Spring 2012 Update

It’s unlikely that many will have noticed that I have not updated this blog since around Christmas. Just so you know my weight bloomed to new heights during the festivities, and this made manoeuvring around the vineyard an uncomfortable, if not dangerous, proposition as I had a tendency to tip over when bending down to attend the vines. It all got a bit too much, and I finally decided to do something about it.

The problem with losing weight is that the process has all sorts of undesirable side-effects. It made me grumpy, depressed, and quite anxious about silly things, and above all I completely lost my sense of humour. It was sort of like Samson losing his strength when his hair was cut off. Anyway, what’s done is done, and the new me is lighter and fitter than I have been in 30 years, but considerably more serious.

I mentioned our 2011 Riesling in my last update. It really turned out well thanks to our wine-maker extraordinaire Pierre Levesque. Unfortunately we only ended up with approximately 12 cases, and I was so excited with the results that I gave most of it away to prove the home-made wine I made form kits in Calgary was not indicative of what could be done with real grapes. We have now signed a contract to sell the 2012 crop to Synchromesh wines, and they will make a Riesling exclusively out of our grapes, so we will see what can be done by a professional wine-maker.

We are also going to try less toxic methods of dealing with weeds. I am not convinced that concentrated vinegar, which is basically what these products contain, is any less harmful but the manufacturers claim they are more eco-friendly. However, the grass we have planted between the vine rows is now flourishing, and seems to have crowded out a lot of the weeds to the extent that hand-weeding is torturous, but feasible, particularly if we have lots of visitors who are anxious to do their bit. There is also evidence that some of these weeds poison cut-worms which can become a real problem, and selective hand weeding allows us to leave these weeds alone. Trouble is Sheppard’s Purse (the weed) is not particularly pretty.

We have blown our construction budget by a considerable margin this year, following a record year last year. Completed projects include new windows in the kitchen and dining room which open up the views, new lights in the kitchen, Pergolas in front of the garage and over the new concrete pad which used to be an old RV pad, and we have enclosed the area under the upper deck which is now an enclosed storage area. We have also ordered a new automatic gate as we need to keep it closed because of the deer and the pool, not to mention the local riff-raff who occasionally pop in and steal things. We found we were getting enough exercise in the vineyard without having to jump out of the car to open and close the gate every time we went out. Fortunately this is all being financed by work from my old company which continues to flow in for now, but my contract with them ends in July so no more frivolous spending after that. But you can’t call yourself a farmer unless you have a tractor, and I continue to lust for a new Kubota. I struggle to find a convincing reason to buy one and Ann has made it clear that it is her or the tractor, and I have to admit that depreciating Ann over the 37 years we have been married has been a much superior investment to a tractor which may last 10, and is really only a toy.

I get a lot of questions about the economics of vineyards, so I thought some of you may be interested in the following comment received from a friend who also has a vineyard in Cape Town, South Africa:

“The formula is simple. Work out how much you want to lose in a year and divide that by R5.37 (there are about eight Rand to the Canadian dollar). This gives you the bottle number. Divide by 0.75 to get the number of litres (unless like the US, you are still measuring in bushels per fortnight), multiply by 65% (yield) and you have the tons for the year. Use a chain saw to remove vines that may cause an excess in required tonnage.”

 

I had a little difficulty with his math, but was comforted by the international flavour of the economics of wine-making. My response was as follows, but don’t follow the logic too closely:

“In Canada you would take your loss of R5.37 and divide by 8 (Rands to the Can dollar). This works out at $0.67. If you round downwards you are already breaking even. You then sell your grapes to a winery for anything in excess of $2,500 and buy wine from them for an equivalent amount. Now you get a rebate of approximately $3,000 on your property taxes because your gross revenues exceed the farm-status threshold.

 

The beauty of our formula is (a) we don’t care how much we produce; (b) Without doing anything, we get more profitable as the Rand declines against the Canadian dollar  (c) The fewer bottles we sell the more profitable we get and (d) you get a whole bunch of wine which you can drink or sell to unsuspecting friends.

But it gets better, because you have to account for is how patriotic Canadians are. They will pay anything for anything (wine included) as long as it is made in Canada. In Canadian dollars now, you pay $11-50 for a bottle of Neederburg Riesling (a well-known SA wine) in the liquor store. A comparable Riesling from our area would be about $20.00, so there is another $8.50 per bottle in profit. Convert this back to Rands, and you are golden making at least R68.00 per bottle, which I will bet is more than you pay for a bottle of Riesling in Pic N Pay (The SA equivalent of Safeway, except that you can buy wine with your groceries).

 

— And you don’t even have to buy a chainsaw. The only thing you have to worry about is your wife finding out that she is labouring away at about a cent an hour.

 

Enough of that rubbish. Our visitors so far this year include the Russels and Owen’s at Easter, Kara Norman, an old friend of Ann’s from her lab in Calgary, and Bill Spence, Rod Maclean and Simon Russell (accompanied by Munro!):

  • Scott Owens mastered the use of the Lawrence auger and helped me drill 70-odd holes down the west side of the property where we have planted a new row. For braving the use of this frightening piece of equipment, he immediately laid claim to the row under the Adopt a Row Program, and “donated” his old row (8) to Hayley. Hayley didn’t do much for her row, but at least recovered from re-planting the wrong tree on her last visit. Jane stuck loyally to her row (7) and taped down the vines mostly to the wrong catch-wire. Dave cleverly arrived late and avoided all the work.  I should add here that the new row is adjacent to row 1, and this addition has created havoc with our row numbering system, and the Adopt a Row program generally. We will either have to call it row “0” or renumber all 40 rows.
  • Simon was willing but otherwise occupied picking up after Munro. Contrary to what some people believe, Munro is not an old Scottish school-friend of Simon’s, and requires quite some picking up after. Cathy dutifully taped down the vines on her row, and unlike Jane did it on the correct wire. The rest of her weekend was spent diagnosing everyone else’s aches and pains. Andy & Dani felt that parking their brand-new Beamer in the drive-way raised the tone of our neighbourhood sufficiently to qualify them from exemption from any further work.
  • All that can be said of Mike and Sean is that they made their usual contribution which was nothing. Mike also made me buy a case of John`s infamous `08 Chardonnay, and then (a) didn`t drink any and (b) didn`t pay me back either.
  • Kara Norman, armed with all kinds of university degrees arrived in May. Unfortunately her degrees were not in farming or more specifically in growing grapes so 10 years of continuing education in cancer research did not help the vines. However, Kara was keen to do something so we armed her with a pair of clippers and set her to work cleaning last year’s vine tendrils off the wires. This is a very boring and time-consuming exercise, and for sticking to it Kara now owns row 36. We really enjoyed her visit.
  • The Boy`s long-weekend was next. It was timed to coincide with Liz Lawrence`s 60th which was an all girl`s affair in Vancouver. Rod, Simon (again accompanied by Munro) and Bill stayed at Thorny Vines, and Tweedie & Huggard at 3 Sisters with Lawrence. The object of the weekend was a Scotland vs the Rest of the World golf tournament over two days. Day one saw the teams deadlocked but on day 2 Scotland edged the Rest of the World as Lawrence (still smarting from hooking his ball into the tree on the final hole at Whitefish 30 years ago) and Spence were unable to quite make up for the play of Huggard and myself. It is important to note that the only member of the Scotland team who played worth a damn was actually a French Canadian (Pierre) who had the round of his life.

 

I think that is more than enough for now.