Buh-lack

Lately everything has seemed insurmountable, uninteresting and dull. I've been deeply unenthusiastic, wrestling with writing even the simplest piece, haven't had a clue about what to add to the place for next year and I haven't had anything falling into my mind to blog about...until I realised I should be blogging about not having anything falling into my mind to blog about.



Once in a distinctly random while I get as low as a iguana's instep. Flat as the proverbial witch's tit. Unable even to string three poor similies together. Not only does everything feel difficult, that the place is a waste of time/moneypit/misguided nonsense, I get furious with myself for feeling like it - so the tedium compounds.

Fear not, loyal reader, I am not about to unload tales of secret depression, childhood wrongings and how Morrissey wrote those songs just for me*...I've just been dischuffed for no good reason for a short while. And in the interests of keeping this blog at least partially warts n all, have some warts.

Out the other side. And very nice it is too. Although I feel uninspired still - as if mildly hungover - and it's time I decided on what and how Otter Farm moves forwards next year. Courses, residential courses even, an outlet, back to growing the organic cut flowers, certainly more grinding peppers, herbs? And I've 50 Japanese plums arriving sometime. The forest garden will expand, this autumn for sure, but there's a piece missing and I'm not sure what it might be. I think it should have money attached to it though - something that will produce relatively quickly and be reasonably useful in it's level of return. Dream on.



Rather happily, some of my favourite fruit are around - Japanese wineberres especially. Deeper, tastier, winier than the raspberry, I can't get enough of them. They're also deeply sensible in that they only release their fruit from the papery calyx a day or two before they're ripe - then traffic-light quickly through from green to yellow to orange and into deep red. I eat most on the way to and from the chickens, but once in a while I hold myself back and get some into the house. When I do, this is as good a use as I can find: cranachan.



A very good handful of rolled oats - toasted for a mo in a dry pan, a pot of double cream whisked, a generous dribble of honey and a nice glug of your second best whiskey, all stirred in with as many wineberries as you fancy. It is champion.

One of the reasons I think I dipped is that the place started to look crap. The book is about to come out and as review copies fly out people want to come and look. This is one of the worst times to come - it promises so much, the height of the season and all that, but the big show is over, the colour of most of the flowering stuff has past, and the morning and evening air has more than an edge of autumn about it. The phacelia has lost it's zap. A few weeks ago this couple of acres was extraordinary. A chest-high sea of purple either side of the vineyard - it looked like lavender from a distance - bringing the most ridiculous waves of insects to the farm. Throw one of those ludicrous metre quadrats from school into the patch and you'll have certainly enclosed 50 bees alone. The noise is astonishing, but only if you stop. I lose track of how many things are like that here. If you walk you are aware of the bees, but only when you stop does the level and solidity of the hum hit you. Same with the scent from the quince flowers in spring. Stillness is the only way to enjoy it.



But it's gone, over, lost most of that purple, and the wind and rain of the last fortnight have turned it into a pale brown duvet dotted with blotches of purple here and there. Some flowers poke through regardless and the bees thank them for it, but a spectacle it ain't. With most of the apricots, peaches and nectarines picked, the spectacle absent and me a miserable sod has meant I've been saying no to most visits (including one of the more famous chefs) and turning down some of the opportunities to talk and demo that have come my way. There's no point in doing them when I feel like that, as it all feels like treacle.

It's all wind and rain here at the moment, which means more than the usual dotting of windfalls in the apple orchard. Most are one of my favourites - the livid red, early Beauty of Bath. I resent each one that hits the grass and is set upon by wasps, slugs and flies. The ones I can rescue make juice, the ones invaded are picked first thing in the morning while the wasps are still snoozy and thrown to the grateful pigs.



The pecans can blow all they like though - there are no nuts yet and their looseness was made for the wind.



As I write I think I'm hitting on at least part of what it is that's had me flat - we've been in that lull between the properly up and the properly down, that place that's neither high summer nor autumn, good looking nor allowed to be wrapping up warm. There are grapes to come and some Szechuan pepper, but not until we're well into October so it feels like the place is failing in some way. And then I come along and make it worse by losing my umph for driving the whole thing forward into next year - not ideal. I resolve to take a holiday in August next year, to let the rhythm of the farm have its way, to leave for once happy that there's not so much I should be doing, and that it won't be the end of the world to let it ride for a few days.



