I admired the orange geums and Zam took photographs of a multi-stemmed hazel for reference but the garden that really galvanised me at my first ever visit to the Chelsea Flower Show was in front of a beautiful greenhouse.  Bushy broad beans, thriving salads, neat leeks… I wandered up the path towards a welcoming sales man. “Where are the slugs?” I said.  I gave him no chance to respond before launching into my only current topic of conversation. 

The man shifts uneasily.  I sound deranged.  “Well you know…” he says soothingly “this isn’t a real garden.”

I go out at night with a torch and pick them off every pot in the greenhouse, I bury ale in deep dishes amongst the hollyhock and foxglove seedlings, I have invested in some pricey copper rings (so only have enough to do two beans and three delphiniums - beans destroyed, delphiniums currently surviving), I have scattered baked and crushed eggshells around every plant base and I have emptied coffee granules all over the place.   Each morning I go out to find what damage has been done and increasingly to see if anything is left.

The man shifts uneasily.  I sound deranged.  “Well you know…” he says soothingly “this isn’t a real garden.” I refuse to find this cheering in any way.  And then he tells me he overheard another exhibitor describe how he boils up garlic bulbs and sprays the water over his plants. “I think it was for slug protection” he says uncertainly.  I realise he would like me to move along. I thank him. I compliment his greenhouse.

I come home to find the cosmos are the latest victims.  I’ve been telling people these are the only plants that slugs don’t seem to like but this is wrong.  They’ve just left them till last.  Then I boil a kettle and pour it over some garlic bulbs.  

The next morning I look at new levels of decimation.  The garlic water has acted like a particularly attractive vinaigrette.

“How are the vines?” I am asked by people with long faces.  And then “how is your house?”  This last question comes up in all wet weather because part of our house is less than 2 metres from a river and everybody assumes we will be flooded. To both these questions Zam smiles broadly and I try to sound as confident, “everything is fine, we’re on chalk.” As I type there are ominous sounds of branches breaking in the high winds – shallow rooted beech trees – because we’re on chalk. But while the roof may be in peril and the garden is pure moss,  the floor is currently dry.

Zam smiles broadly and I try to sound as confident, “everything is fine, we’re on chalk.”

The vines, I’m told, are a week ahead of where they were this time last year.  And so the inevitable Frost Question has raised its annual head.  Zam plans to get a system that collects the rainwater off the winery roof which will be sprayed onto the vines during frosts which strangely keeps them safe. But not this year. For now it’s all alarm clocks and candles. One of last years Frost Warriors now lives abroad but has let it be known that he will fly back to England if he’s called up because he enjoyed lighting bougies at 3 a.m. so much. I am thinking about this remarkable enthusiasm when there is a knock at the door.

A man from Portsmouth Water is standing in the rain holding a long stick.  He asks where the stop cock is which I happen to know because a different man from Portsmouth Water appeared in the rain at the door last week, holding a similar stick.  This man also lifts the manhole cover and holds the stick to his ear and pulls a face.  His “remote” system has told him that there is a leak somewhere. I suggest the tap that drips in the greenhouse but having seen this he dismisses it. “This sound” he offers me the stick to listen to “would imply a major internal leak.”  His emphasis is a little alarming. And then he goes away because he can’t really tell while the dishwasher and washing machine are on. He will return on his night shift.  I wander back into the house and stare at the floors. We’re on chalk.  I’m sure it will be fine.


Dear friends,

Well, even for February this has been a bit of a doozie… cold and dreary with plenty of added rain, enlivened only by the birthdays of those in possession of the best zodiac sign of all…

I have been marking the endlessly surprising arrival of the start of my seventh decade by taking each of my nippers out to dinner, one at a time, in a restaurant of my choosing. The Wine Widow is not a fan of restaurants, but I am and this cunning plan is giving me four bites at the succulent cherry that is London’s restaurant landscape. Seems mad not to make this an annual event?

I have been marking the endlessly surprising arrival of the start of my seventh decade by taking each of my nippers out to dinner, one at a time, in a restaurant of my choosing.

In the vineyard the pruning is over, the pulling out is nearly done and the tying down is underway. This means we are approaching peak tidiness – the trellising empty, wires lowered, each vine a picture of dormant potential, canes demurely bowed, waiting for the warmth to raise the sap, swelling 8 to 10 buds on each cane into delicate, silvery leaf…we just have to pray it doesn’t start until after the last frost!


