Shakespeare

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

Posted by Victor Keegan on April 13, 2016
Engilsh vineyards / No Comments

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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For English sparkling . . and St George

Posted by Victor Keegan on October 27, 2014
champagne, Chinn-Chinn, Engilsh vineyards, Merrett, sparkling wine / 1 Comment

It started off a few days ago as a bit of banter on Twitter but it would be a great shame if it ended up in the bottomless pit of unrequited tweets. The idea was – is? – that there should be an English Sparkling Wine Day. Like most ideas, it has multiple sources. I (@BritishWino) happened to be glancing at some tweets and was totally surprised to find  that it was #worldchampagneday. Without thinking I wrote: “Apparently it is #worldchampagneday today. Remind me when it is #EnglishSparklingDay. Did I miss it . .?”
Instead of becoming instant history as most tweets do, it was picked up by others including @abecketts,  @didier_pierson and EnglishWineJobs who urged that we should pick a date suggesting November to catch the Christmas rush. Others followed including  the redoubtable Stephen Skelton (@SpSkelton) who suggested April 23 which is not only St Georges Day but Shakespeare’s Birthday as well, a double celebration of England’s best. And we can make that a triple if we include our sparkling wine which has been winning gold medals all over the world yet is under-appreciated in its own country. That date seemed to find general favour.

England, of course, is not the only place in the UK producing excellent sparkling wine. There has been a strong revival in Wales where Ancre Hill of Monmouth has won top prizes in Italy and China as well as at home. But vineyards in England seem to want to market their wine as English Sparkling just as Wales is trying to create its own distinctive brand. Maybe Wales could do something similar on the same day or at a more appropriate time.  Or else the two countries could decide on another date such as the birthday of Christopher Merrett, the Gloucestershire inventor of what the French call the methode champenoise.

Paul Langham, chair of United Kingdom Vineyards Association at his aBecketts vineyard in Wiltshire

So what next? There is clearly a lot of mileage  in a day dedicated to English fizz. If properly marketed by individual vineyards and their trade bodies like The UK Vineyards Association and English Wine Producers it would give restaurants, pubs and off licences an opportunity to test the water, sorry, the wine without undue expense – especially if they were to promote it by the glass. As it is the first time it has been done it might attract media attention, not least, social media and there could perhaps be a prestigious lecture on the history and prospects for Albion’s fizz.
What do all you vineyards out there think? Do give your views through Twitter or  email me at victor.keegan@gmail.com and I will pass on your views – or post a comment below as I have now re-opened the comment slot in the hope it won’t be spammed out of existence again.

@BritishWino

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