ll have to go back in there one day soon. The buzzing is loud, and it all looks really, really bad. Think I’ll get away to the coast for a week. (I did, you can read about that here in The Guardian online).