In the winery the blending is over and our teeth are recovering – tasting 30-odd highly acidic base wines really tests the enamel and we could all do with a visit to the dentist - but it will be worth a bit of pain because the wines were really revelatory… That wet mid-Summer followed by a baking early Autumn seems to have done something wonderful to the Chardonnay – the aromas we’re used to, of green apple, citrus and pear drops, have not been obliterated but they have been overlayed by scents of succulent peach, nectarine and apricot. Despite worries about dilution there is plenty of acidity to hold the wines together and Harry and Juan are very excited to see what these new flavours will turn into… in just 3 years’ time.



We have two broken toasters in the house, both of which have been dud for years.  Actually I never knew one of them when it worked, it having been brought here from his father’s mending pile to join ours, many years ago. The other toaster, given to me over 30 years ago, has done me well before packing up in about 2018.  Since then both have been waiting for the practical man to … I don’t really know … source parts, take them apart, put them back together again? I believe that’s what is meant to happen. 

Friends who come to stay look very confused and a little downcast at breakfast where there is therefore a poor toasting game.  Bread is put on the right hand plate of the aga and if you time it right might be turned before burning/sticking to it.  Most days I open the hot plate to find a charred piece of bread that Zam has forgotten before heading to work.  When I found this again last week I took a unilateral decision to invest in a new toaster. 

I paid a visit to a well known department store in order to see for myself, feel their sturdiness and so on.

I googled and I couldn’t decide so I paid a visit to a well known department store in order to see for myself, feel their sturdiness and so on.   There were several models, all of which were for display with an accompanying notice that read “available online” which defeated the object obviously of coming home with a goddam toaster.  This failed mission gave Zam the chance to beg me for another week before I condemned him to useless consumption with built in obsolescence.

I think is how he termed it.

Yesterday Zam locked his keys in the boot of his car as he was heading out with wine deliveries.  I found two spare sets in the drawer and drove them over but neither worked so I went to Halfords and bought new batteries and bleep bleep, all was good.  This reminds me of the one and only time I have been a sensible parent:  One of our children, then aged about 4, stuck a bead up his nose and every time I said “blow” he sucked in his nostrils with intensity.  Luckily my godson had put a frozen pea up his nostril some weeks earlier and at A&E the medic sucked it out with a straw.  Which is what I did with the bead.  This was a very proud moment for an impractical woman.

I have also solved the toaster issue.  I have oatcakes for breakfast.

I have just left Olive at a train station where we missed her train by a minute which means waiting an hour.   She is heading to Wales for 3 days holiday.   She is wearing walking boots found last minute in the cupboard, (owner unknown) with which she is rather pleased while asking “do you think it’s okay that they’re a bit small?”  We sit in the car watching the rain and I offer her an old waterproof that I happen to know is buried in the boot but she says she has already got too much luggage and when, after about 15 minutes, I tell her I’ve got to get on and therefore abandon her, I think she’s right.

There is palpable relief from the team at a respite from venison burgers and pigeon breasts.

We unload three large bags, one of which holds a pasta maker.  She’s got an unusual view on walking holiday essentials. 


Last night she asked Zam for the weather forecast which would, for most of the year, be a sure bet for a detailed answer.  “I don’t know” he says, “Because I don’t care.”   That is a man basking in the post-harvest liberation of it not mattering in the slightest and it is in this mood that he will remain.  Until the frost panic starts again. 

With the grapes safely gathered, the juices safely tanked, he has also hung up his barbecuing tools.  There is palpable relief from the team at a respite from venison burgers and pigeon breasts.  Perhaps the meat feasts even got to him because he spent last weekend making soup from a pumpkin the size and shape of a canoe.   “What are the chewy bits?” I ask nervously (he never cooks anything normal and we all remember the pork and marshmallow with sauerkraut that appeared during lockdown).  “The Parmesan rind I found at the back of the fridge” he announced happily.  This would be the Parmesan I bought on impulse at Costco a couple of years ago, also the size of a canoe.  I remember telling him that Nigella (I think) puts dried out Parmesan lumps in soup to add umami.  I thought I told him she then removes it.

There is no doubt that every hour of sunshine is ever more gratefully received as the tanks and presses are washed and polished in preparation for harvest. Everything gleams, excitement is building, the atmosphere is fantastic. From time to time some idiot repeats a weather rumour: “apparently there might be a frost on Thursday” or similar which makes Zam stare at me in disbelief because a) I have no idea where I heard this and b) it is beyond the realms of consideration given everything else that needs to be considered right now.

