Seasons Greetings 2014

xmasWineMerry Christmas to you all December 24, 2014 Each year I seem to go through a phase of dreading the writing of the annual Christmas letter, and attempt to persuade Ann that it is her turn for a change. She predictably counters with the suggestion that she will be happy to oblige if I take over more responsibility for cooking, shopping, laundry and, in particular, cleaning the house. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter if I offer to make provision in the budget for someone else to do these things – I still get to write the letter. So here we go again.

All of the letters we have received so far this Christmas talk about the exotic travels people have been on during the year, a detailed account of how many grandchildren have been born during the year, and not one mentions all the aches and pains associated with being an ageing baby boomer. I am profoundly jealous as we have no grandchildren, haven’t been anywhere, and am overwhelmed with new aches and pains almost every day. That old adage that “getting old is not for sissies” needs amending to include farmers as well. Still I suppose I should be grateful that we both still have all our original bits.

Last year we were entertained by the antics of Rob Ford and his brother Doug, but this year’s news from Canada was a little more sinister, and hardly the fare for an annual Christmas letter. Aside from those stories, the only news with any national entertainment value was the emergence of our very own version of “Do you think you can Dance Alberta” which saw nine members of the right-wing Wildrose Party inexplicably waltzing across the floor to join the right- wing Conservatives. Hardly anything to get excited about as we no longer live in Alberta, anyway.

In our own little world here in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and more specifically at Thorny Vines, the distant prospect of eventually having some grandchildren to talk about, brightened somewhat in July when Michael became engaged to Alana. They plan to marry in September of next year. Mike knew we would be excited about this, and cleverly followed his announcement with an inquiry as to how much we could contribute to the festivities. Clearly he doesn’t understand the economics of running a vineyard! We, of course, had visions of the event taking place at Thorny Vines, but this rather romantic, but ill-conceived offer was wisely declined by Mike and Alana who have opted for Stanley Park in Vancouver where most of their friends are. Whew!

Looking back on the year, it is not entirely true to say we didn’t do much travelling. Mike travelled a lot on business, but never told us where he was going so we can’t comment. Sean, in the meantime packed up most (but not all) of his Calgary apartment (cat and all) into his ageing Honda Civic, and headed west to Vancouver via Thorny Vines. He hung on to his Calgary apartment, and thinking unusually like an accountant, he assumed that if he failed to rent it, he could always pop back to Calgary for the night of December 31st thereby qualifying as an Alberta resident for tax purposes in 2014. Two things have scuttled this idea: (a) He actually managed to rent it out, and b) despite continuing to work remotely for a while for his Calgary employers, his income stream has dried up such that he probably won’t pay tax anyway. He euphemistically calls himself self-employed while he and Mike put the finishing touches to their scuba diving IPhone app they have called “Diverse”. The app is currently undergoing final approvals before hitting the “Apple App Store” just in time to miss the Christmas rush. (If you plan to go diving any time in the near future you can check it out at ). The intention is to get rich making a whole suite of these types of IPhone aps, an outcome we welcome if we are ever to indulge in the travels you all seem to be enjoying.

Excitement in the vineyard started early this year – In late January to be precise. Ann was away in Cape Town (more travelling) and for want of something better to do in the middle of winter, I volunteered for Bottling Day at Synchromesh – the winery that buys our grapes. The plan was to start at about 7.30 AM and keep going until all 10,000 or so bottles were done. My job was to stand at the end of the conveyor and put the bottles into cases as they hurtled off the production line like North Korean missiles. I had carelessly failed to do the math which worked out at handling a bottle every 3 seconds for 8 hours straight. I was almost crying by 10.30, crippled by lunchtime and by the time we had finished my blood pressure had risen to unsustainable levels from the stress of trying not to drop any bottles. The only reason I can think of for entrusting me with this important task is that everyone else had done it in previous year and weren’t going to do that again!

I won’t bore you with the mechanics and saga around pruning, but it is worth mentioning that in 2014 we decided to go unofficially organic. This meant no weed killers, poisons or other chemicals. Of course we felt pretty virtuous about our contribution to saving the planet, but this presented a number of new challenges without any obvious solutions, or certainly none that didn’t involve hard physical labour. I have also noticed a worrying downward trend in Ann’s enthusiasm for looking after “her” sections, although she not surprisingly seems completely oblivious to this.

