2015 and all that


Apparently I have a reputation for wittering on a bit, and the length of this letter will do nothing to fix that, but 2015 was a pretty eventful year for us. Headed by Alana and Mike’s wedding in September (more about this later), 2015 also marked our 40th weddingIMG_2375 anniversary as well as the 50th anniversary of our first date. To celebrate our anniversary, we took off to Sparkling Hills resort near Vernon for a weekend of decadence and debauchery, and arrived just before the mother of all Okanagan snow storms. This only added to the romance of it all, but as the snow piled up, the “romance” turnd into a nail-biting drive home, and on arrival we were greeted with two feet of snow on both sides of our main gate. Of course, it refused to open, but this is when you would normally get smug about having a second gate which opened away from the snow. The problem here was that we had secured it with a huge lock and chain, and left the key behind in the house. I had to borrow a neighbor’s step-ladder to climb over the gate and drop into a pile of snow on the other side in order to retrieve the key. We literally spent days clearing the snow off the driveway, but at least it didn’t hurt my chances of getting a snow-blower for Christmas.

Ann turned 65 in February, and this brought a new set of challenges trying to claim her OAS because she no longer had the passports to prove her entitlement. Apparently the government feels that DSCN1598filing tax returns and paying your taxes religiously for 40 years is just not proof enough. They were just as unmoved by our 40 year old marriage certificate and the stamp in my passport. I guess they just can’t understand why she stuck with me for so long, but who can blame them? At the time of writing this remains unresolved but we hope to get a fat cheque covering all the back-payments sometime in 2016 although at this rate 2017 is more likely.Turning 65 also saw the disappearance of the last vestiges of Ann’s black hair, but I have to admit to being excited about my new blonde wife. For my own part, whilst my hair is greying with a bit more subtlety, much more alarming is that it is coming out in clumps, and the coverage is not nearly what it used to be. I fear for the impact all this is having on our septic system, but expanding on that is hardly fare for a Christmas letter.

IMG_2476An unusually warm winter allowed us to prune the vines early, and in March we took off to Dave and Amanda Owen’s wedding on Vancouver Island. We had barely returned before heading to Cape Town for Nic (Clare’s son and Ann’s nephew) and Lillian’s wedding. We were joined there by Mike and Alana, and Lillian cleverly “fixed” the tossing of the bouquet so that Alana caught it. Sean was more interested in working on his I-Phone Apps than sitting on planes for what seems like weeks on end. In a kind of home and home affair Clare then followed us back again and spent a week with us at Thorny Vines teaching us about the bird-life here and distracting Ann from any work in the vineyard. It was a good visit, but she ran out of birds so had to leave and join husband Roy to take in some alternate bird life somewhere else.

IMG_0443Next up was Mike’s stag which consumed Sean for a good part of the spring and summer. Andrew Russell was assigned the job of looking over his shoulder to keep things more or less legal. After the initial kidnapping, the affair became a two part event consisting of a boozy weekend for 20 or so of Mike’s friends and a golf game. Sean was considerate enough to invite the fathers to the golf only. He could hardly be faulted for not foreseeing Mike getting knocked off his bike by a truck and dislocating his shoulder so that he couldn’t swing a golf club. Mike spent the golf game driving around in a cart dressed as a T-Rex and visiting the groups while he planned his lawsuit against the offender. All in all Sean and co-organizer Andrew have to be commended for their organizational prowess and imagination.

By the time the stag was behind us, the warm winter had transitioned into an even warmer spring, and eventually into a hot dry summer. The heat and lack of humidity had a devastating impact on cutworms, mildew and wasps etc. not to mention bunch-rot, so we were left with much more time for Ann to lounge in the pool and potter in her garden. I entertained myself by hunting moles which seemed to thrive on the lack of rain that normally helps to flood their tunnels and drown them. Inspired by my success with the moles, Ann went on the warpath against an influx of mice into the house which she discovered gnawing at the bath mats and leaving their droppings all over the place. The final score was: Ian – 29 moles and one rat, Ann- 3 mice (not including the one she found drowned in the swimming pool). She was not impressed by me claiming my victory as an indicator of relative effort in the vineyard, and I am now doing my own laundry as well as many other household chores.

