….And we made wine. What other way would there be to celebrate this extraordinary feat of cultivation??
Summer 2014 was in many ways and for many people an extremely fruitful season, and we’re still almost unknowingly reaping the benefits.
My father’s early retirement sparked a number of temporary and occasionally irrational notions to which he would dedicate entire days of unwavering attention. Things like the learning of a language, an instrument, or DIY project in the house he would undertake passionately for hours at a time, only to give up and abandon the project before nearing any sort of satisfactory mastery of the craft. Patience and rationality were never strong points of his – nor are they mine, for that matter.
One venture which served as cathartic as it was time-consuming was his expansion into the realm of gardening and home-grown produce. Up until last year, his success was measured on the size of the courgettes which appeared almost overnight (to my untrained and disinterested eyes) within the small space of overcrowded and sweaty condensation, among the dependable crowds of cherry tomatoes and carrot leaves all jostling for space and a sliver of the ever-evasive Irish sunshine. The nature of gardening left room for the sporadic lapses of attention in his greenhouse, meaning that the few days my Dad’s attention got caught up in installing another new boiler, re-painting a perfectly finished room, or searching the web for old census-clippings actually added to the cultivation of the young shoots, giving them the breathing space necessary to acclimatize to their unusally contrasting environment.
The grapes began as one such notion, a day spent wandering the garden centre fertilizing and giving strength to the idea that the growth of anything is possible if the conditions are correctly met and enough space given to acclimatize. And so the guts of one weekend was spent planting grapes in a greenhouse in the back garden of a run-of-the-mill suburban housing estate in Leixlip, and ensuring everybody within earshot knew he was doing so. What could go wrong?
To be honest we all forgot about the mini-vineyard growing in the back garden, not expecting anything to come of the notion and instead adapting to his erratic ideas and shifting our attention to encourage his next venture. It was only as the Summer wore on and he began to notice the small green spheres appearing on the twigs that it began to actually become a source of interest again. I began to receive weekly updates on their progress, which turned to daily phonecalls as my job in Galway kept me from witnessing the miracle for myself.
On returning home I was greeted with a smile and a proud bucket full of genuine grapes as green as they were homegrown and one of the proudest achievements of my father to date.
The very fact that they existed was proof that anything can be cultivated within the confines of an unlikely environment, if the right factors are present, and so his next announcement that he intended to experiment with wine-making was hardly surprising. Again, we left him to it, happily ensuring he had a store of empty wine bottles in which to ferment his concoction at hand and ready to fill should he succeed.
Which he did.
The wine which was ready by Easter was bitter, strong, and thinking back on it was definitely the product of an amateur attempting to fulfill some sort of self-validation by convincing himself it was possible to make his own, yet it did the job, and succeeded in getting myself and a friend slightly drunk at a party having been given the bottle leaving my house, unaware that it had come from the ‘home-brewed’ corner of the wine rack. How many people can say they have one of those? Especially in Ireland!
The greenhouse has since become a source of pride for him, and in a way has aided greatly in allowing himself and the rest of the family to come to terms with the fact that with retirement comes a certain slowing-down of many things, patience now being an easier value to tap into when the need presents itself. He still gets irrational notions and spends days on end obsessing over minor details of the floor tiles in the kitchen being off-center, but it’s almost as if the retreat of the greenhouse and the potential of the ever-encroaching Summer season gives him a new lease on life. It’s a kind of dependance which became particularly noticeable in his despondancy and detachment during the Winter months of frosty weather, the physical limitations of the cold preventing him from even visiting his glass house seemingly stunting any kind of positivity towards progression.
Now that the Summer is well on it’s way again, both the garden and my Dad have been filled with a new energy and positivity towards life, the successes of last Summer proving a positive foundation on which this year can be built.
While I hope we have a good Summer weather-wise for all the usual reasons – roadtrips, days on the beach and beer-garden Saturdays spent with friends and new freckles, there’s also the hope that my Dad will continue building upon his previous successes and maybe even begin to enjoy his retirement. And who knows, if that means more wine, all the better for everyone else!!