The Co-op Plants Vines in the Cotswolds

The Co-op has announced that it is to plant vines at its estate in Down Ampney near Cirencester. Down Ampney is a small village located just inside the Cotswold water park on the Wiltshire border and 5 miles south east of Cirencester.

The village is renowned as the birth place of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Co-op has farmed the estate since 1918 and it produces oilseed rape, wheat, barley and honey.

At the centre of the estate are the remains of the airfield that saw gliders depart for Arnheim in the Second World War.

Gloucestershire is one of the UK’s leading wine-growing areas. Cirencester was a town in Roman times, and it’s likely that wine was made in the area then.

A wood next to The Co-op’s farm is called Vines Brake, suggesting it was once home to a vineyard. The Cotswold’s bedrock is oolitic limestone which is great for grape growing – the limestone has gravel, sand, clay and shell beds that give good drainage.

David Watson, the group’s arable operations manager, said the geology – sandy loam over clay – was promising and the site was well-sheltered. He explained that:

“English wine has had a poor reputation, but there are some cracking English bottles out there. We have seen warmer, drier summers, albeit with spells of extreme rainfall, and that, combined with an improved understanding of home-produced wine, gives us belief we can make this work.”

The grape vines that will be planted are Ortega and they are expected to yield up to 20,000 bottles a year of white wine once the vines reach maturity, from 2014.

The retailer hired a wine consultant to select the south-facing slope, which was previously used to grow grass for silage and to graze sheep. The vineyard will cover 6 acres.

Ortega is a white grape variety that was created in 1948 by Hans Breider at the Bayerischen Landesanstalt für Wein-, Obst- und Gartenbau in Würzburg, Germany.

Breider chose to name the variety in honour of the Spanish poet and philosopher José Ortega y Gasset. Ortega is a cross between Müller-Thurgau (Riesling with Madeleine Royale hybrid) and Siegerrebe (Gewürztraminer and Madeleine Angevine hybrid).

Ortega ripens early, is not sensitive to frost, has low-acid, high-sugar and produces wines with aromatic floral characteristics and hints of peach, tangerine, muscat, melon and apricot.

It is often used for late harvest dessert wines and ice wines as well as dry fruity whites. It has already been grown successfully in England and seems to like our climate. It is also grown in Canada as well as its native Germany.

This project is the latest addition to southern England’s rapidly growing wine industry. The area under vines in England increased by almost 40% from 1999 to 2009, to 1,215 hectares, and production has increased from 1.8m bottles to 3.2m bottles a year, according to the English Wine Producers Association.

Waitrose recently announced its own new planting of grapes to produce sparkling wine on its Hampshire farm.

The wine critic and consultant editor of Decanter magazine, Steven Spurrier, has planted a vineyard in Dorset’s Bride valley, and Christian Seely, the French boss of Axa’s wine arm, which owns several Bordeaux vineyards, has also invested in a sparkling wine project in Hampshire.

Most successful English plantings have centred on the chalky soils of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, where winemakers have focused on planting Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, the grapes used for Champagne.

We already have the the well known Three Choirs vineyard in Newent, Gloucestershire and it will be interesting to see how it’s Cotswold Cousin competes!

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