Extremely keen on a tape gun, lists and labels, I have a happy time piling boxes onto a pallet which I hope to move with a lifty thing.

To be helpful, I offer to lend a hand in “fulfillment.” Extremely keen on a tape gun, lists and labels, I have a happy time piling boxes onto a pallet which I hope to move with a lifty thing.

When I do start to lift it, everything tilts in rather an alarming way. On seeing me gingerly manoevre this, Zam suggests that perhaps I ought to have stacked the boxes a little more evenly. A couple of days later I notice a number of items have been returned by the courier, looking very much the worse for wear - as though they’ve been duffed up on a night out. “We don’t understand why these have come back” Zam says, walking past. I look at them more closely with the sinking knowledge that these have all been sent out by me and that they have been returned because I put the wrong postcode on them.

“I just don’t understand” I begin “how I’ve put our home postcode on these.” I trail off. “You must email the customers and explain that you’ve taken on someone with limited experience…” Zam doesn’t look up from his computer but says in a low voice “Don’t worry. I already have.” I suspect he worded it more succinctly.

Then he says he is going to task three friends to carry magnums to a 60th birthday party in Seville the following weekend. That will never work I tell him. The bottles will explode. Nobody will want to take them. It’s a ludicrous idea.

But they do arrive. They are much enjoyed. No problemo. Which for some reason, I find rather annoying.

Join us at the Winery on 30th November from 9am – 3pm for A Makers’ Sale of Work.

There will be cushions, cards, blankets, baskets, rings, books, waistcoats...

We will be showcasing creations by Laura De La Mare, Fungus & Mold, Sarah Tyssen, Eland Books, Beyond the Barn, Camilla Dinesen, Izzy Letty, The Silo Collection, Winchester Cocoa Co, Louise Brown, Institches, Francheska Pattison, Acre & Holt and wine from The Grange


There will be cushions, cards, blankets, baskets, rings, books, waistcoats, wrapping paper, flowers, chocolates, decorations, mugs, magnums and more...

With food by Becka Cooper

Entry is free, with donations on the door for Allegra's Ambition

When I ask Zam what’s happening in the vineyard this week he tells me it’s all about waiting as he stares at his weather app looking for sunshine… prolonged sunshine, ideally until October.  There was no sign of any last week on a day in which the whole concept of waiting got thrown.

Our ticket for the Isle of Wight ferry said we must arrive an hour before departure. We arrive at 4.50.   The man in the booth checks our vehicle details, hands us a “6 o’clock” sign that we’re told to dangle from the mirror and directs us to lane 8 where we wait for our friends who are parking their car and then joining ours.  Within minutes another man directs us aboard.  We climb upstairs to the deck and wave at our friends sauntering towards us.

“Is that cruiser moving?” I ask, gawping at the size of the liner next door. “No.” Zam replies, “We’re moving.” 

“Is that cruiser moving?” I ask, gawping at the size of the liner next door. “No.” Zam replies, “We’re moving.”  To our astonishment our 6 o’clock ferry is leaving at 5 o’clock.  Our friends stop waving as they watch us depart.


Several phone calls and a foot passenger ferry later, we are reunited on either side of Cowes, none of us quite sure what just happened.  We head to the pub we’ve booked and eat fish and chips accompanied by a blistering 80’s soundtrack that reaches it’s peak with “I love rock n roll” before an early bed in preparation for an 8 a.m start.

The plan is a long walk, lunch, a return ferry at 5.30pm.  But as we sip coffee and stare out of the window we amend the plan.   We visit “Britain’s Hottest Garden” where we stand in the hothouse listening to rain hit the roof, we admire the countryside through the windscreen wipers, we buy paracetamol for backs that didn’t like the pub beds. We feel very unlike people who were planning to walk for 10 miles and more like people who want to sip from a thermos in their car looking at the view.  Except we don’t have a thermos. 

“Shall we go home earlier?” I’m not sure who first suggests this but it lands to a universal yes.  We head back to the ferry at midday.  “But you’re on the 5.30 ferry” the woman in the booth tells us.  We know, but we also know that yesterday it seemed to be like catching a bus so any chance of an earlier crossing? She shakes her head.  “All fully booked” she says.  We cannot find anywhere to eat because everyone else is already eating so we decide to buy a picnic at the supermarket and eat in the car. Zam approaches the ferry lady again.  Some time later he reappears saying triumphantly “I got us on the 3.30,” waving the thing you dangle on your mirror.


