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8 vineyards in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire

PUBLISHED: 12:34 23 December 2014 | UPDATED: 15:46 23 March 2015

The bottles are ready for labelling at Daws Hill

The bottles are ready for labelling at Daws Hill

Archant

Let's raise our glasses to the splendid wines of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, says Linda Fawke as she takes us on a tour of some local vineyards

Henry and Kaye Laithwaite with baby George, celebrating the first harvestHenry and Kaye Laithwaite with baby George, celebrating the first harvest

Christmas is a time for a tipple or two and no doubt many of us will be buying a few bottles of wine. And while we may well have our favourites, it’s good to try something different and particularly satisfying if it’s supporting the local area.

Vineyards are proliferating across our two counties and the quality of the wine is beyond dispute. Vines don’t need good soil – just the right conditions and it seems we have them here. In particular, our soil seems right for sparkling wine and we are competing favourably with the Champagne producers in France, some of whom have been looking enviously at our land. Where still wine is concerned, the Bacchus grape seems ideally suited to UK conditions, producing a wine similar to Sancerre.

English wine costs more than supermarket specials but it is worth the extra. It is labour-intensive to produce and English wine producers pay far more duty per bottle than the French!

Our local wine makers do not feel they have to compete with the traditional wine-producing countries. The quality and uniqueness of their wine speaks for itself and selling it is not a problem – having too little is usually the issue. Within the last 10-15 years, there has been a step change in how English wine is regarded and many gain gold, silver and bronze awards in national and international competitions. It’s worth noting that this is English, not British wine. The latter uses imported grape juice – the two must not be confused! Our producers are serious and professional, something that is accepted abroad as well as here. And with their enthusiasm and knowledge, they deserve their success.

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1 - BINFIELD

Binfield is a vineyard that specialises exclusively in sparkling wine. John Hickey, the owner, was delighted to relate that in August 2014 they were chosen as a supplier for the Royal Windsor Farm Shop – a great accolade. However, they don’t only supply locally, as many vineyards do (farmers’ markets, local pubs and hotels) – their wine is sold as far away as Scotland and Cornwall. They market their Binfield Brut and Binfield Bubbly through Three Counties Wines and Connoisseur Wines, both of whom have offices at the vineyard, an unusual and successful arrangement. For special events like weddings, John can produce personalised labels.

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2 - HIGH HEDGES

An interesting producer to visit is the relatively new High Hedges Vineyard owned by Tim Chafor in Gawcott. Tim also runs the Manor Fields vineyard in Weedon, near Aylesbury, and some of his wines are a blend from both sites. His initial vintage was in 2013 so this is the first year he has wine on the market. He produces sparkling and still wines and his Bacchus has already won a silver award. He uses two different winemakers to make his wine – Emma Rice who is UK winemaker of the year 2014, and Ulrich Hoffmann, who has the distinction of having made the wine the Queen drank on her distinctly wet trip down the Thames during the 2012 Jubilee. So it’s not surprising they are good.

The soil in his vineyard is variable, from chalk to flinty clay. “We have all the famous terroirs in one place,” he says, “so there are many possibilities for future wines.”

Tim has unusual plans for promoting his wine. There is a prototype pizza oven outside his winery so there may be offerings of ‘Pinot, picnic and pizza’ next summer! In addition, he hopes to be able to make his own wine on site – he already has the equipment for small scale production – under the guidance of Ulrich Hoffmann.

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3 - LAITHWAITES

Laithwaites is a well-known wine vendor. What may be less known is that Henry Laithwaite, son of the company founder, Tony, has three vineyards in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. The largest, with 35,000 vines, is in Pump Lane, Marlow. He also has a small one in Theale and leases land from the Crown Estate in Windsor Great Park. The Marlow vineyard produced its first grapes last year so its wine will not be available until 2016.

“We are naming the wine Harrow & Hoe to reflect the nature of the soil in the vineyard,” Henry explained. He has plenty of experience, having worked on his father’s vineyards in Bordeaux for 12 years. The vineyard will produce four sparkling wines, Rosé, Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir and a Cuvée. The wine will be made in his superb new winery on site and some will be matured in oak casks from France – another instance of grape-to-bottle production. Although there is the established Laithwaite marketing organisation behind him, Henry is keen to have his own customer list and tasting events. Something to look out for!

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4 - DAWS HILL

One vineyard that is already making its own wine is Daws Hill in Radnage. Nigel Morgan, the entertaining owner and ex-orthopaedic surgeon, says: “All wine leaving the vineyard is either in a bottle or a stomach!” He has equipment for the whole process including de-stalking the grapes, pressing them, fermenting them in stainless steel tanks, bottling, corking and enabling the second in-bottle fermentation. The final process, labelling, is done by hand.

Nigel makes white and rosé sparkling wine and a specialist cider. He uses the méthode champenoise, not aiming to mimic traditional champagne but to produce a wine that is uniquely his own. It is delicious. Nigel is now using Amazon and Groupon to market his vineyard tours, an enterprising and thriving venture.

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5 - DROPMORE

A beautifully kept vineyard is Dropmore near Burnham, owned by John Peterson. With elegant roses at the end of the rows, this could be in France. His Bacchus wine was selected as the best in the Thames and Chiltern region. ‘It is my ambition to have my wines offered in all the local Michelin- starred restaurants,’ he says. Unusually, he also sponsors the Dropmore Polo team! One issue that several producers experience is protecting their crop from scavengers. The many song birds around Dropmore want their share of the sweet grape juice so John has to resort occasionally to a gas gun to scare them away.

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6 - STANLAKE PARK

The largest vineyard and winery in the two counties is Stanlake Park near Twyford. Vince Gower, their highly respected wine-maker, produces wine for around 15 vineyards across the country (including Dropmore and Binfield) as well as Stanlake Park wine. As this is Vince’s 26th harvest, he is well used to juggling everyone’s requirements. When Stanlake Park was started in the 70s, they were pioneers with around thirty varieties being planted as no-one knew which would be successful. The present owners, Daniel and Rakhi Goss-Custard, bought the vineyard in 2013 and are keen to promote the beautiful venue for wedding. Sales of the vineyard’s still and sparkling wine are mainly to local pubs and restaurants, with an on-site shop thriving. Vineyard tours are also popular.

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7 - SEER GREEN

At the other end of the scale is the ‘boutique’ vineyard in Seer Green owned by Matthew Press and his family. They produce around 1,200 bottles a year, usually sparkling, a blend of three grape varieties. It is sold locally and on harvest day, everyone in the village is invited in to help, have a meal and try the previous year’s wine – a fun day. “Producing something from the land is a stress reliever for me,” says Matthew. His main job is an investment advisor.

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8 - HALE VALLEY

Another small vineyard is Hale Valley in Wendover. It is one of the older vineyards, planted around 25 years ago by Antony and Carol Chapman, and now being managed by Patrick Hurd. This is Patrick’s first full season and he is interested in expanding his vineyard management to others in the areas. ‘It’s surprising how many small vineyards there are around that have been neglected and are now overgrown,’ he said. Patrick has the advantage of a son with a seafood bar in Islington, Prawn on the Lawn, which is taking the Hale Valley wine.

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This Christmas, buy your wine from a local producer at our farmshops or direct from from the vineyard. For locations of the vineyards and website addresses, see www.englishwine.com/vineyards

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