We started by arranging to have 100 ewes graze the land in January/February to get the grass down. So far as anyone knows the land we own has always been grassland and has never been farmed before. The ewes did a great job. Next the grass was sprayed off in February when the weather was getting a lot drier. Two weeks later we had the field deep-spaded to break up the soil (Weald clay over Tunbridge Wells sand) and get it aerated. We had the soil tested using precision methods and decided that we needed to improve phosphorus levels ahead of planting. After a lot of asking around and many phone calls we found the fertiliser that we needed at quite short notice and arranged for it to be spread. Finally, the week before planting we enlisted our farming neighbours across the road to do some power harrowing to improve the tilth. We've been really lucky having such a friendly farming and vineyard community around us. By this time we knew that planting would happen the week beginning 12 May but not the exact date. After the power harrow it was all eyes on the weather and making final plans for the day of planting.
It's difficult to describe what it felt like in those final few days before planting. It was a real mixture of excitement, trepidation and developing expectation. Perhaps a bit like waiting to go on a first date with someone special. On Monday evening we received a call from James of Vine-Works to say that the planting would happen the following Tuesday morning; the planting team would be on site at 7.30 am ready to start at 8 am. We set off from Brighton at 6.30 am feeling prepared and pumped-up to do it. It isn't every day you get to realise a dream and plant a vineyard. It was a day to savour and enjoy; our vision crystallising.
Bang on time the planting machine with its German/Polish planting crew arrived. Our 11,000+ vines were already on site having been kept in cold storage until the day before. The planting machine is an amazing piece of machinery, bestial yet magnificent. A huge blade cuts a groove in the soil into which the vines are fed delivered by human hand and soil distributed around the vines by arms at the bottom end of the machine.
The planting machine is guided by GPS to achieve vines planted in very straight rows and at whatever density is specified. Provided the tilth is right, it works amazingly well and quickly. It all worked well although there were some patches of wet soil causing the machine to get stuck a few times. The planting team did a great job of manoeuvring it out of trouble! The field was planted in a day. So it was time to celebrate with James and the planting crew and we cracked open something special.
Well, if we hadn't decided that one of us, Kristina, would go to Plumpton College to study wine production we'd probably own a vineyard in France by now. Instead, we're very proud to have planted a vineyard in England where the English wine industry is young and developing offering exciting opportunities. More excitement lies ahead; more hard work too. we've properly landed now.