Aside from weeds, birds and mildew, moles are also a problem. No longer encumbered by the threat of rodent poison, the moles multiplied exponentially. Their mole hills are not even the problem, it’s the tunnels below the surface that collapse from time to time, and the right of access to the root systems of the vines that the tunnels provide to all manner of other hungry creatures. The only way to deal with them is by setting traps. This is a science in itself, which took some mastering as you can only set them in the mole tunnels and these take a lot of finding. Of course once you catch one you are faced with the additional problem of disposal, but this turned out to be easier than expected as there are a lot of lazy birds around here who will be happy to pick them up and get rid of them for you – as long as they are reasonably fresh. However, it is pretty unsightly to find a whole lot of dead moles lying around, particularly if you squash them with the ride-on mower.

Somewhere around May we gave up the vineyard for Joanna’s stagette. Joanna is my only god-daughter, so she is very special to me. The weekend was organized by Hayley Owens, a sort of surrogate daughter. I have to admit were a bit concerned as to what might happen when a bunch of rowdy young ladies get together for these types of functions. Fortunately our local dive, “Slack Alice’s” had burnt down a few months previously so there were no male strippers within a 50 mile radius available for the event. It turned out that the girls were remarkably well behaved (as far as we could tell) and they were even seen doing some work in the vineyard (although it turns out this was largely posing for photographs).

We did something a little different at harvest time this year. Peter, Jane and Catherine Guy kindly came up to help at short notice, but we also roped in the local Dragon-Boat ladies and a few of their spouses to help in return for a small donation to their cause. Harvesting does not require much experience, but it is pretty hard work, and I have to admit being impressed with how the ladies stuck to it. Hopefully they have not had their fill of picking and can be persuaded to return next year.

IMG_2108In July we travelled to Montreal for Joanna and Alex’s wedding. After living in Canada since 1978, it is embarrassing to admit this was our first visit to la Belle Province. We loved Montreal but could do without the heat and humidity which made the Limpopo valley pale in comparison. The wedding itself was a wild and spectacular affair. The trip also gave us the opportunity to drop in on old friends in Toronto where we spent a relaxing few days recovering and sampling a wide range of Ontario wines.

Mike had chosen Quebec as a suitably romantic spot to propose to Alana, but thoughtfully decided to pop the question after the wedding so as not to steal Jo and Alex’s thunder. By this time everyone (except Alana), including her identical twin sister, knew what was coming. As you know Mike is full of hot-air, so he planned to ask her to marry him while on a balloon ride. Unfortunately even hotter air in the form of a hurricane was moving in from the East Coast so the balloon ride had to be cancelled and Mike had to rely on good old fashioned bended knees like the rest of us:M&A Cartoon

2014 continued to be the year of marriages and announcements as a few weeks later we were off to the wedding of Kurt and Dominika ( affectionately referred to as K&D – and not to be confused with Kraft Dinners) in a spectacular spot the sunshine coast. K&D visit us from time to time at Thorny Vines and pioneered the romantic notion of picnics in the vineyard. Pretty innovative in a vineyard as small as ours!

Closer to home (actually at home, but the metaphor didn’t quite fit), Ann and I are closing in on our 40th anniversary, which is probably closer to 50 when you consider our first date was in about 1965. That old Beatles song “When I’m 64” seems to have slipped past me as I am now 65 and getting all sorts of pensions I never dreamed of. None of them are enough to buy much more than a beer. Although I am not permitted to disclose her age, Ann is much younger, so the song still applies to her, but not for much longer. I know that to many of you these sorts of milestone are old hat, and I hope that your experience has been as rewarding as ours (or at least mine).

On a sad note, we decided that in 2014 Ann should start to spend a little more time with her Mum and make a second trip to see her each year. So, off she went to Cape Town in October for her second visit of 2014. By all accounts they did quite a bit, and seemed to have a good visit. I know her Mum really appreciated it. Ann had only been back for a week when we heard that Ursula had passed away peacefully at age 93 in her own bed in her own little cottage. So, pretty much without even unpacking, it was off to Cape Town for the third time in 2014. This time I went as well. It was a sad trip for us, but we had to remind ourselves that Ursula was ready to go and she could not have scripted her leaving any better.

Granny & The Boys

Ursula with her grandsons


Merry Christmas once again,

The Hornbys