England

Vineyards of tomorrow

Posted by Victor Keegan on November 14, 2014
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Colour changes at Bride Valley

WE HEAR a lot about well established estates winning prizes – but what about the vineyards of tomorrow? I have been looking at a few ventures still at the incubation stage and they couldn’t be more different. Bride Valley is at Litton Cheney set in beautiful Dorset countryside (above). Its sparkling wine is eagerly awaited within the trade because Steven Spurrier, who owns it with his wife Bella, is globally admired as a wine expert and is taking something of a risk in suddenly deciding to practise what he preaches by establishing his own vineyard in his seventies. It is a bit like a theatre critic deciding to write their own play.
 Among numerous distinctions Steven set up the Judgement of Paris in 1976 when wines from California, unexpectedly, beat top wines from France in a blind tasting dominated by French tasters but including himself. Now the taster is to be tasted – though judging by a rather delicious sample of  their Classic Cuvee 2011 (almost entirely Chardonnay) I had from of the few early bottles I don’t think he has anything to worry about.
Bride Valley covers 25 acres spreading across several lovely Jurassic shale hillsides. It looks equally good in summer or in Autumnal mists when the red and yellow tints can warn vineyard manager Graham Fisher of differing soil conditions underneath or nutrient deficiencies. For instance, although the land has a chalk base similar to the terrain of Champagne country too much chalk can yellow the leaves while sudden reddish tints can indicate fractured canes.  The grapes are made into wine at nearby Furleigh Estate which has won gold medals for its own wines. It is in safe hands.
   JAGAJAG in Carmarthenshire, South Wales, by contrast, is a vineyard without wine. At least, not yet. It has a fully fledged infrastructure – including fine rooms and a highly regarded restaurant – but no bottles to sell. In 2013, a good year for UK grape growers, Jagajag had to abandoned its crop as the fruit wasn’t good enough. But they persevered and with a much healthier looking crop in 2014 they are hoping to have bottles ready to sell for next year. The quality of wines in Wales, led by multi-gold winning Ancre Hill Estate in Monmouth, has risen dramatically in recent years and it will be interesting to see whether Jagajag’s patience is rewarded.

Frank Myers at Wythall

WYTHALL, over the border in Herefordshire, is another contrast. It has grapes but no infrastructure from which to sell at the moment. However, if you are planning to attract visitors to a new vineyard then having a 500 year old mansion house is unlikely to prove much of a handicap. Frank Myers (above) has singlehandedly planted nearly 3,500 vines  on 3.5 acres at Wythall, near Ross-on-Wye which has been owned by the family of his wife (the Euro-MP Anthea McIntyre) since the early 17th century. And they have documents to prove it.
Frank –  a successful businessman in his own right – has had a dream about being involved with a vineyard ever since his childhood in the centre of Manchester where, he says, he rarely saw a tree.  The main field (above) curving off to the right looks a bit like a dog leg on a golf course. He admits he may have to cut a few trees down to admit a bit more light but is pleased with this first crop which is to be turned into wine by the highly regarded Three Choirs vineyard at nearby Newent which provides an ecosystem for dozens of growers in the area. If his plans pan out and the wine is good enough this will be a lovely vineyard to visit.
EVEN smaller is the vineyard on the Sussex/Kent borders planned by Paul Olding who has served his apprenticeship on an allotment in Lewisham, London where he has been making his own wine- up to 100 bottles of Olding Manor – for some years as a preparation to realising his and his wife’s dream of having their own vineyard. Now they have purchased land  in east Sussex at Eridge Green including 1.5 acres on which they will start planting vines in 2016 after tilling the soil for a year. It will be interesting to see how this develops and one wonders how many other enthusiasts have been starting their own small vineyards up and down the country to become part of the revival of UK winemaking. Let me know . .
LAST, but certainly not least is Rathfinny which I visited recently. Its first wine (all sparkling)  is not due for a couple of years but its plan to produce a million bottles of fizz from a planned 400 acres has already sent shock waves throughout the industry. Pessimists say there is no way they will be able to sell a million bottles without disrupting the nascent UK sparkling wine industry. Optimists point out that a million bottles is barely one percent of the UK domestic fizz market and the growing quality of English wine will see off the competition and boost exports.
THESE four examples are typical of what is happening in the UK where big growers are starting to think on a global scale while boutique vineyards are happy to service very localised – but premium – markets  from their cellar doors enabling them to retain the wholesale and retail profit margins.

