Merry Christmas from Thorny Vines

December 23, 2010

Dear All:

Christmas is fast approaching, and the pressure is building to (a) find something for Ann and (b) to write this letter. However, these are pretty much my only Christmas responsibilities, and with Ann taking on all the rest, it is hard to complain about unfair division of duties.

It has been a big year for Ann and & I leaving Calgary after almost 30 years and moving  to  the Okanagan Valley in BC, to start-up a vineyard. Our Calgary house went on the market in the middle of January and sold on the first day, a clear indicator that we didn’t ask nearly enough for it. Ann slunk out of town a few days later on her annual trip to visit her Mum in South Africa, leaving me to pack up the house in her absence. In retaliation,  I took the opportunity to pack up our new farm-truck with all sorts of stuff she considered important (but which she has still not noticed or missed) and headed for the city dump.

Sean in the meantime was recovering from an operation on his knee and already thinking about having the other one done as it was a handy excuse for some paid time off work.  He frequently accuses Ann and I of passing on substandard DNA, and we counter by telling him he was either adopted or switched at birth. It’s a game really.  It finally dawned on him that since neither Ann, I or the milkman have weak knees, DNA couldn’t be the problem. His quest for the ultimate truth has left him believing the Catholic Church is responsible because of the unreasonable amount of time spent kneeling when he was younger.

On the advice of family and friends, Mike took up hiking in an attempt to downgrade his “A-type” personality to “A-minus”. As part of his therapy, he planned a torturous five day hike along Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail, and proudly invested in a new set of hiking boots. Sensibly deciding to “wear them in”, but not so sensibly procrastinating until  a few days before his departure date, he gave himself a pair of monstrously ugly (and painful) blisters on his heels in the process.. Pictures of these blisters are readily available on U-tube, or directly from Mike for a small fee, but adult discretion is advised as they are definitely not standard Christmas fare.

Not wanting to be seen as a cry-baby he patched up his heels with plastic skin and set off on the hike with a party of 6. Apparently the heels held up well until they reached pretty much the middle of nowhere and had to cross this raging torrent (his own words, but more likely a trickle) by means of a large rock in the middle. It did not seem to occur to him that  conditions were perfect for creating slime, and as you can guess he slipped  on the rock, dislocating both his knee (not too badly)  and his middle finger (very badly), and, of course getting quite wet. Fortunately, one of the members of the party was an aspiring medic who seized the opportunity to practise her joint-manipulation techniques on the finger. It took two or three good yanks and copious amounts of screaming from Mike, but afterwards his finger was as good as new except for an unfortunate tendency to give fellow golfers “the finger” at the top of his backswing.

As for life on the vineyard ……… We arrived on April 1, and the vines were all planted in early May. After a few nervous weeks of inactivity, they seemed to flourish, but winter will be the true test as there are some places where “frost pockets” could be a problem in the spring. We have planted Riesling which are not nearly as picturesque as red grapes, but are supposedly more hardy and versatile. Otherwise we have learned a lot/something/almost nothing about running a vineyard so far:

–       For starters, do you know how difficult it is to find a good name? BeezAss was rejected by Ann as too vulgar. Someone else suggested we continue with a Rolling Stones theme in keeping with Ruby Tuesday winery (next door) and Red Rooster winery (across the road). My contribution along these lines was “Jumping Jack-Ass” winery which I thought had a nice ring to it, but that was also rejected in favour of “Thorny Vines”. On reflection this will be more acceptable to Revenue Canada who seem to believe it is important to have a serious business intent before they will allow any tax breaks.

–       Being a farmer does not change ingrained habits. In particular it has not changed Ann’s penchant for lying in bed late in the morning, except that she wakes up when I bring the tea, remarks “every day here is like a holiday” and goes back to sleep for several more hours. I think its part of her self-defence mechanism not to have too much quality time with Ian now he is at home all the time. Either that or a natural instinct to avoid early morning labour;

–       I, on the other hand, have been unable to break the habit of getting up early, but relish the thought of no longer being forced into bowing and scraping to the CA society of Canada. However, resigning my CA and refusing to acknowledge any further demands for payment of dues has not stopped them from sending the monthly magazine to me. Not reading it gives me just as much pleasure as it always did, and not paying for it somehow even adds something;

–       Weeds have rather put paid to our hopes of “going organic”. This will be a disappointment to some of you who don’t have to weed around 1750, soon to be 1875, vines half a dozen times a year. When you next buy a bottle of organic wine, console yourselves with the thought that claims of being organic are almost certainly bogus, because organic wineries are all either bankrupt, or their wine tastes like manure.

We have had many visitors throughout the year including several repeats. We try to put them to good use, but it doesn’t always work:

  • First prize for “Worker of the Year” is a tie between Alex and Simon. Being an honorary title there is no reward associated with it. It’s the glory that counts;
  • The prize for “Name that Vineyard” goes to Mark Russell. Mark wins a case of home-made wine providing he can afford the shipping to Australia. Rumour has it that this is roughly equivalent to a year’s tuition at his medical school;
  • Honourable mention for effort goes to Helen, Cathy, Joanna, Dani, Barb, Jane, Scott, Bill and Andrew. They all get a row named after them as part of the “Adopt a Row program”. Unfortunately, the rain has washed their names off the row tags so they will have to try again next year;
  • Mike, Hayley, David and Jon were disqualified for digging up and re-planting the wrong tree. Not surprisingly, they get nothing more than an invitation to come back and get it right next time;
  • Under the rules of the competition, the Tweedies, Huggards, Conways, Chalmers, Macleans, Kureluks and Agrawals did not meet the minimum work commitment for consideration, but deserve our thanks for coming anyway.
  • John and Liz Lawrence have done as much as anyone, but were unfortunately ineligible due to their status as professional farmers and their proximity to Thorny Vines.  However they do get special mention for lending Tusk and Indy to us;
  • Sean assigned himself to the disabled list, citing his second knee operation as the excuse. Without growing a third knee, he won’t get away with it next year. That will teach him a lesson for complaining about his DNA.

Those of you who didn’t make it out here, you will just have to try harder next year. In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone.

Thanksgiving 2010


1 Comment

  1. Vivien Twogood

    Hi Ann and Ian, Loved reading your posts. They’re so humorous. Bet you could give Alexander McCall Smith a run for his money. Giles was just singing your praises to the Tweedies and Huggards et al the other night as to how he thought that you’d written one of the best Christmas letters he’s ever read and was sad that it was now going to be discontinued!
    Heard that you spent Christmas with the ones who thought Giles wore a toupee.No doubt you all had a wonderful time. Here’s wishing you and yours a stellar 2012.
    We miss you here in Calgary. Are you planning a visit any time soon?
    Again all the best for 2012,
    Vivien Twogood