Fall, 2006: As an old growing year ends, and a new year waits in the wings – sometimes lurking, sometimes bouncing on the balls of its feet – people tend to feel buoyed up by new hopes and dreams.
Hello, heavy machinery. Goodbye, trees. Gar, the man tasked with the job, tore it up like the James Brown of backhoe operators, and our orchard goes up in smoke. We’re weighing in on what to plant, and the land and climate here are great for grapes, but what variety?
“Nasty little bunches and a pain in the ass from start to finish.” This could be the opening to a hemorrhoid commercial, but was actually the eloquently-stated advice from our friend Fritz Hollenbach, a seasoned Okanagan grape grower, about planting Gewürztraminer. Our growing and self-appointed panel of grape and wine experts all agree: plant Pinot Gris. It’s the signature grape of the Okanagan and we decide we’ll do the whole vineyard in one variety. We order 10,000 plants, Clone 52 from France. Absolutely the best place to get your plants from, as long as they can withstand the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s hot water torture treatment, an import requirement for grapevine root stock.
I start keeping a list of the money we have spent: $10k to dig out the trees and contour the land, $25k to fill in the gully and $6k to put the topsoil back. Plants: $3 each, stakes: $650, blue tubes… maybe it is better not to keep a list. I’m not sure who was sadder, us, or the deer watching from the top of the property.
The amount of deer we’d seen made us believe that we were in need of a deer fence. “You don’t need a deer fence,” our neighbour says. Gar, freshly returned from a Hawaiian sojourn simply countered with, “You’re idiots if you don’t put in a deer fence.” A small herd of deer at the top of the property looked down and whispered, “You can’t trust a guy with a tan. Don’t listen to him. Listen to your neighbour, he’s nice. We’ve been eating his apples for years.” So $12k later and the deer fence was a reality.
But we left 3.5 acres as a deer playground.
We all have to do our part for the environment, which for us meant filling out an Agriculture Canada Environmental Farm Plan workbook of War and Peace proportions. We filed the plan and the Environmental Plan guy paid a visit and gave us the thumbs up. But I will need to take a pesticide handlers course. If there is one thing that’s worse than handling bugs, it’s handling the stuff that kills them. I don’t want to use this stuff on my land. But everyone tells me that you need to ensure that the vines grow and the weeds don’t. So off to school I go.
We now have a vineyard crew helping us. The bills keep rolling in. I go to Growers Supply in Penticton every day. The nice folks there are my new best retail friends. I no longer have the time or the money to go to Holt Renfrew. Money was getting tight. A sink or swim decision must be made in order to move forward.
I face my fears, look mortality straight in the eye and then gun my engine – one last time. I’d arrived at the point of no return and blinking back a tear or two, I sold my Porsche and bought a Massey Ferguson tractor. My midlife crisis had been replaced with total insanity.
So here we are with a vineyard, and a pocket full of bills...
Next time, I will talk about how to sink even more money into this undertaking...