Growing your own is back in vogue and demand for local produce is soaring.
But will the English ever get a taste for home-grown, local wine?
When Sir Reresby Sitwell decided to devote part of his family’s 400-year-old estate at Renishaw, south of Sheffield, to wine-production, he was labelled as wild an optimist as his ancestors Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell were eccentrics.
But the vineyard he planted in 1972 is now producing quality white wines under the guiding hands of a man who also tends the English vineyards of one of the world’s best-known wine-making families, the Rothschilds.
Army officer turned viticulturist Kieron Atkinson says everything in Renishaw’s vineyards is looking rosy, the 2013 should be a cracker - and it’s all down to our rubbish summer.
“We’ve had a mix of wet weather and gentle heat, great conditions for white wine grapes, Our table white, made from the Madeline Angevine grape, and our sparkling from the Seyval Blanc, will be excellent this year. And I’m not just saying that,” grins the dashing former leader of The Light Dragoons’ South Yorkshire Regiment, who served in Afghanistan before quitting to train in wine-making.
Renishaw’s vineyard was, at 53 degrees 18 minutes north, the most northerly in the world until 1986. Experts in 1972 said grapes would only succeed south of a line from the Wash to South Wales.
“Plenty thought Sir Reresby was crazy. But he was a pioneer. His aim of producing enough wine to pay for the upkeep of Renishaw Hall is a long way off, but we’re producing up to 3,000 bottles in a really good year.”
Kieron, who works for the Rothschilds at Waddesdon Manor in Oxfordshire, confidently predicts English wine-making will take off.” Climate change is making this the ideal place. This year the French Champagne region was so hot grapes had to be picked a month early,” he says. “The UK will one day produce a good Pinot Noir. It’s done well in New Zealand, which has a similar climate to us.”
He hopes to extend the one acre vineyard to up production, but is currently on with the summer pruning to ensure a bumper crop for pickers (he’s calling for volunteers). West Midlands Winery Halfpenny Green do the pressing, maturing and bottling. Renishaw’s table white is £7.50 and its sparkling, which I sampled, is £15. Light and very floral, I found it a lovely, refreshing aperitif.
See for yourself next month when the vineyard opens to visitors for the first time. Kieron will be staging 90-minute tours on September 4 and 18. It’s £6 and wine tastings will be staged - weather permitting, between the vines. To book, or arrange a tour for 10 or more, call 01246 432310.