In this difficult time where vineyards have been trying to cope with the late frost in May (the latest on record) whilst in the midst of a national lockdown, The Wine Tipster investigates how 5 of his local vineyards and wineries have been affected over the past 3 months, and how they are easing back into normality this July.
Bothy Vineyard is steeped in tradition as Oxfordshire’s oldest winery and vineyard, positioned in the beautiful Vale of the White Horse since 1978. Richard and Sian Liwicki have done wonders creating an environmentally friendly vineyard and high-quality wines, introducing new grape varieties in 2007 and gaining a community of loyal Bothy customers along the way.
The Wine Tipster discovered the small and artisanal Bothy Vineyard a while ago and enjoys their speciality crisp, aromatic, English white wines such as The Doctor’s Bacchus 2018 – who’s predecessor won Best Regional Wine and Best White Wine in the 2018 Thames and Chilterns Vineyards Association Wine Challenge, and this 2018 bottle winning Gold.
Bothy wines also include a rosé, sparkling and red alongside their award-winning whites, and all are carefully made with minimal intervention throughout the wine making process to ensure maximum environmental sustainability. Their long list of proactive environmental measures is well worth a read, and their passion for the environment and wildlife are evident.
Sadly, Bothy Vineyard lost their 2020 vintage in the series of extreme frosty nights in May, with temperatures as low as -4 claiming the growth from the previously warm weather. Luckily, the vines are recovering well and although there will be no crop this year, Bothy’s 2018 vintage is at its peak and the 2019 vintage will soon be able to be bottled and enjoyed.
Bothy Vineyard has been open during lockdown for sales by appointment (ring ahead 01865 390067 or email email@example.com), with all safety measures considered to make the buying experience safe and enjoyable – such as the option to bank transfer before collecting bottles. 6 bottles or more can even be ordered online and delivered for free to Oxford, Abingdon and local areas using their green energy electric car.
Their tours have been postponed until further notice, but they are active on Facebook where they are currently keeping a wildflower diary (with the odd glow-worm sighting included!), as well as via their newsletters and Instagram.
Poulton Hill Estate Vineyard are a small team running a big operation, doing everything by hand from bud rubbing and harvesting to delivering bottles in their yellow 2CV. Since planting in 2010, their 8,800 vines near Cirencester and Cheltenham produce up to 20,000 bottles a year of red, white and rosé still wines along with sparkling whites and rosé. Managing Director Tiléri Charles-Jones has done a fantastic job, with her team of 3, at growing an impressive business.
Having trademarked ‘Bulari’ as a generic term for English Sparkling, their multi-award winning English Sparkling Brut is the epitome of the style. Poulton Hill Estate are now available in Waitrose which is a huge achievement, but understandable given their list of awards – their Sparkling Brut won a Q at the Quality Drinks Awards 2016 against worldwide producers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Aldi and M&S, as well as having many other awards to its name.
Due to lower cool units over the winter and early warmth in Spring, Poulton Hill Estate’s vines came out of their dormancy a couple of weeks earlier than normal. This meant they were more susceptible to the late frost in May which claimed 50-60% of the vines. Unfortunately, the buds will take three years to fully recover and will their produce lower quality grapes or none at all this year. Although some varieties have started flowering already (Regent and Rondo), others are too frost bitten. Yield will be down significantly for the UK which will, in turn, affect sparkling wine production in a few years as it generally takes two years to make a decent sparkling. There may be shortages ahead!
However, if Poulton Hill’s grapes are not up to the quality they desire, they get turned into brandy! They also produce a Sloe de Vie from the sloes grown in the hedgerows on the estate, so there are still ways to enjoy Poulton Hill Estate as well as their previous vintages.
Tours and tastings at the vineyard have been postponed until further notice, and the availability of their luxury converted barn accommodation is similarly affected. However, bottles of Poulton Hill Estate wine are available to buy from their online store and Cellar Door, as well as from a number of quality retailers and pubs throughout the Cotswolds.
Three Choirs Vineyard is one of England’s oldest and largest vineyards, with 75 acres of land in Gloucestershire, and first planting reaching back to the great vintage of 1973. It is also the first English vineyard The Wine Tipster ever visited! The stunning setting makes the perfect location for the team at Three Choirs Vineyard to share with visitors throughout the year.