Wythall, 500 years on

Cameron Boucher, vineyard manager at Rathfinny

 The interesting fact is that well over 90% of all new plantings are of grape varieties that go to make sparkling – particularly the classic combo of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which is used for Champagne. I see no reason why UK wines should not go on from strength to strength. If they don’t then at least we will all be left with stocks of prize winning fizz with which to drown our sorrows.

 

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March of the new vineyards

Posted by Victor Keegan on May 31, 2013
Engilsh vineyards / No Comments

David Davis at Ancre Vineyard

David Morris, winemaker at Ancre with a bottle of the  vineyard’s global winner – a 2008 sparkling white

(Reprinted from Village News, Goodrich, Herefordshire as typical of what is happening in the UK)

There is a palpable buzz in the air even on a misty day when you visit the Ancre Hill vineyard just outside Monmouth, less than 9 miles from Goodrich. This is not surprising because Ancre recently won a prize for the best sparkling wine. Not for the best in Monmouthshire, not for the best in Wales nor indeed Great Britain. Its 2008  vintage was voted the best sparkling wine in the world in a prestigious competition in Verona, Italy in a blind tasting – which included some Champagnes – by a couple of dozen international experts. This is the biggest boost the Welsh wine industry has ever had  but such was the shock it wasn’t even reported  in the Monmouthshire Beacon.
David Morris , the winemaker whose parents own Ancre, takes it all in his stride. This is not surprising because he was a manager at Nyetimber when the West Sussex vineyard won the same prize in 2009 which helped established British sparkling whites as among the best in the world. He is clearly confident about the future. He thinks that Ancre’s still whites have as least as good prospects as the sparkling ones and that the 2009 sparkling is better than the prize-winning 2008 which has now sold out. He puts part of the success of the 10-acre vineyard down to its biodynamic principles and the meso-climate of this part of the Wye Valley which gets lots of sunshine even when you can see rain over the Brecon Beacons.ChinnChinnVineyardChinn-Chinn, a lovely sparkling white grown in the field  above by the UK’s major asparagus farmer
Ancre is but the most recent star of a cluster of vineyards that have blossomed in this area in recent years. There are approaching 20 vineyards within 20 miles of Goodrich led by Three Choirs near Newent now one of the UK’s most successful vineyards several of whose wines are sold by the very picky  Wine Society. Three Choirs offers accommodation and a fine restaurant overlooking its slopes and is well worth a visit. It also processes the grapes from other vineyards too small to do it themselves like the nearby Strawberry Hill which produces lovely sparkling and still wines and is the only vineyard in the country to grow grapes under vast greenhouses. Nearby also is St Anne’s in Newent whose wines can be bought from the vineyard or at farmers’ markets.
Among those closest to Goodrich are two off the Walford road to Ross-on-Wye. Frank Myers started planting 3.5 acres  in the land around the wonderful Tudor mansion Wythall two years ago and hopes to be harvesting in another two years. Further on, along the turning through Coughton, Ccbrey Farm, famous for its asparagus, has set aside a few acres to grow grapes for sparkling white wine. Since the Chinn family has lived there for hundreds of years there was only one thing they could call it – Chinn-Chinn. The first vintage 2006 won a silver medal from Decanter magazine and the 2007, now available for sale, is at least as good. It can be bought from their web site www.cobrey.co.uk or tasted at the Mill Race restaurant in Walford.
Other nearby vineyards include Treago at St Weonards, the excellent Monow Valley in Monmouth, Wernddu at Pen-y-clawdd  (1.5 acres) and Parva Farm at Tintern. John Boyd  grows grapes on his half-an-acre vineyard st Upton Bishop which is sold to local shops and pubs like the Moody Cow. The one in the gardens of the Pengethley Hotel appears to be resting and two tiny ones at Llangrove (featured in the Village News a decade ago) have fallen by the wayside. Otherwise the area’s contribution to Britain’s viticultural revival, appears to be in rude health despite the calamitous weather of 2012 which has severely affected harvests everywhere.
Meanwhile, vineyards are creeping ever closer to Goodrich itself. One wonders how long it will be before the village itself, once famous for its cider, has a vineyard of its own.

Victor Keegan has a Twitter feed @vickeegan and also @BritishWino aimed (independently) at promoting English and Welsh wines

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