We may associate vineyards with the south of France and California, but Britain has been growing its own wine since the 11th century. Hardy grape varieties, such as Madeleine Angevine and Schönburger, grow happily in the UK’s 419 vineyards.
Since many new vineyards were established in the 1980s, English wine has won awards around the world and is finally starting to be taken seriously. Luckily, you don’t need bags of money and acres of land to join in. There are lots of ways to grow your own wine on a small scale or in a shared scheme.
A family vineyard
In the Mediterranean, it is common for rural families to make their own wine. A patch of land (say 80ft x 15ft) is given over to rows of vines, which will yield enough grapes for around 200 bottles of wine, in a good year. There are an increasing number of workshops and courses in grape growing and wine making around the country, such as the Wine Skills tutoring at Plumpton in Sussex.
An allotment vineyard
Of course many people don’t have that amount of land. At the Alexandra Road Allotments in Epsom, Surrey, a group of ten wine enthusiasts share the maintenance (and subsequence drinking) of vines that grow over two allotment plots.
A community vineyard
Increasingly, larger groups of people are coming together to create more sizeable vineyards. Many are volunteer-maintained operations, such as the Warden Abbey vineyard in Bedfordshire (which gives its profits to charity) and the new organic Forty Hall Vineyard in north London, designed to create community spirit and provide eco-therapy.
A co-operative vineyard
If you dream of gazing out over your own vast vineyard, but have neither the money nor the time to make it happen, consider setting up or joining a co-operative. Such multi-owned ventures are common on the continent. One of the few UK examples is the Eden Community Vineyard in Devon, which is owned and maintained by twenty local families. Eden was set up by Geoff Bowen, who is now seeking members for his latest co-operative vineyard, Partner Vineyards in Devon. Likewise, Paul Olding at Olding Manor,is currently seeking like-minded people to set up a co-operative vineyard in Kent.
Recommended reads: ‘The Winegrowers’ Handbook’ (£9.95) is a new title by Belinda Kemp and Emma Rice, which contains advice on starting all sizes of vineyard and organic vine growing. Also recommended are ‘Growing Vines to Make Wines’ by Nick Poulter and ‘The Wines of Britain and Ireland’ by Stephen Skelton.