A report from James Scott in Kent Online has caught my attention – a project is under way to reopen an ancient 800-year-old wine shop in Wye. The medieval undercroft in Upper Bridge Street is believed to have been a store stocking wine imported from Bordeaux, from the late 13th century.
The undercroft stocked a vintage of Bordeaux wine called Gascony Red. The historical region of Gascony overlapped what we now know as Bordeaux from the left bank of the Garonne, south and east of the city down to the Pyrenees. Centuries ago Gascony’s wines were well known. When Henry of Anjou married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, he also acquired Gascony. Two years later, when he became King of England, England acquired Gascony, and with it, all of the vineyards of Bordeaux for the next 300 years.
By 1300 half of Bristol’s wine trade was in the hands of Gascon vintners. The year 1308-1309 marked the peak of the Bordeaux port exports with almost 103,000 tons of Gascon wines leaving its quays. In the 1950s, Bordeaux was only exporting half that amount in total!
Records show 736,000 gallons of wine was shipped to Winchelsea, East Sussex in the early 1300s and it is thought some of this wine would have been transported to Wye via Tenterden.
It is not known when the wine store closed but an Elizabethan house existed above it until 1875. Owner Patrick Keegan is hoping to open the grade-II listed cellar to the public and restoration works have been under way for the past 18 months. The scheme has gained support and funding from English Heritage, the Sustainable Development Fund, Wye Historical Society and Wye Parish Council.
The undercroft’s function as a wine cellar was not confirmed until the project’s architect Ptolemy Dean, who featured in BBC TV programmes Restoration and The Perfect Village, discovered broken bricks at the foot of the entrance steps in late October. Canterbury Archaeologial Trust later confirmed the damaged brickwork was the result of huge barrels being rolled down the steps. The cellar would have stocked wine imported in 225 litre barrels known as ‘barriques’, which would have weighed more than quarter of a tonne.
Stone masons have already restored the ceiling of the vaulted chamber, using chalk sourced from nearby Crundale. The next stage of the project is to move the grade-II listed K6 red telephone box which currently blocks the entrance to the steps leading down to the undercroft. Accessed by a spiral stair, the vaulted chamber is 17ft 10ins by 14ft 10ins, and features a central rose shaped roof boss.
Once works are completed Mr Keegan hopes to import Bordeaux wines from the appellations Pomerol, Saint Emilion and Margaux.