There are now over 800 commercial vineyards in the UK. Over a quarter are open to the public. But they are not all in the Home and southern counties and the West Country.
Hanwell Wine Estate in Hickling Pastures, South Nottinghamshire celebrated a decade of wine production with the first Wine Tasting Fayre to be held on a Nottinghamshire vineyard.
Co-founder and owner Helenka Brown’s parents, Tony and Veronica. found a single vine in the greenhouse of their new home in West Bridford. They later discovered it was grown from a cutting from the Great Vine at Hampton Court, planted in 1768. They opened Eglantine ( wild rose) Vineyard in 1979. Until 1986 it was most northerly commercial vineyard in the world. In 2002, the vineyard produced the North Star ice wine.
Hanwell Wine Estate opened in 2012 and is mash- up of the Christians name of the next generation – Helenka and Will’s children, Hannah and William. Its first sparkling wine came in 2018. Today, the estate has 8,000 vines.
Says Helenka : “When my father first decided to plant a vineyard here in the East Midlands back in the 1970s, people laughed and thought it couldn’t be done. After 20 years of trialling more than 250 varieties of grapes, he was able to produce award winning wines made in Nottinghamshire.”
Cumbria is about the only English county which doesn’t make wine. Lancashire boasts the Herdsman Vineyard at Pilling. Yorkshire, Suffolk and Norfolk have their own wine trails. Warwickshire has Virginia and Bearley where Richard and Jo Le Page produces wines like “Bard’s Red!” . Worcestershire has Deer Park run by Oxford biology graduate Mark Steele at Woollas farm, Eckington.
Lincolnshire’s Ovens Farm is run by Simon and Bridget White who make Harrington Red as well as Pinot Noir Precoce.
Derbyshire’s Peak District has Hope Valley overlooking Hathersage which inspired Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Scaddows at Ticknall run by John and Anne Webster.
Father and son Martin and Clive Vickers are based at Staffordshire’s Halfpenny Green Farm in Bobbington near Stourbridge where they make amongst other wines, Black Country Gold, a blend of Huxelrebe, Faber and Regner grape varieties. They are also contract wine makers for a number of other English vineyards. Rob and Liz Grove run Grove Farm vineyard at Chebsey where they make three sparkling wines and a Rondo still.
Liz Robson, a former nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and principal lecturer in midwifery at De Montfort University, runs Leicestershire’s Rothley Wine, a two-acre estate at Kingfisher’s Pool on the bank of the Rothley Brook, a tributary of the River Soar.
The vineyard is located within the grounds of the former Manor of Rothley, first developed as a Preceptory and Chapel of the Knights Templar after a grant from King Henry III in 1231. The Preceptory and Chapel were incorporated into mansion built for eight generations of the Babington family. The last Babington, Thomas, famously worked with William Wilberforce on the first drafts of the Act of Parliament which led to the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807.
Richard 111’s remains were found beneath a Leicester car park in 2013. Rothley produces a King Richard, a dry white, a King Henry still and a rose called Battle Royal.
Stonehenge has a rival tourist attraction. The newly-opened Wiltshire Wine Trail takes you to three vineyards in the ancient country – Bluestone, a’Beckett’s & Whitehall. All offer tastings, tours and some wonderful names for wines.
Paul Langham headed the national English and Welsh wine trade body for many years and aBeckett’s in Littleton Panell, Devizes is celebrating its twentieth birthday. “It all came about as a result of my not wanting to spend years in the corporate world,” he says.
“I worked for a US multinational and it wasn’t for me. A throwaway comment over a glass of wine led to Wiltshire.”
With wife Lynn, who worked in the legal profession, Langham produces wines such as Ram’s Cliff Rose made from Pinot Noir and Reichensteiner and named after a rock formation on the Salisbury Plain escarpment overlooking the village. Plus Lynchets named after some nearby medieval steps and Penruddocke’s Red, named after the son of the High Sherriff of Wiltshire who was murdered in the farmhouse in 1644 by parliamentary forces.
Cuvée Victor is named after Lynn’s father who was a teetotal Pentecostal preacher and Cuvée Madeline is named after Paul’s mother.
Says Lynn : ““We have evidence of vineyards in the village from as early as 800ad and perhaps even earlier. We called our unoaked Chardonnay
Two Degrees West as we are exactly 2 degrees west of Greenwich. a’Beckett’s relates to the family who arrived here in 1454 and farmed here until the late 1880’s.
“Our wine is currently made about 20 miles from our vineyard but we now have planning permission to build our own winery.”
The Domesday Book records that there were vineyards in Wiltshire in villages such as Tollard Royal and Lacock. Peter Self’s family have lived in Whitehall Farm since 1854 and planted the vineyard in the Avon valley near Lacock in 2017. Says Peter : “Much of the county sits on an underlying bedrock of permeable limestone. This chalky rock base is perfect for growing Rondo, Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris bedrock in the county is not too dissimilar from the Champagne region of France.
“The climate of Wiltshire is grape-friendly. Comparatively more moderate with less extreme swings from season to season, Wiltshire vineyards are typically more protected from harsh weather conditions than other British counties.”
A Whitehall sampler case could include Charlotte May 2018 rose, the best-selling Bacchus 2019, Nethercote Hill 2019 Pinot Noir and Rondo and Water Meadows. There is also a limited edition Madeleine May Chardonnay.
Recommended places to stay along the Wiltshire wine route are the Red Lion, Avebury or the Rose & Crown at Tilshead, an Italian restaurant in the middle of Salisbury Plain. There is also Milford Hall Hotel and the Crown Inn at Cholderton.
Bluestone Vineyards is a new boutique grower, focussing on premium English quality sparkling wines, using grapes grown by two brothera in ten acres of the family farm in Cholderton in the Bourne Valley. They work four vineyards- Three Acre, Top Field, Iron Age and Roundhouse.
Says 31-year-old Nat McConnell: “Our main business is the Cholderton Rare Breeds Farm (formally Cholderton Charlie’s), which is an RBST accredited breeder for the conservation British Rare Breed Farm animals.
“The vineyard is a diversification of the tourism attraction, which is very seasonal. The vineyard aims to secure the long-term future of the RBST petting farm attraction. Wine and the Wiltshire countryside is the perfect recipe for pleasure. The more guests we can draw to our famous county the better.”
The wines are currently made at the Hambledon Winery in Hampshire. The first Wiltshire grape harvest was four tonnes in 2018.
“The soil is perfect, sandy, clay loam over chalk,” continues Nat. “The same chalk found underneath Champagne and Burgundy – the Newhaven Chalk Seam. We’ve planted Dijon clones to further future proof the vineyard.”
Bluestone also collaborates with the London Chamber Orchestra, providing “lounge picnics”. Adds elder brother Toby : “Our Classic Cuvee 2015 goes well with local cheeses like Lyburn’s Old Winchester an Stoney Cross or The Real Cure’s Hartgrove Coppa. We are about to release a new sparkling cuvee rose.”