Last year one of our neighbours picked most of the grapes along one edge of the allotment before we took it on in October and so this year it’s been a bit of worry whether he’d claim squatters rights on them and take them before we could pick them ourselves. Today wasn’t a perfect day for picking, with torrential showers and winds gusting at over 50mph, but when we turned up to check that the bean wigwams were still standing we saw his friend’s car there and we could see the two of them picking on his allotment and we had no alternative but to pick our own before he headed towards ours with larcenous intentions. It may be surprising to some, but there’s no more Malthusian environment than an allotment site. We’d already started a trial fermentation with about 35lbs we’d picked last week, and that’s bubbling away in the kitchen as I write this. Today we picked another 50lbs (it’s been a great year for outdoor grown grapes) and wheelbarrowed them up to the track ready to be taken back to the kitchen to make batch 2, or batch 3 if you include the 3 gallons of damson wine we started last week.
It’s many years since we tried our hands at winemaking. The first attempt, when Madame was working at the research station, was with a large quantity of Madeleine Angevine grapes which she trod with her feet wrapped in plastic bags and which went on to produce the most mouth puckering wine we’d ever tasted – not, I’m sure, down to the feet! The second batch was dandelion wine which neither of us can remember ever getting beyond the bucket stage and the last and most successful was a couple of gallons of damson wine that was so lethally alcoholic it sedated an entire dinner party to the point of unconsciousness. We crept away too embarrassed to reclaim the empty bottle. After that I turned to brewing beer which depended on a large kitchen and a lot of space, like a vicarage for instance. Again the constant availability of a tipple was a threat to brain and waistline and so when we moved I took all the old equipment down to the recycling centre and watched the vultures carry it off like trophies of war.
Then, against all expectations, came the allotments and two large and very productive vines which has pitched us back into winemaking. With the threat of brexit hanging over us a bit of homebrew in the cupboard looks more prudent than ever and so we have now added ‘brewery’ to ‘plant nursery’ as subsidiary functions of our very small kitchen. The original gravity of the grape must was 1060 so it needed a bit of extra sugar to bring it up to a potential 12.5% alcohol. Whether it will taste any good is down to factors we can’t really control. but I find it very comforting, when I make the morning tea, to hear the damson wine not so much bubbling as belching every 15 seconds or so. 85 pounds of grapes might yield us 70 or 80 bottles of table wine that might send a wine buff into a spin, but we’ll do our best to enjoy it.