The grapes were oblivious to the goings on, and given the approaching wedding, continued to ripen at a worrying pace. The Riesling crop looked as though it would be too much for the vines so Helen persuaded us to try our hand at making Verjus (a kind of vinegar) out the excess. This was not a well thought out experiment as the grapes were already far too ripe. There is also a severe limit on how much of it you can swallow. We ended up using it as salad dressing on one occasion before attempting to kill weeds with the remaining couple of gallons.

IMG_0848Our experimental Pinot Noir row was the next to ripen, but we do not produce anywhere near enough to sell, so we planned to make a little wine with it ourselves. Our old Calgary friends will no doubt find this disturbing having been subjected to my past efforts at home winemaking, but we pressed ahead anyway. In order to crush the grapes I thought it would be a good idea to buy a small fruit press which handily doubled as a sausage maker. It turned out to be useless, and Ann refused to make any sausages so we were forced to rent a grape press which was equally useless. Despite Alex’s determined efforts and herculean strength, it seized up without producing any measureable quantities of juice. In desperation we finally turned to Hayley Owen’s feet which seemed a good size for the task. Ably assisted by Ann and supervised by Conor, they made short work of the crushing. I have high hopes for the finished wine, a nice dry rosé which has notes of toe-nail fungus.

As for the Riesling, we were fortunate in being able to harvest in two passes before and after the wedding, and we eventually ended up with a record crop of almost seven tons. As the wedding day approached, we realized that there would likely be no room for us at Woodbury Inn which was already overrun with Russell’s. We had resigned ourselves to a hotel when Maureen and James (Leyland/Harris) very kindly offered us their gorgeous apartment overlooking the Vancouver marina for the duration of our stay. For their kindness we have taken the unusual step of “awarding” them a vineyard row in abstentia and it comes with an open invitation to stay at Thorny Vines at any time.

With the accommodation problem solved, we took off for Vancouver in “Big Red” with two oak barrels to be used as decorative props, and innumerable cases of wedding wine courtesy of IMG_0909Synchromesh and Earlco. The weather continued to deteriorate, and aside from the disruption to the wedding plans the rain made the barrels that much heavier and very slippery to boot. All able-bodied volunteers disappeared when the time came to unload them in the driving rain and the poor wedding planner who is two bricks and a tickey high and sporting 6 inch stilettos, was the only person to left to help me. After a couple of false starts due to a mad dash across Vancouver to retrieve Alana’s forgotten veil, and some last minute alterations to her dress by her father Chris, the wedding went off without a IMG_0911hitch, and was a lovely affair. To be quite honest the weather was not a factor and the umbrellas gave the event a rather unique charm. Alana was gorgeous, and Mike, with his trimmed beard and shiny shoes, looked quite spiffy. The best man, Sean, was almost unrecognizable he was so smart. A few days later the happy couple turned up at Thorny Vines complete with wedding regalia and we had a second opportunity for photos – hence those taken with the vineyard in the background.

IMG_2480In the middle there somewhere we made a brief, but very relaxing trip to Brian & Cecile Fraser’s cabin in the Shushwap and entertained a record number of visitors throughout the summer. Clare (Ann’s sister) was the first, and then in no particular order came Helen & Alex, Hayley & Connor, John & Morag, the Andrade family, Rod & Min, Stuart & Ann, Katie & Carson, Caitlin & Abhy, Simon & Cathy, Barb & Bill Spence, Michelle, Trini & Jesse, Rick & Phee and Pete Hudson and the usual suspects Mike, Alana, Sean, Robbie and Bowie (in the picture). We also had a long awaited visit from our South African friends Brian & Lindy Heyman together with Lindy’s sister Marguerite and husband Tim. Brian & Lindy’s vineyard Blueberry Hill in the Cape was our inspiration for Thorny Vines. If your name does not appear, here, and you did visit, it is likely that you did not sign the visitor’s book, so we can’t be held responsible. We do, however, hope you all have a Merry Christmas, and think about visiting us next year.