I was surprised to learn that our islands off the southern coast of England are home to a number of vineyards. The most south westerly vineyard in England lies on Saint Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly. The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago of 128 islands, lying 28 miles south west of Lands End with the 5 larger islands of St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, St Agnes and Bryher being inhabited. They are well worth a visit and their Tourist Office site is at www.simplyscilly.co.uk . The Island of St.Martin’s is just two miles long, but has some of the finest white sand and crystal blue sea in the British Isles. Saint Martin’s Vineyard was created in 1996 by Val and Graham Thomas, on the gently sloping, southerly facing slopes of the small holding traditionally farmed for narcissi and daffodils by Val’s father.
Trial plantings of the grape varieties Reichenstiner and Madeleine Angevine were begun and the grapes that were chosen were to suit the soil types and the climate of the Isles of Scilly include: Orion, Findling, Seyval Blanc and Siegerrebe. The red grape Rondo is also doing well. The double guyot system of training is being used and extra windbreak’s have been erected to supplement existing fences of Pittisporum and Euonymous. To date there are 18 fields (approx 3 acres) are under vines. The vines are nourished by seaweed which is washed up in the winter winds and collected.
A well was drilled on the farm to supply the required water for the winery and in 2003 the Thomas’s converted a stone barn into a winery so that now the wine is made and bottled on site. The vineyard is continuing to expand and now has a small farm shop and visitor centre. St Martin’s Vineyard is open weekdays throughout the summer for tours and tastings from 11.00am to 4.00pm. Out of season the vineyard is still open for tours but visitors are asked to please call beforehand to arrange a guide.
Heading further south to the Channel Islands you can find La Mare Wine Estate, Jersey’s first commercial vineyard. La Mare was planted in 1972 in 12 acres on the north west coast of the island in the parish of St. Mary. The estate has 21 acres of vines producing 40,000 bottles of wine per annum and recently achieved international recognition by winning 3 awards for its wines at the International Wines and Spirits Competition for its sparkling wines.
The grapes grown are Seyval Blanc, Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner, Phoenix, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Schonburger, Triomphe, Rondo and Regent. Alongside the vineyard are the estate’s apple orchards, with 6 cider apple varieties. These are used to produce a méthode traditionelle sparkling cider called ‘Pompette’ and a premium table cider ‘Branchage’. However, over 90% of La Mare’s cider is double distilled in a Cognac Brandy pot still and aged in French and American oak casks to become Jersey Apple Brandy. The Estate also produces Jersey Cream Liqueur which is made from a blend of the oak aged Jersey Apple Brandy and the finest Jersey Cream from the Island Herd. La Mare also produces a range of jams, mustards and home-made fudge which are all hand-made on the estate.
La Mare also holds tastings and audio-visual presentations and there is a vineyard trail, distillery tour, cooperage, gardens, restaurant and shop. La Mare is open from March to December from 10:00am – 5:00pm. Mail Order to the UK is also available by calling the estate office direct on 01534 481178 or through the web site.
Also in the Channel Islands the island of Sark (which currently allows no cars, paved roads or street lights) is to have its first vineyard. Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay (owners of the Ritz hotel in London who live on the neighbouring island of Brecqhou) are investing £450,000 in a vineyard which will cover 12 acres of land, 330 feet above sea level. The land is on the same latitude as the Loire in France and the consulting oenologist is Alain Raynaud, owner of Château La Croix de Gay in Pomerol. With the same amount of sun per annum as Bordeaux he is hopeful that the island will be producing and excellent white still and sparkling wine by 2014.
The vineyard has been planted with different grape varieties – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris for a planned white and sparkling wine, and Pinot Noir and Gamay for a red variety. It is hoped that the 42,000 vines could in a good year produce around 40,000 bottles of a wine. The only adverse situation is the wind, which will disturb the young vines, but Reynaud is convinced that they can protect them with trellising.
One of the oldest vineyards in Britain lies on the Isle of Wight.
Adgestone Vineyard is set on a south facing slope in10 acres overlooked by Brading Down, just half a mile from Brading Roman Villa which is one of the finest Romano British archaeological sites in the UK. The vineyard was first planted in 1968 making Adgestone the grand old age of 44. The Romans, it is believed, planted their vines on this site. It would be nice to think that Roman Gentry at their bacchanalian feasts drank wine grown on these same slopes some 2000 years ago.
The vineyard has a variety of grapes including Rondo, Regent, Dorn Felder, Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner, Müller-Thurgau, Pheonix, Bacchus and Orion. It currently produces between 10,000 and 12,000 bottles per year. In 1994 their wine was chosen for the dinner for H.M. Queen to celebrate the Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. There is also a gift and farm shop and fully licensed continental style café at the vineyard.
Rosemary Vineyard is the largest of these island vineyards, covering 30 acres, at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. The vines were planted in 1986 and are at almost 60 feet above sea level. The gentle vineyard slopes allow excellent frost drainage in the spring to protect the newly budded vines whilst the soil, a clay-silt loam overlying green sand, is not only free-draining but also retains sufficient moisture for healthy growth. The grapes grown are Bacchus, Schonburger, Madeline Angevine, Orion, Reichensteiner, Ronda, Pinot Gris and Seyval Blanc.
The vineyard also makes liqueurs, juices and ciders and sells traditional Island made mustards, beers, sweets, pottery and biscuits in the estate shop. Rosemary Vineyard is open all year (but is closed on Sundays during winter) and holds tastings, guided tours and has a café and terrace overlooking the estate.
Rossiters Vineyard is the newest vineyard on the Island, the 10 acre vineyard having been planted from 1990 onwards, and is now producing a variety of excellent wines. Rossiters Vineyard lies in West Wight which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, not only a haven for nature lovers, birdwatchers and walkers, but a must see for all visitors to the Island. It’s famous for Alum Bay’s coloured sand cliffs and dinosaur fossils.
Rossiters was the brain child of Rod Thompson who moved to the Isle of Wight after a distinguished career in medical research. The vineyard began as a hobby but has gone from strength to strength – now totalling 10,000 vines. The grapes grown at Rossiters are Seyval Blanc, Madeline-Angevine, Regner, Reichensteiner, Schönburger, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder, Orion, Bacchus and Rondo. The 2004 Bacchus, a dry white, was selected for the high table of the Cambridge College, which he served as Director of Medical Studies. The vineyard runs tastings and tours and has a shop which is open from April to October from Tuesday to Friday(10.00am – 4.00pm) and Saturday and Sunday(10.00am – 4.00pm).
Given that the first vineyard to be planted on these islands was in 1790 and couldn’t survive the westerlies our home grown vintners have certainly come a long way since then!