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An Introduction to Vines and Wines

My love for wine has progressed through the years. Starting at school, where I often got on the wrong side of the rules, through travelling the world tasting wine, to finally owning and running a vineyard producing 250,000 bottles a year.

After years of ‘sampling’ different alcohols during my teen years it was at university that the light bulb turned on (or sometimes off depending on the occasion). I had decided to do my final year dissertation on the startup of a vineyard on the family farm.

Now I thought I was clever by doing something where I would get the chance to drink all in the name of ‘education’. However, it turned out that while I visited (and sampled…) many vineyards that there was an underlying theme of excitement about where this tiny industry was heading and what the future held. To put into figures the total vineyard size of the UK at the time was roughly 1,500 acres, while Bordeaux was by itself 130,000 acres. After ‘sampling’ many different English wines it became obvious that the future was in sparkling wine. With such hard-faced devotion, and each examiner receiving a bottle of sparkling wine, I walked away with one of the highest-awarded dissertations in the university.

After I finished university, I came home to the family farm and started to take soil samples, ask for advice and, most importantly, convince my family to part with the land and the cash to get the project off the ground. The more people I asked and the more I researched I was convinced my farm was in an ideal situation to plant a vineyard. Soil analysis showed that we had half a meter of gravel lying on top of pure chalk, which is the same chalk found in Champagne! So armed with soil analysis, expert opinions, financial forecasts and most importantly a case of English sparkling wine I put on a presentation to my close family.

They loved the idea and the very next week I did the same presentation again (with even more wine!) for the Bank. Amazingly everyone was on board, in fact so much so that my initial aim of planting 10 acres of vines was increased to 20 acres.

After striking a partnership with Ridgeview Wine Estate, we began planting some vines in 2007 – (after a few more glasses of vino we decided to up the acreage again to 28 acres).

The balance of the planting was as follows:
50% Chardonnay – to give minerality and finesse
30% Pinot Noir – to add fruit flavours
20% Pinot Meunier – for depth and body

We had a German team come over with high-precision lasers to plant the vines in dead straight lines (I think Audi calls this Vorsprung Durch Technik). After three long days of planting, Tinwood Vineyard was born.
So I, and a team of Bulgarians, set about trying to manage and look after these 46,000 vines. However, it soon became clear I had no idea what I was doing, and at the end of the year I packed up my bags and moved to New Zealand to live and work in a vineyard for five months. Whilst there, I learnt (and drank) a huge amount. So, when back at Tinwood, I had positive ideas and knew what needed doing. In 2008, we then planted another 22 acres of vines. This made us the 4th largest vineyard in the UK.

Swiftly the vineyard was becoming a roaring success with the vines looking and growing healthily. In 2009 we had our very first harvest. The winery complimented us saying they were some of the best quality grapes they had ever seen, and I was left exhausted but grinning from ear to ear.

In 2010 our harvest tripled in size as the second vineyard came into production, and although we had challenging weather conditions, we were again delighted by the quality.

This year has yet to be seen but after a great start we now need the sun to shine!!

My job in the vineyard is very varied and wide-ranging. When we first started I did all the tractor work myself – spraying, cultivating, trimming etc. But now I employ a full-time tractor driver as I don’t have the time to do it myself. Different times of the year bring on different jobs, but this will have to be explained in my next blog.

As it’s Friday night, I now have to go out to do the best part of my job – sampling!!