A Vineyard Diary Part 2

Early April 2020

Vineyards and Coronavirus

It’s 7.30 am.

A cold northerly breeze is whipping across the vineyard. The country is in lockdown, imposed the night before by an uncharacteristically subdued PM. 

I am the first to arrive. 

Ahead of me 35,000 vines shiver in the wind, like expectant children, waiting to be pruned.  There is no sign of the Romanian pruning team.

Ten minutes later, my phone rings.

“I’m sorry, Nick, but they’ve gone.”



The silence is palpable.

“Where the hell to?”

“To Romania. It’s home.”

It takes a while for the implications to sink in.

The vines need pruning. Without pruning, there will be no fruit.

Already our existing wine sales, made largely to the hospitality and events sectors, have plummeted, and with the nation in lockdown they will rapidly fall to zero. No sales, and now, no wine.


Give us botrytis, mildews, drought, floods, wild boars, even Jean Claude Juncker, but please, not this…

Rapid calls to the Home Team.

By 9am Virginia (Head of Events, Left), Georgie (Office Manager, Right) and Tristram (Head of Sales, Centre) have joined Paulo (Vineyard Manager), Andras (Technical Director) and I on the vineyards. We work all day but by 4pm are in despair.  It’s a Dad’s Army moment.

There is no way we can hope to finish on time, and the buds will be bursting in just a week from now.

At 4.30pm Tristram puts out a Facebook request.

By 10pm he has 40 willing pruners from among the young, stranded at home unexpectedly, furloughed by school and university.  Of the 40, ten have their own transport and can start at 8.30am the following day. They are selected.

“Hands up anyone with a degree in biology.”

A single hand goes up from among the new recruits, all standing 2 metres apart, all on time at 8.30am sharp, armed with pack-lunches and with broad smiles on their faces.

“Ok.  You’re hired.  Any engineers?”

Two hands raised.


Another two.

Perfect.  They can be the pruners, the vanguard, to be inducted within twenty minutes into the arcane science of spur-pruning.

“The rest of you Liberal Arty-Farters can follow me (English Literature) and Tristram (Theology). We will follow behind, pull out the pruned wood and tie down the canes. ”

Like vineyard, like life.

Each worker is given four rows, of equal length. Ten metres apart.  Too far to talk and relative progress visible to all. 

“Ready, Steady, Go!”

The competitive juices, like rising sap, flow furiously and work-rates are phenomenal.  Social distancing is a gang-master’s nirvana.

Eight days later and we’ve finished. The team is still smiling broadly. The sun is shining and the wind has turned almost southerly. We are in shirt sleeves. The vines are pruned and tied down, like obedient children, ready to burst into life.

Whoever had the effrontery to call the young ‘Snow-flakes’?

They worked hard and they worked fast, always on time, with never a moan, despite the aching backs and bruised hands (pruning is a hard discipline), and always with smiles.  They showed true grit.

They were a revelation and, in the circumstances, a mercy, too.