Wine production in Cheshire and North Wales
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 October 2017
Weep no more wine fans, we may face high prices for our favourite tipple as a result of Brexit but we always have our home-grown vintages to fall back on.
It’s time to harvest the grapes. Not in France or Italy, but here in the North West where they are producing wines so excellent they are even beating the continental producers when it comes to awards.
Britain is now recognised as a credible wine producer and in Cheshire and North Wales we now have our very own brand of viticulture, which is all the more reason to pay a visit to a lovely local vineyard and enjoy a glass or two.
Carden Park Hotel, near Chester has a three acre vineyard, which since its revival in 2006 has produced enough Seyval Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes for an annual yield of up to 10,000 bottles of their distinctive Carden Old Gold sparkling wine.
As one of Europe’s most northerly commercial vineyards, it’s taken the commitment and dedication of the estates team to bring the vineyard back to its former glory as year-round care is required. For example, the Pinot Noir grapes were harvested a few weeks earlier than the Seyval Blanc last year, as the sugar levels reached a peak equating to a 12% alcohol level.
Peter Pattenden, estate manager at Carden Park explains that 30 years ago there were between 20,000 and 25,000 vines on the estate, producing wine that was then taken away by local wine merchants who labelled it up and sold it on. It was only after owner Steve Morgan opened Carden Park as a hotel in 1997 that the vineyard was finally reinstated in 2008.
‘We have 4,000 Seyval Blanc vines, a French-American hybrid – and 500 producing Pinot Noir and we use the red grapes to produce our rose sparkling wine,’ explains Peter.
‘It is made in exactly the same way as champagne, going through two stage of fermentation although of course we are not allowed to call it champagne as it is not from that region of France.
‘We harvest the grapes at the end of October, or in early November with all our ground staff spending two to three days getting the harvest in and then it is taken to Halfpenny Green Vineyard in Staffordshire to be processed.’
Wales is also rapidly becoming known for its excellent wines and that means you only have to cross the border, not the channel, to enjoy the pleasures of tasting wine by the vines.
Self-confessed wine lovers Colin and Charlotte Bennett set up Gwinllan Vineyard just five years ago and now it’s a stunning destination for anyone interested in taking the wine trail.
Here around 2000 vines thrive in an idyllic setting in Conwy against the backdrop of the Snowdonia National Park.
The couple embarked on the wine business after buying their house in 2011, starting out at first with a mere 250 vines.
‘We were just both into wine, my husband especially. Colin has always loved his viniculture and before I met him he would tour the vineyards of France,’ says Charlotte.
‘So when we moved to our house in 2011, the field behind us was south facing and we decided we’d plant some vines on it.’
They were lucky from the onset as a small quantity of eating grapes had already been grown on a small plot of land before they took over the property.
‘That meant we didn’t have to have the soil tested,’ says Charlotte.
‘My husband took over the grapes that were already there and then planted some more and by 2015 we had produced 2,000 bottles of wine.’
Over the past five years they’ve increased their planting and now they have over 2,000 vines and are expecting to produce 7,000 to 8,000 bottles this year from grape varieties, Solaris, Phoenix, Rondo and Ortega, special hybrid varieties that were chosen specifically to work well with the soil and climactic conditions in North Wales.
Their wines aren’t cheap, they cost £15 for 75ml, with a limited edition Pefriog aromatic sparkling wine made from Solaris grapes, priced at £25 – ‘even we can’t afford to drink them all the time’ jokes Charlotte, but there is a lot of hard work put into each bottle.
They’ve also created a wine shop and tasting room, which means that the couple can play host to oenophiles who wish to sample the wines among the vines of Gwynllan.
‘We now hold regular guided tours of the vineyard, where you can learn everything from planting to pruning and everything in between,’ says Charlotte.
‘My husband takes people around the vineyard and spends about an hour explaining all about the vines and wine production then there’s a wine tasting and if you wish to extend the experience you can have a Welsh grazing board will be grazing boards of “Tamaid Cymreig” – tasty bites made using local produce that have been created to match the wines.’
So what makes a successful vineyard. Is it the grape varieties? The soil? For anyone who is thinking of following in the footsteps of the Bennetts Charlotte has a tip.
‘You’ve got to have the right place,’ she advises. ‘The difference in climate here is significant and because of our position, with three sides of our vineyard next to the sea we don’t suffer from late frost.
‘It means we haven’t lost any of our grapes like some of the vineyards further south did this year. Some of them lost about 80 per cent of their crop. I’d say it’s more about the climate than it is about the soil. We are very lucky as we have a microclimate here and chose the right vines.’
Carden Park Broxton Rd, Chester CH3 9DQ 01829 731000 www.cardenpark.co.uk
Gwinllan Vineyard Y Gwinwydd, Llangwstenin, Llandudno Junction, LL31 9JF
07880 744847, www.gwinllanconwy.co.uk