Owning a vine
The highs and lows of owning a grapevine – plus pruning tips
By late August, our ancient Muscat vine was so weighed down with fruit that I had to do the vendange before the pergola collapsed. The vine was only ever intended to be decorative, not productive, but the summer was hot and the grapes abundant. Here’s my diary of two hard days up a ladder… and what happened next.
DAY 1 Don a straw hat against fierce sun and mount ladder. Bump head against pergola, lose hat and descend ladder to retrieve it. Ascend ladder, with secateurs and purpose. Decide all little Muscat grapes merit picking. Some grapes are perfect, some already sultana-d. Taste each type: sweet like sunny honey. Bump head again. Lose hat. Descend ladder, and move it to reach easier bunches. The blue washing-up bowl is big enough to catch the bunches… oooh, nearly overbalanced into the rockery. Ambitiously aim for gap in vine branches. Lose hat. The big bowl full of little Muscats and promise is ready to go in the fridge. Yum!
DAY 2 Leave hat on hook as it’s cooler. Decide to go for low-hanging fruit to start with. Why didn’t I think of that yesterday? Unload grapes into stone sink, then head for ladder to seek higher branches. Through the leaves, see two buzzards wheeling and calling plaintively to each other. I did my stretches this morning, before ladder work, so while not lithe, at least mobile. Bowl number four (since yesterday) eventually full to overflowing. At 10 bunches per bowl that’s 40 bunches of grapes… all from one old vine which is for decorative purposes. Bring bowl into kitchen and – apart from a few for munching – put in fridge, as source of chilled, fruity, sugary pleasure.
DAY 3 Ignoring mother-in-law’s old winemaking glassware in cellar, I will try to make grape jelly as am leaving in three days. Scald four Kilner jars in the hope of large quantities. Carry boiling, mashed grapes and sugar in cauldron over to makeshift sieve – a drying-up cloth over a fruit bowl. Surprised to avoid disaster. Wait as hot juice oozes. Give cloth a poke. Juice gets cloudier. Stop poking. Sometime later… pour liquid back into cauldron and boil fiercely. Test drop on cold plate in fridge. Seems set. Pour pinkish liquid into first jar. Only enough to reach halfway. Put jar in fridge. Find gecko watching on from ceiling. Close fridge door firmly. Sleep deeply.
DAY 4 Sunny again. Gecko vanished. Ah non! The jelly is too mobile by half. Not set. Call London; more sugar! Pour back into cauldron. Heat viciously. Add sugar, quantity uncertain. Boil up, then test. Must be OK, surely. Pour back into jar. Note it’s less than before. Allow to cool on window ledge before placing back in fridge.
DAY 5 It looks like jelly; it shivers like jelly. Clip down lid. All that for one third of a litre of jelly.
Vines love climbing, colour beautifully with the seasons and provide dappled shade in the summer