Tuesday 7 September 2010

Maintaining the Grape Vines

I am clearly a failure as a grape vine owner. I'm not surprised. We have a row of white table grapes growing along one side of the potager. They are almost certainly a variety called Chasselas, as this seems to be the only variety one can buy in the garden centres.

When we bought the orchard we were assured that the grapes were particularly good, but last year we didn't get any white ones because the vines were badly affected by the dry summer. This year I thought we weren't going to get any either, because of the late frost, but recently I noticed several small bunches.

Our neighbour, tidying up our white grapes.
I'm not a huge fan of home grown table grapes - they are always far too pippy, with grapes the size of peas, in my experience. They are also the last of the fruit to ripen, and last year I was so exhausted by processing the bounty of cherries followed by plums followed by nectarines followed by pears followed by peaches followed by apples that I couldn't have cared less about the plentiful red grapes, and couldn't be bothered processing them - what exactly does one do with grapes, anyway?

I did dutifully prune the grapes in the winter, as instructed by our orchard neighbour, but after that I've more or less ignored them. This is clearly not good enough, because in late August he came over and fettled them so they don't trail on the ground, and more sun can get in to ripen what grapes there are. One bunch, with pea sized fruit, is already ripe and proved to be (surprise, surprise) full of pips, but very sweet.

Our neighbour also inspected our young walnut trees and clipped off growth below the grafts and staked one he thought was still a bit wimbly wombly. This poor young tree is having a hard time, and I thought it had died in the spring, as it didn't burst into leaf until June.

Our neighbour stakes a young walnut tree.
Vines, at least wine grapes, are an integral part of much of the Loire, so I should take more of an interest in the husbandry of my own vines, especially as grapes are grown less and less around Preuilly. Simon pointed out to me that the Michelin Green Guide describes Preuilly as:
"Preuilly, which has retained numerous interesting old houses and the former abbey church beneath the ruins of its fortress, rises in terraces on the north bank of the Claise amid woodland, green meadows and vineyards."
I'm afraid it must have been some time since the Michelin people visited. There are no commercial vineyards now in Preuilly, although a number of people maintain small private parcels of vines (and I mean small - a few rows here and there, often in the middle of nowhere). The grapes may have gone, but there is currently a great interest in truffle oak plantations, and it is these that now grace the slopes on the outskirts of Preuilly.



Tim said...

Could you send him round please Susan... he sounds a treasure!

Andres said...

The local trufferies are further north than I would have expected. Strangely, the evergreen Holly Oaks (Quercus Ilex) are referred to as 'French Oaks' by the truffiers in Australia and the deciduous (Quercus Robur) as the 'English Oak'. Still waiting on our first crop... Andres

Susan said...

Tim: Il est sourd comme un pot and speaks with a strong accent, so communication is fairly hit and miss, but he is very kind. Egalement, il est myope comme une taupe, so when he offered me a lift home in his sewing machine on wheels I declined as gracefully as I could.

Andres: Q. robur (Pendunculate Oak) can legitimately be referred to as English oak, as it is the dominant species there. Q. ilex (Evergreen Oak aka Holly Oak) is native to the mediterranean, so it may be commonly used for truffles further south - I don't know. Around Preuilly the plantations are mostly Pendunculate (English) Oak.

SweetpeainFrance said...

What you do with pippy grapes is:-

Pick them when ripe,(taste and see or watch the vineyard harvesters), whoosh them under the tap fairly quickly then make verjuice by putting them in the food processor, whizz, then sieve and VOILA a perfect breakfast juice.... highly nourishing and that the DARLINGS of France, England or Australia would purchase at great expense.

I too have been down 'the fruit route' and now although I am not content to see the wasted fruit I have other things to do in life than make it all into something good which gives me a wonderful feeling but leaves me worn out!

Susan said...

Sweetpea: doesn't the food processor chop up the pips and add a lot of air, both to the detriment of the flavour of the juice? I don't think we will get enough grapes to even try this year, but next year, who knows...

Unknown said...

Ugh, you expressed my fruit fatigue exactly! I even found some seedless hybrids, to get around the pip thing, but they're more prone to disease, and require more applications of bouillie bordelaise (if you don't already know, go for the clear as opposed to the blue-tinted, so as not to stain your crepi walls!) The crushing heat and fruit glut brought on a fatal case of grape indifference this year. Peut-etre l'annee prochaine?

Susan said...

Tammy: Hehe - a new medical condition is emerging - Grape Indifference Syndrome (GIS). Given that it is likely to be little understoon in France, perhaps we should form a suppport group :-))

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