Shakespeare’s vineyards . . . (well sort of)

Posted by Victor Keegan on April 13, 2016
Engilsh vineyards

Welcombe1 Welcombe left

Bearley1 Bearley below

AS IT IS the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth this month I decided as part of our annual pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon to ponder whether there were any links between Shakespeare and vineyards. Stratford today boasts two vineyards Welcombe Hills (one acre) and Bearley (three acres) in the Snitterfield area less than four miles from the town centre. Both of them are behind houses on the main road, a sling’s throw from a patch of land between Smith’s Lane and Bell Lane known to have been owned by Shakespeare’s grandfather, Richard where Shakespeare’s father was born.
Bearley sells a very drinkable wine – made from the Rondo and Regent grapes – called, wait for it, “Bard’s Red”. It claims further links with Shakespeare’s family because Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother, lived in the neighbouring village of Wilmcote. Her house has been turned into a living Tudor farm. Among the delights on offer is to be present at a typical Tudor lunch. Welcombe, claims similar links and recently has been under the management of Kieron Atkinson who also looks after Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire.
If you walk around Stratford itself you are are rarely more than a few yards from something claiming a link with Shakespeare from the “The Food of Love” shop to the Othello taxi service. But as I intended to explore vineyards and wine I was particularly interested in the claims of the taverns. The boldest is that of The Vintner, situated a short walk from Shakespeare’s home at New Place, which, having traced its ancestry back to 1600 when John Smith and his wife traded there, adds: “It is more than likely that William Shakespeare purchased his wine from here!” Well, after allowing for the fact that there is no documentary evidence that Shakespeare ever drank wine let alone bought any here, this is nevertheless almost as likely as the presumption that he went to the local grammar school for which there is also no documented evidence though it is highly likely to be true. A similar claim might be made by the Garrick, very close to New Place. It could even be the tavern where Shakespeare is believed to have had a last drink with his literary mates Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton from which he contracted a fever, dying shortly afterwards. The Garrick – renamed later after the great actor – claims to have been serving real ale on its premises since at least 1594. There is also the venerable The Old Thatch Tavern, 300 yards from William’s birthplace, which dates back to 1470 and claims to be the oldest pub in Stratford.
What would be have been drinking? If he put his own tastes into those of his characters such as Sir John Falstaff then his drink of choice would have been Sack (mentioned over 50 times in the works) which is a kind of Sherry or perhaps Canary or even Malmsey (a kind of Madeira) which was Shakespeare’s drink of choice when he allowed Richard 111 to drown his brother the Duke of Clarence in a cask of the stuff.

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