We are directed to lane 1 where I begin to butter rolls on my lap and a bottle of Chardonnay is opened. We’ve got crabmeat. Bliss.  A nice long picnic in the car in the rain.

And then it happens again.  Seconds later we’re waved on to the ferry which promptly departs. It is 2.30. 

“How was it?” I’m asked on the family WhatsApp.  “Confusing” I reply. “You sort of never wait for a ferry.”  Either that or the Isle of Wight is an hour ahead. 

I am anxious about the sweet peas (about to hit full throttle) and Zam is anxious about the vines (heatwave followed by rain = potential trouble) but we are committed to a holiday in Spain. The day before we go I wake up deaf in one ear.  This is not unusual.  I ring the ear clinic who tell me the audiologist is also going on holiday tomorrow and there are no appointments.  A text pings in from our daughter: Can you talk?  As she has just arrived in Greece this cannot be good news. In fact I know, as soon as I read it, that she has lost her passport.

The passport has indeed disappeared somewhere between the airport and the B&B.

The clinic call to say they’ve had a cancellation.  Anna rings to say a taxi driver found her passport and Alf eventually secures a third choice bed.

I abandon my online search for an alternative ear clinic and enter “emergency travel documents” but the main focus of the day remains trying to book our son’s university accommodation for which he has a timed slot and not a minute before - we tried.  (Whenever I recount this to anyone they say “like buying tickets for Glastonbury” to which I nod although in truth I’ve no idea.) 

At the appointed hour the accommodation website crashes.  I yell. Alf tells me to calm down.  The clinic call to say they’ve had a cancellation.  Anna rings to say a taxi driver found her passport and Alf eventually secures a third choice bed.  It’s nearly lunchtime. Trouble, everyone knows, comes (and in this case goes) in threes.
The next day I sit next to a very nice woman on the flight to Seville who tells me she broke her jaw when she fell off her daughters bunk bed where she was trying to kill a daddy long legs on the ceiling. The jaw went undiagnosed until she insisted that she could hear her teeth rattling every time she spoke and she then underwent various procedures including pins and pin removals which have left one side of her face paralysed “And it’s been peeled back twice” she explained.  I stare. “I’m a keen runner” she went on “but I broke a shoulder when I tripped.  Then I broke the other one when I slipped in the rain.”  I do not say that this confirms my deep distrust of running.   “And while being introduced to a new member of our running club as Most Accident Prone Member I fell over and broke my foot.”

My own jaw is now pretty much on the floor.  Not least because that puts paid to the three rule.    “Jesus,” I say, “and you’re on my flight.”

The sun is shining – it’s time to take a trip to wine country, England-style.

Karen Krizanovich came to visit us and wrote about it for Civilian

One of my favourite vineyards is The Grange. (Gusbourne and The Grange are not unknown to each other – and yes, Gusbourne has purchased vineyard acreage in West Sussex too, yes I know.) You can accuse me of being obsessed. I accuse me of being obsessed, but this vineyard sings to me in ways I can’t quite grasp. It’s not just the enthusiasm, professionalism, sleek functionality and a wine vehicle that is a beautiful Series One Defender. I love the smell of the place, the look of it, the countryside stretching without interruption, the trees and the rolling hills. It’s a place of serenity, for me as a visitor at least.

I can taste England all over the place

Like many vineyards, The Grange is giving tours throughout July and September and The Grange’s Zam will have you understanding, experientially, first hand, why this wine really does taste of where it’s from.

2 bottles of The Grange WHITE FROM BLACK, an English sparkling wine made from Pinot Meunier grapes

I swear opening a bottle of The Grange brings the windswept sweetness of the Hampshire breeze smack into the bottle itself. My favourite – the favourite of many – is the rare vintage White From Black 2018, a Meunier-only white sparkler from that year’s extraordinary crop. This tastes of white stone and orchard fruit, condensed but fresh. Made from four different Meunier cuvées, with just a touch of oak, this is an exceptional bottle. And if you drive out to the vineyard, you may still be able to get one of their still rosés, available solely on site. While I prefer sparkling – as PeeWee Herman once said, “All my friends have big buts” – The Grange’s Still Pink 2022 is my big but. But it’s a still I like – and it is just like that south of France rosé that tells your mouth you’re on holiday. This one is English, just as summery and uplifting and you’ll drink it all at once. Both of these wines have won Silver medals at 2023’s WINEGB Awards, just two more in bulging trophy case at The Grange.