A mini-vineyard may not be just a dream

Tom Pattinson with his Black Hamburg grapes.
Tom Pattinson with his Black Hamburg grapes.

When friend Carlo mentioned that he was off to his spiritual home, Tuscany, to assist with the grape harvest, he had my full attention, tinged with envy. It brought back a flood of memories of places visited and a resolve to see more.

This fruit is so satisfying to grow in the greenhouse, yet so demanding of time in maintenance that I have nothing but admiration for those who manage vineyards. On fly-drive visits over the years we’ve searched out such iconic places and marvelled at the organisation.

It’s six years since we stood in Australia’s Barossa Valley surveying rows of vines as far as the eye could see. I planted my feet in Jacob’s Creek, a dried-up stream that lends its name to the famous brand, and was assured that it became a raging torrent at certain times of year.

Similar dry, rocky soil conditions existed at Chateauneuf du Pape, the Pope’s vineyard in Southern France, but an irrigation system was in place. At Greve in Chianti, the Tuscan hillsides are covered with vineyards, and this continues in neighbouring Umbria. Similar treats have been experienced in Israel and the USA. Goodness knows where it will be next year, but there are certainly plenty of options.

Closer to home, the number of UK vineyards continues to increase and quality wines are emerging. I discovered in a conversation with the Rev Ian that he’d travelled far south of the Tyne to bless such an enterprise initiated by a friend of his.

And it’s 10 years since friend Alan planted 15 vines in his Seaton Point garden to realise the long-held dream of having a mini vineyard. It was always going to be trying, so close to the salt-laden winds, but within two years he was harvesting a modest crop. When he erected a poly-tunnel he had an excess of fruit to crush and process.

I see great potential for northern vineyards as global warming increases and new frost-tolerant, short season cultivars emerge.

When friends Brian and Lindsey moved to Geneva some years ago, little did I think they’d become grape growers, but when they visit it’s good to catch up with news of their vineyard.

Meanwhile, the closest this fellow gets to such exalted heights is confined within an unheated greenhouse. Nevertheless, the three vine cultivars there produce circa 150 bunches annually. The longer they remain on the rod, the sweeter they get, but once November arrives and shrivelling begins, they’re harvested.

Propagation is straight forward. Once all leaves have fallen to signal dormancy it’s safe to proceed with the annual spur pruning. The longer shoots removed may look dead, but they represent ideal hardwood cuttings that will root over winter in the greenhouse border. Simply cut a slit trench with the spade, push them into it and make firm, leaving the top quarter showing.

Alternatively, at the point of spring, when vine buds are showing a hint of green, the potential for rooting is high if you plant a slip of old wood with an emerging bud into the gritty medium of a heated propagator.