Fall & Christmas

Here is what has been happening here at Thorny Vines since the last update in late summer. For the enthusiastic reader, the first part of the year is covered in earlier thrilling episodes:

Summer turned out to be much colder than normal in the valley, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by vineyard owners who unanimously expected massive crop failure as a result. This was particularly applicable to the Reds which need more sun and warmth to mature than Whites. Farmers are a pessimistic breed, and I fit in well by always expecting the worst. We had allowed only the most robust of the vines to produce fruit as you are supposed to let the roots develop in the second year. After dropping excess fruit from most of the vines, we were left with 1,657 bunches to mature. I know because I counted them. You just can’t keep a good accountant down, even if he doesn’t have his CA anymore.

Bird Netting

At an average weight of approximately four bunches to the pound we eagerly anticipated producing about 400 pounds of grapes and dabbling in a bit of wine-making with the help of friends.

The weather in September and October improved somewhat unexpectedly and the grapes seemed to recover and ripen as they are supposed to, although the sugar content remained stubbornly low. To compensate we kept delaying the harvest to allow the grapes more time to ripen. This also gave the botrytis a good opportunity to establish itself in some bunches. Botrytis is often, and rather inelegantly referred to as “bunch rot”. Like cops, there is good bunch rot and bad bunch rot, and the only way to tell the difference is by taking a bunch, sticking your face into it, taking a long sniff and then a large bite out of the bunch. If you don’t pass out it is generally good bunch rot – otherwise known as “noble rot”. I was counting on Ann to do this important task, but she proved surprisingly unwilling to stick a mouldy bunch of grapes in her face, so I had to do it. The picture below is an unconvincing shot of her faking it.

Testing for Bunch Rot

My inexpert diagnosis was that it was noble rot, so our next step was harvesting which we did in early November. We felt we could pick the entire vineyard in a couple of hours so we decided to do this ourselves. My estimates were surprisingly inaccurate, and we ended up with about 600 pounds of grapes which took the two of us about 5 hours of quite back breaking work. With 22 tubs of grapes stacked in the truck we set off for 3 Sisters where we were making the wine. After de-stemming and crushing we were left with about 160 litres of juice which basically just sits and ferments for a couple of months. That is pretty much where we are now except for the nice touch added by John when he unselfishly set fire to his barn in order to add a smoky flavour to the wine. Fortunately, the fire put itself out without significant damage. We have a second (joint) venture with John to make chardonnay with some grapes that got overlooked at picking time. Ever the innovator, John felt that throwing in a few tubs of surplus pinot noir would never be noticed, and we are now hoping that pink chardonnay and smoky riesling catch on, or visitors to Three Sisters and Thorny Vines will be consuming a lot of it in 2012.

De-stemming (with paunch strategically hidden)

We have also tried (yet again) to extend the vineyard by adding rows around the perimeter of the property. Armed with the Bonavista auger II (an inside joke), I manually dug 50 post holes along the perimeter fence through rock-hard ground, and ordered 150 new vines before my neighbour was kind enough point out that 25 of them were over his property line. He had put the fence up at his own expense 2 feet inside the line. The least I could do was to pull out the posts in case he was tempted to retaliate and move the fence. Unfortunately moving the posts is not really an option as it would infringe on the tractor’s turning circle.

Enough about the vineyard. Other excitement came in the form of some brave visitors in October (the Russell’s and Frasers) who got roped into the harvest, and a visit from Indy and Tuscany (the Lawrence dogs) in early December. Indy has developed a penchant for ladies shoes and underwear which he scattered all over the place, as well as up and down Evans Avenue, outside the property. We were very surprised to stumble across Ann’s knickers when going for a walk. Monroe (no relation to Marylin), the Russell’s dog, seems to be content to scatter his favours all over the vineyard, and we have now resorted to a special disposal well in his honour. Indy and Tuscany are enthusiastic contributors.

Our various spies in Vancouver and Calgary have been doing a poor job of keeping us updated as to what Mike and Sean are up to, but they dutifully visit us most long weekends, as long as we pay for transport and provide free wine. We assume they are both still unattached and we have no grandchildren to speak of. None that we can’t speak of either. They continue with their dreams of being the next Bill Gates and one day supporting their parents who are not going to get rich farming.

Ann & I are loving it here, but still missing our friends, and we live for their visits, so do keep coming. We have two categories of visitors – those who qualify for the “adopt a row program”, and those who don’t, preferring to sit on the deck and sample the fruits of someone else’s labour.

2011 Adopt-a-Row Inductees

Row 36 – Brenda & Ian Tweedie. Actually Brenda and Ian failed to complete the minimum work requirement, and have been awarded honorary status because of their fine work on putting together the composter, and the fact that they visited a record three times during the year. They have been assigned row 36 because it is the closest to the house, and Ian (Tweedie) can monitor its status from the deck without having to put down his beer.

