Harvest time; Clocking-off time; Training time; Chainsaw massacre time; No time-at-all time!
September: and I’m heading into the last few days of my 30+ year career in the City.
September: and it’s time for our first ever harvest at Astley Vineyard.
September: and I’m “popping down” to Plumpton College near Brighton to learn the intricacies of viticulture (vine-growing).
September: and Daisy, Matleena and I are working out our woodland management plan and setting-to with the chainsaws.
Actually, it’s only half way through September and I’ve barely had time to breathe.
But today I’m sitting on a much-delayed, hugely-crowded train to London (for one of the last times), and I’ve got the chance to reflect on the chaos!
The first thing that strikes me is that I won’t miss the daily grind of my City career one bit. It’s been challenging (all of the time), rewarding (most of the time), and fun (some of the time). The people have (mostly) been great. But the commuting? The 24/7 demands? The working away from home? Enough’s enough!
But more important by far is the sense of excitement I’ve now got for our new family venture. The sense of us all working, together, to a common aim. The challenge of the new and the unknown. The joy of waking up in our lovely vineyard and planning the day’s tasks together. The pleasure of sharing our journey with friends and strangers alike. The satisfaction from achieving new things, learning new skills, overcoming small obstacles. The slight tingle of fear that comes from being well outside your comfort zone.
And talking of which, let me tell you about our first days’ harvest…
This was, undoubtedly, the biggie. 6th and 7th September were chosen by Jonty (our predecessor, guide, mentor, guru and all-around good egg!) based on the readiness of the Madeleine Angevine grapes and the weather. This was not at all convenient for any of our humans (Bev and Chris were at Plumpton, Matleena, Daisy and I were all meant to be at work) but the grapes were happy, so that’s ultimately all that mattered.
Jonty summoned the traditional Astley team of local pickers: a hearty and happy bunch of, mainly retired, friends, to which we added some friends of our own. And after an early start laying out the picking buckets, collecting crates, delivery crates, snipping tools, first aid kit, surgical gloves (yes, really, those grapes are very sticky) we gave the team briefing (“if it looks like a grape, pick it. No mud. No leaves. No slacking!”).
And then 4 hours of happy picking. The vineyard buzzed with the sound of laughter and happy chatter. Of new friendships made and old acquaintances rekindled. It sounds a little clichéd, but it felt to me like the essence of community; everything we hoped our new life would be. There is a waiting list to be an Astley picker: it is a prized position. And I now see why.
On day 2 it was a bit more stressful for Matleena and me, as Jonty left us to our own devices. This follows his usual mentoring pattern of telling us what to do, then showing us, then gently (or sometimes abruptly!) removing the stabilisers and making us independent. Well, it worked. I did a huge amount of big tractor driving, little tractor driving and trailer driving. Matleena and Hannah (one of our strongest family friends!) did a huge amount of humping and lifting. But we did it!
Nearly 3 tonnes picked and pressed.
High fives and celebratory beer and kebabs followed.
Just the 6 more days to follow. But this time Bev and Chris can join the fun.
PS The train’s still running late. Still overcrowded. *Sigh*