There’s a British TV series which lasted for decades and hundreds of episodes called Last of the Summer Wine. It’s a gentle comedy about a bunch of elderly folk getting up to harmless mischief in the pretty Pennine town of Holmfirth. The last episode was broadcast in 2010 but earlier series dating from the 1970s are often repeated and the sitcom is still hugely popular. The title is, of course, a reference to the joys of remaining youthful in old age rather than something to be taken literally, and I don’t think I can remember a single episode in which anyone has a glass of wine. Quite a few pints of ale are consumed in the average episode by the male characters, as well as many cups of tea by both sexes.
Holmfirth has had another association with wine for the last few years though, since a vineyard and winery was opened nearby. I was going to say, “…since some mad fools decided to open a vineyard and winery nearby”, but I thought better of it. We visited the other day for a tour with a tasting, followed by lunch. I have to say that the three wines we tasted exceeded expectations, which (based on a tasting at another of the four Yorkshire vineyards some 20 years ago) were low. It is impossible to make great wine from the hybrid grape varieties that do best in climates such as this, the best you can hope for is a wine that is drinkable.
We tasted two white wines first, both made on site from grapes picked from vines no more than 8 years old that are grown, optimistically, in the small, northwest-facing vineyard overlooking the Holme valley. These were a Solaris and a wine made from the better known variety, Seyval Blanc. Both were crisp and fragrant. They had been chaptalised (i.e. sugar was added to the grape must) to get the alcohol content up to a respectable level, a practice that is probably going to be essential in Yorkshire even in the hottest, sunniest years. They had also been filtered to within an inch of their lives, giving them the clean, inoffensive character that so many cheap supermarket own-brand whites seem to have. But neither of them was technically faulty in any way, despite having been made in a compact and fairly basic winery by inexperienced staff – the person who showed us around admitted that he preferred to drink beer. The winery buys in its oenological and viticultural expertise as required. If it weren’t for the fact that these wines are sold at £15 per bottle, I might even have been tempted to buy one of each for their novelty value.
The final wine in the tasting was a rosé made from Pinot Noir grapes grown – of all places – in Bradford-on-Avon. Now Pinot Noir is, of course, a non-hybrid, vitis vinifera variety and, being a black grape, you wouldn’t expect it to do too well even in Wiltshire, some 150 miles south of Holmfirth. But Pinot is noted for its clonal variation and it’s possible to find a clone that will give you a fair chance of making wine in the UK, at least in a good year. There is some very good wine made from this grape in parts of Germany, where they call it Spätburgunder. The German winters are in general longer and colder than ours, but their summers are hotter and autumns milder and sunnier, which is useful when you are trying to ripen grapes.
Many people, myself included, think that the English wine industry should be concentrating on traditional method, sparkling wine made from the Champagne grapes (including Pinot Noir), since the climate in the south of England isn’t dissimilar to that of Champagne, and the soils, topography and other aspects of “terroir” also match well in a lot of places. After all, the Kimmeridgian soil found in Champagne is named after Kimmeridge, Dorset. But growing Pinot Noir in Wiltshire is a bit of a leap of faith, especially if the grapes have to be trucked to Yorkshire for vinification. Clearly, the Holmfirth winery is buying these grapes for the reason that they sell all of their wine to visitors, many of whom will stay for a meal in the rather nice restaurant and expect to be able to drink a red wine, or at least a rosé, as well as a white. So what was it like, this rosé from Shakespeare country? Again, it was well made and drinkable, in an unremarkable and over-polished way. You wouldn’t pour it away if you were offered a glass, but nor would you seek out a second one. And if you are mad enough to make wine in Yorkshire, that’s about as much as you can hope for.
I don’t mean to be disparaging about the Holmfirth wines or the efforts of the owners who have created a winery business out of a sheep farm. Quite the opposite: I take my hat off to anyone who can make a success out of such a venture. And it does appear to be a success, with a lot of visitors, a high social media profile, good Trip Advisor ratings, etc, etc. It adds to the local tourism offering – there is even holiday accommodation at the winery now – and provides employment in the restaurant and bar. The food was of a good pub meal standard, and the views from the restaurant out over the vineyard and the valley are stupendous. Anyone visiting Holmfirth for a Last of the Summer Wine nostalgia trip could do a lot worse than to pay a visit to this almost-unique visitor attraction.
I am making slow progress on my Kelmscott knitting project. I’ve finished the back and both fronts, and have reached the armhole cast-off of the first sleeve. I’m not at all sure that it is the right length, I always find it hard to judge the length of bottom-up sleeves. I carefully clipped the body pieces together at shoulders and sides, using some rather natty clips that one of my lovely sisters-in-law gave me. They’re made by Clover. Unlike pins, there’s no chance of them tearing the knitted fabric, or falling out, or sticking into me while I’m trying a garment on. I sometimes used bulldog clips for this job in the past, but they are heavy enough to distort the fabric and I never have enough of them. I’m going to be using these multi-coloured clips for all sorts of papercraft and leatherwork tasks as well as for temporarily holding sewing and knitting projects together.
Anyway, having clipped my cardi together, I tried it on and then held the sleeve in position, on a circular needle so that I could curve it around my arm. It seemed to be the right length to the armhole, but it’s so hard to tell because it all depends how snugly it’s meant to fit under the armpit. I’m sure there must be a foolproof way of getting bottom-up sleeves the right length, but I don’t know it. I could just trust to the pattern, but I’m tall and my arms are somewhat simian in length, with the result that sleeves tend to be too short on me. I often over-compensate and make them overly long, which isn’t a big problem since I became comfortable with Kitchener grafting – I’ve shortened a fair few sleeves in the last few months.
If all garment patterns, whether for sewing, knitting, crochet or whatever, were made to standard sizes, it wouldn’t be an issue, we’d just make the necessary adjustments based on the difference between our own body measurements and the standard. Alas, one of the drawbacks of the democratisation of textile designing, thanks to sites such as Ravelry, is that every designer is free to use whatever standard is the norm in her home market, or any other standard, or none at all. And even where garments are designed to widely-used standard measurements, there are questions over how relevant some such standards are for today’s body shapes, especially for women.
I suppose I could make a fabric toile to the sleeve dimensions given in the pattern and tack it into the armscye for trying-on purposes, but that sounds like a lot of bother. Instead, I shall finish this sleeve and then tack the cardigan together, sleeve and all. If the sleeve is the wrong length, I’ll just have to pull it out back to the armhole.
I need to get this sleeve finished before starting on the collar, because I want to be sure how much yarn I have left for the collar before I start on it. I can weigh what I have left after the sleeve and subtract enough for the second sleeve. Actually, I don’t even need to trouble my brain with the maths because I do my weighing on an old-fashioned balance scale, which means it’s just a case of putting the yarn on one side and the sleeve on the other, with the weights. The Kelmscott collar is knitted bottom-up, unfortunately, so I may have to pull it all out and start again with fewer repeats if I run out of yarn part way, but I’m guessing that 2 balls (100g) will be enough for it. We’ll see.