Sandy Luck amongst her vines at Aldwick Court Farm in North Somerset
Sandy Luck amongst her vines at Aldwick Court Farm in North Somerset
BUSINESS FOOD & DRINK NEWS

West country wines go to town to make real connection

If you’re in the west country the chances of living near an award winning vineyard are high.

Generally we hear so much more about the south east when English wines are being discussed, and the south west is not yet as well known outside the industry.  It’s no secret though.  There are 27 vineyards in Somerset alone.  There are many more in the region and eight are travelling to Bristol to share their vintages at the Bristol Food Connections wine tasting on Thursday 5th May.

Seasonality is everything to wine growers: there is a time to prune, weed and harvest.  The wine growers are all busy preparing their 2015 new releases ready for launching over the next few days.  Right now, at the end of April and early May it is bud burst time and the Somerset growers are nervously crossing their fingers that their expert pruning and tying has prevented the late frosts affecting their vine’s tender new growth.

Ingrid Bates,  from Dunleavy Wines near Wrington is prepared for the vagaries of the English weather.  Experienced and knowledgeable, Ingrid has worked with many different grape varieties in the past.  She planted her vines in 2008 and chose an early ripening clone of Pinot noir for her Wrington vineyard as it produces the best tasting wine. It’s also very versatile so can be used for still or sparkling production.  Seyval blanc is her other choice, which is a higher-yielding grape.

Dunleavy's Pinot Noir grapes
Dunleavy’s Pinot Noir grapes

Ingrid says; “I was inspired by my then favourite English wine, a rosé, I thought to produce a wine as good as that would be a great achievement.  This year I hope to produce around 500 bottles of sparkling wine for the first time.  I hope that Bristol Food Connections increases the awareness of English wine, as lots of people don’t know about West Country vineyards.”

Ingrid is part of a strong emergence of south west growers who are focused on quality.  With the increased interest in local food over recent years these growers see themselves as part of the local food movement.

The biggest vineyards coming to Bristol Food Connections is Camel Valley at around six hectares, closely followed by Furleigh, from Dorset with five hectares of vines.  However, these vineyards aren’t large by British standards, with brands like Chapel Down having many hectares in the south east.

Small vineyards and micro-producers nestle in the sheltered hillside of the sunny south west.  Iain and Jane Awty planted their vines at Oatley in the eighties.  Others, like Dunleavy, Yeo Valley’s  Aldwick Court and Sutton Ridge vineyards are relative newcomers with the fruit grown on vines planted less than ten years ago.

What these award-winning small producers share is a close relationship with their land.  They know their terroir; and they have learnt how to work with their vines and the weather at harvest time to produce their best vintages.   If they decide to blend grape varieties whether to co-ferment in the bottle or to blend after fermentation. These small vineyards focus on small releases, and concentrate on the calibre over quantity to get the best out of the grapes and that year’s weather.

Oatley, near Bridgwater grow on well established vines.  Iain and Jane Awty have accumulated much experience and a philosophic outlook as the years have gone on, which helps from time to time when the weather isn’t favourable.

Oatley's Madeleine Angevine grapes
Oatley’s Madeleine Angevine grapes

Generally, at Oatley vineyard they produce two dry whites each year, one called ‘Jane’s’ from the Madeleine Angevine vines and the Riesling-style Kernling vines are sold as ‘Leonora’.  The vineyard has a 25 year record of international awards, including 2 silver medals in the International Wine Challenge for their Leonora’s.

Now they are in their thirtieth year of viticulture Iain explains the attraction of growing vines in Somerset and why the couple are looking forward to wine-tastings: “It’s hard work, and there’s always something to do, but it’s a super spot.  We get lots of visitors in summer and we think it’s great fun to meet our customers.”

The Awtys sell most of their 6,000 bottles direct to their customers, others sell in local delis or specialist shops.  Some, like Wraxall from near Shepton Mallet, and Smith and Evans from Langport can be bought from supermarkets such as Waitrose.

Founder of Sutton Ridge, Luke Ford, who at 29 years old is younger than Oatley’s vines.  His passion and expertise has blossomed as his vines have flourished.  Sutton Ridge vineyard is south-east facing overlooking Blagdon Lake on the family farm.  In 2010 his friends and family helped him handplant 1,700 vines with five varieties: Regent, Pheonix, Pinot Noir, Seyval Blanc and Bacchus.

Luke is bringing his first sparkling wine to the Bristol Food Connections wine tasting.  A blend of Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc grapes, the Sutton Ridge fizz has been given a full two years to age since bottling.  Luke will also present his new 2015 vintage rose, made from co-fermented Phoenix and Regent grapes, and his 2015 Sutton Ridge white.  All three new wines will be released this May Bank Holiday.  Luke says of his Sutton Ridge white: “Made so that we can serve a white wine at my wedding in the vineyard this coming August. It is however so good we thought it unfair not to release it! We will therefore be releasing 360 bottles on general sale.”

Luke, who grew up in Yeo Valley, knows the micro-climate; even within his 0.8 hectare vineyard the same variety of grapes can ripen at different times.  He has to wait for perfect time to pick; when the sugars rise and the acids drop. When the grapes are ready he enlists help from his supporters who drop everything for harvest time.

Luke is hoping that at the event he can raise the profile of the west country wines.  Luke says:  “The feedback we have received regarding our first wine to be released has been really positive and we even picked up a Silver Medal for it in the South West Vineyard Association Annual tasting competition.  Our small scale of production and hands on approach to tending the vines allows us to produce high quality wines.  It is a real balancing act as many different factors can have a big effect on the wines.”

Sandy Luck, at Aldwick Court Farm, just off the A38  in North Somerset, harvested her first Seyval Blanc and early Pinot Noir on her family farm in 2011.  Now she is helped by a small, dedicated team who currently produce a white, a rose and a fizz.  She will bring Mary’s Rose, her white Buteo and sparkling Jubilate to Bristol Food Connections on 5 May.  Sandy has ambitious plans for 2015 as she has just started vineyard tours and aims to produce two sparkling wines as well as a red by the end of this year.

Aldwick vines with the Mendips in the distance
Aldwick vines with the Mendips in the distance

The recent history of the resurgence of English wines shows how the larger scale producers have been very successful in the south east.  The emerging story in the south west is of smaller vineyards, expertly working their land and vines to produce truly local delights.  They are the real connection between their vines and their customers.

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Live Mendips will try the wines thoroughly at the wine tasting on 5 May, and report back.  To find out more and to buy tickets visit www.bristolfoodconnections.com

Visit our What’s On page to find more events around the West Country.