Row 37 – Ron and Trish Kirkpatrick. Ron for his invaluable work and practical advice on wiring up the new section, and Trish for her creative marketing ideas with the adopt a row program. Trish’s idea was to charge people to adopt a row, so she now owes us $250.

Row 27 – Giles and Vivienne Twogood. Giles proved to be remarkably adept at picking up rocks in his row, and Vivienne qualifies because she made him do it.

Row 23 and 24 – Peter and Jane Guy. Rookie visitors who were invaluable in helping with the hedging. Peter insists he did enough to warrant two rows so Jane gets a freebie, although she did pick up a rake.

Row s 25 and 26. Cathy and Simon Russell. Actually they qualified last year, but didn’t read the rules and were unaware that they do not get another row for all the hard work they put in this year. It needs to be said that even after two attempts, Simon was unable to level the pool steps he made with Allan blocks, despite the fact that he used to work for the manufacturer. The good thing about Simon is that his natural determination will force him to come back and try again, and he may get it right one day.

Row 39. Sherry Cremer. Sherry and I used to work together at Sterling. Sherry’s persistence and hard work at Sterling was a major factor in the financing of the new pool. The least we could do was assign a row and let her enjoy the view.

Failed to Qualify:

Mike and Sean. Their only productive contribution was to tamp down the earth around the poles that I subsequently had to pull out. Without their efforts, removal would have been a lot easier. The good news is that the vacant post holes provide an inexhaustible supply of doggie disposal wells.

Mike and Sean trying (but failing dismally) to look busy

Peter and Noreen Conway. I feel bad about this because it is their second visit, but rules are rules. Under the new program introduced this year they will be automatic qualifiers if they come again next year. Bitsy also deserves special mention for trying hard, but falling short of contributions from Indy, Tuscany and Monroe.

Brian & Cecile Fraser. Another couple I feel a bit guilty about. Brian and Cecile put in the required hours picking, but at one of the many Lawrence vineyards which do not qualify. I would encourage them to file a complaint with BC Labour Assessment who know John intimately.

Jem and Joan Russell. Whist maintaining a record low “vineyard work to wine consumption ratio”, Jem and Joan deserve honourable mention for their bravery in swimming at pretty low temperatures. Their ability to do this is not unrelated to the amount of wine consumed.

Penny & Gord Ogilvie, Arden & Sue Brummel and Gord Ingham all popped in for whirlwind visits but were more interested in sampling the local wines than rolling up their sleeves. They promised to come back and work harder next year.

Mike & Sean’s friends. They were too numerous to mention, and were too busy partying to do any work in the vineyard. Without exception they were all nice and polite, and are all welcome back anytime.

Romance in the Vines


  1. Andrew & Dani Russell

    On December 27, 2011, unveiled to much fan fair, the 1st bottle of Thorny Vines Riesling was consumed among friends at the Russell Household. Quickly thereafter a ridiculous game of “Cereal Box Feats of Strength” broke out. Ann, Sean, and Dani Russell were among the impressive finalists.

    So all in all we know the alcohol content was right on the money in the first bottles of Riesling produced…


  2. Well you were right Ann – Ian has transferred his humorous writing to the website so I forgive the missing hilarious Christmas letter. He is obviously far too busy for that. The vineyard looks amazing. In my mind the plants were these fairly scrawny twigs just barely edging over the top of the milk cartons and now you have this beautiful place to hang out in. We can hardly wait to come and check out how our rows are doing and add some non-grape-yielding floral relief to 21 and 33. We finally have snow here and it’s really quite lovely. The cold arrived too after the weirdly mild November and December. Much love to you both and to the non-grandchildren-producing boys! Love Alex and Helen. (Orangeville, Ontario)

  3. Alan & Kate Smedley

    Hi Ian and Anne, loved receiving your email and acessing the website! Have been in stitches reading parts of it. We are still here at Michaelhouse and enjoying it. two boys left Rhodes at last – David with masters degree in Water Resources Management and Paul Bsc and teaching diplomma. Heading for the UK next month to play professional rugby! Suzanne going into 2nd year BA. Would love to see you if ever find your way here!!!
    All the best for the new year – older and greyer for all of us, but very blessed! take care and keep well.

  4. Jack & Carol Part

    Wonderful to hear from you. As we did not hear of your wherabouts before I had no way to make contact. Congratulations on your successes todate. I know it was a big decision and you are not getting any younger (sorry to remind you). I loved the pictures and the grape growing stories. Glad to hear your boys are well and there are no grandchildren to speak of – of which to speak actually. Without spouses that’s a good thing. I’ll send our Xmas letter attached to Ann’s email so you know what we have been up to.