I have a new camera. Already it is making me very happy. I have a long while before I can wield it as I would like but I already I feel attached to it - it suits me. It is a full frame camera (here you go anoraks), the advantages of which are only apparent when you shift from one that isn't to one that is. The world you see through it stops being confined or so much of a representation of the world, and you feel more like you are capturing what you see or want to see rather than trying to recreate it. It was deliciously expensive and (and this is vital) the shutter makes me feel like Carlos the Jackal using the perfect gun with the perfect silencer. Tight and slack at the same time, like when Dennis Taylor says 'black', snooker fans.

I am embarrassed to say that using it may well have been one of the things that has cheered me up, such is the trivial shallowness of my woefully Western dip. Sod it though, nice pic of the Japanese wineberries eh.



* although clearly he did. (Or did he?)

A little wine

Before I get on with it, any food/garden bloggers out there who'd like a review copy of my new book - A Taste of the Unexpected - can email Quadrille and they may not have run out yet.

Now, where was I...

I'm between* the horns of a dilemma**. Or rather two dilemmas***.

I have some grapes, maybe a quarter of a ton of them, and they all look lovely and proper, as if I knew what I was doing. Or rather Trent and I knew what we were doing.



On the one hand this is good - a real, if small, commercial scale harvest of something. On the other - it's been a belting year for vineyards after several years of not, and wineries are already overrun with orders for turning lovely grapes into wine in a few months time. It means that they can be a little more choosey about the minimum quantity they accept. Quarter of a ton sounds a fair lump, but it's only perhaps a quarter of what it seems I will need to interest a winery.

This gives me three choices (so I guess that's a trilemma):

1 - I can send a winery my grapes to go with their own of the same variety, have a chat about the style to make them into etc, and they will send me back bottles of sparkling and still wine in whatever proportion I fancy

2 - I can search high and low for another small scale winery that might take my quarter of a ton and process it separately. This is likely to be fruitless and may take a lot of time that I'm pretty short of

3 - I can try making the wine myself. This sounds like fun. It sounds like a very River Cottage thing to do. It will almost certainly end in disappointment for one very simple reason: I've never had a homemade wine that's any better than carwash. I have no intention of wincing my way through even a glass of what usually looks and tastes like the drippings from a welldiggers arse just so I can say 'I made that'.

There is a fourth way...knock all the grapes off now, two months or more before maturity, so that the plants' energies are spent developing even more of a root system. That one's a bit dull though isn't it.



Option 1 sounds fine, and undoubtedly the easiest and most sensible - but (and it's a big but) I will be drinking and giving friends wine that's only partly from the grapes of Otter Farm and I'm not quite sure how satisfying that would be. At least a few very lovely English wines are made using a large percentage of grapes grown by other people and very few of them make that clear on the label - so you might buy, for argument's sake, 'Bison Canyon' sparkling, find it absolutely fabulous and feel like your excursion into the romance of Englishwinesville has been amply rewarded. If a fair proportion of those grapes don't come from the vineyards of Bison Canyon, is that a problem? It's certainly not illegal. And perhaps I'm alone in this, but I'd like that to be made very clear on the bottle: 'made with grapes from Bison Canyon and other vineyards' or whatever. I'm guessing some places don't put it on for fear that it would make me do exactly what it would make me do - think twice about buying it. I suspect most people buy English wine at least partly because they're interested in the story of where it comes from, supporting a local product, investing a little expendable income in the romance of a wine grown and made just 'there' - otherwise why not buy a good French/New World wine for a lot less? If that story is muddied then who knows what effect that'd have on sales. Unless it's cheap, wine has to be to people's taste for them to buy it twice, but the first sale is the key to that - hence, I suspect, the opacity.



So Option 2 it is - phoning a few small scale vineyards who's wine I like, to see if they have a small scale winery or know someone who will entertain the idea of making a batch on the scale we might (fingers crossed) have in a few months time. Do shout if you know a vineyard or winery that fits the description - I'll make sure a couple of bottles of carwash come your way.

The other dilemma, I realise now I've got this far, actually falls into the threatening-my-cosy-prejudices category and is deserving of a separate blog all of it's own. Maybe even quite soon. I'm almost certain it will include the usual targets of my ferocity: the Moanic Stoat Poachers Manic Street Preachers, Michelle from Eastenders and, of course, Brighton.


* Or should that be 'on'?
** There is a person called Dai Lemma on Facebook, couldn't help looking
*** Is that a quadrilemma?

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