Three Choirs have a range of fantastic wines, and won Gold at the Sommelier Wine Awards in 2017. They have just added two new sparkling wines to their mail orders – Blanc de Noirs 2012 and Pinot Noir Rose 2014. The release of their Coleridge Hill 2019, Rose 2019 and Pinot Noir 2018 have also been greatly received.
Unscathed by the late frost in early May, the vineyards are flowering roughly 3 weeks earlier than normal and look to be set for a good harvest this year – Cheers!
Direct customer interest throughout the pandemic has been good for Three Choirs, and their virtual wine tasting sessions have gone down a treat. Three Choirs offers luxury lodges and rooms to escape to the heart of English wine which will be open from 4th July, along with the brasserie and tours for guests, before extending tours and lunch experiences to the public in August. Three Choirs Vineyards’ award-winning wines are still available from their Cellar Door and mail order.
Welcombe Hills Vineyard overlooks the historic town of Stratford Upon Avon and has been producing award winning wine since 2001. A family business run by Jonathan and Nichola Kelsey, Welcombe Hills Vineyard has grown from a ‘hobby’ vineyard to a well established business, with its 2.5 acres produce 9 varieties of grape.
Despite a brief spell of not producing wine under its own label, the 2019 relaunch of the Welcombe Hills Wine saw bottles sell out by Christmas and won its 2018 Bacchus best wine of its class in the Wine GB Midlands and North competition, and take home a silver medal and best label award too.
This year, Welcombe Hills have brought back their first English Sparkling Wine from the fantastic 2018 vintage, Ophelia (a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Auxerrois), as well as continuing their Shakespearean names with their 2019 Bacchus, The Tempest, and 2019 Sauvignon Blanc and Bacchus, Twelfth Night, to join their 2018 Rosé, ‘a Rose by any other name.’ They will launch the first red produced in the vineyard for 7 years, a blend of Noir and Pinot Précoce, that is currently maturing in French Oak barrels.
The 2.5-acre vineyard is currently soaking up the warm weather having luckily avoided the late frost in May which so many other vineyards were hit by. The amazingly warm weather has brought flowering ahead by 2-3 weeks ahead of their previous earliest date, and they hope to have a record year for yield and quality!
Tours of the vineyard have successfully begun again with appropriate safety measures in place and can be booked online on the website, where you can also find their wines for sale individually and by the case. Free delivery is available within 25 miles.
Woodchester Valley is a family owned vineyard and winery with three different vineyard sites throughout the Stroud valley in the South Cotswolds, with a total of 45 acres under vines. As a family owned boutique vineyard, Woodchester Valley has grown impressively from a single acre planted in 2007, to its now three vineyard sites and onsite winery.
Woodchester Valley has grown from a single acre planted in 2007 to the award-winning wine producing vineyard that it is today – it’s latest award being a gold medal in the Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters, judged by Masters of Wine, at the start of 2020. They have just released two limited-edition wines – Atcombe Red 2018, a Pinot Noir and Regent blend, and Atcombe White 2019, an elegant Sauvignon Blanc, Ortega blend crafted with their critically acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
The hot Spring brought budburst forward by two weeks for the vineyard. However, with the risk of frost approaching, Woodchester Valley protected this new growth from the late frost by lighting thousands of bougies throughout the vines. These anti-frost candles in large metal canisters burn for several hours and warm the air circulating around the vine to prevent damaging tender shoots and buds. Not only do they make for a magical picture but also minimised vine losses to 7%! It should be another great harvest for Woodchester.
Woodchester Valley successfully ran a number of virtual tasting events and a delivery service throughout lockdown, creating a tasting case of six wines to be enjoyed at home and alongside the virtual tastings. All are available to watch on the website still. Woodchester are looking forward to the gradual reopening of the vineyard from 4th July with the appropriate safety measures. There will be a great deal to engage with at the vineyard in the coming months, such as tours starting again from the 7th August and welcoming guests into their accommodation from 10th July. Wines can now be collected from the re-opened Cellar Door shop, or via free delivery for 6 or more bottles from the online shop.
The Wine Tipster is immensely impressed with the resilience of these local vineyards during such hard times, and encourages everyone to explore (safely) and support their local vineyards in the coming months.
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