Antony and Carol Chapman|
WENDOVER, Bucks HP22 6NQ
Why a Vineyard? When we bought Boddington East in 1979 the field came with the house. For some years it was grazed by the local farmer's cattle, but after the farm changed hands the cattle departed and the nettles and thistles grew thick and fast. We thought of many things to do with it (Xmas trees, worm farming, rhubarb), and then came across a vineyard owner who had planted a successful vineyard 500 feet above sea level in the Chilterns, near Henley. We visited him - and haven't looked back.
The Vineyard is exactly 2 acres (0.8 hectares) in size. If you omit the headlands (the area round the edge) and the tennis court (or rather the area levelled years ago for a tennis court which has never been built), the planted area is 1.25 acres (0.5 hectares). It is 490 feet above sea level, and faces due south, sloping gently. The soil consists of nine inches of loamy rubble on top of solid chalk, which is fairly typical of the Chilterns. Vines do not need good soil.
The Planting of the vines took place at the beginning of April 1988. The vineyard had not been used for the previous three or four years. In this time it had grown a large crop of nettles and thistles, which we burnt off. During planting the annual Great Missenden hot-air balloon festival took place, and over 75 balloons flew over us - hence the balloons on the label.
The Windbreak Earlier, in July 1987, we planted a windbreak of 75 Italian Alders on the west and south sides of the Vineyard. These grew rapidly, to over forty feet high, but as they were sheltering the vines from the sun, we reduced them to twenty feet. As they have continued growing, we may need to reduce them again.
The Vines We planted 1,270 vines, but as is usual some died, and the numbers reduced to about 1,000 within 2 or 3 years. In 2002 we took out every other vine to reduce the over-vigorous growth, so we now have about 500 vines. They are in 34 rows, each 9 feet apart and some 55 yards long. We also have 9 short rows about 12 yards long.
There are an equal number of the three main varieties - Bacchus, Findling and Kernling. Bacchus is a cross of a Sylvaner Riesling crossing with Muller Thurgau; Findling is a Muller Thurgau mutation; and Kernling is a mutation of Kerner, which in turn is a crossing of Trollinger with Riesling. They were chosen for their suitability for flavour, climate and soil.
In the shorter rows we planted ten vines of each of seven other varieties as an experiment in case any of the three main ones proved to be unsuitable. These are Phoenix, Schonburger, Faberebe, Contessa, Madeleine Angevine and Orion, all of which are white wine grapes, and Dornfelder, a red wine grape. Unfortunately only one out of the ten of this last variety has survived, frost having killed off the other nine, but in the autumn it is the most attractive of them all, with black grapes and red leaves. Other vines include a row of Chardonnay and two vines of Sauvignon Blanc, donated by the well-known Henry Pelle Vineyard in the Loire.
All the vines are grafted onto different rootstocks so as to increase the possibility of avoiding the dreaded phylloxera. The rootstocks are SO4 and 125AA.
The Trellis System is called High Single Curtain. This means that the vines are planted in a single straight line, giving a single curtain or canopy. There is a single wire 5 feet above the ground. The vines were originally planted 5 feet apart, growing up 5 feet and along 5 feet, like an inverted L. Where one died the gap was filled by an adjacent vine, so that some vines grew in two directions in a T shape, and some are 15 to 20 feet long. Following the removal of every other vine in 2002, all are now at least 10 feet long. We have also experimented with a wire 2 feet above the ground in the first four rows.
The Vineyard Year begins in January when we prune the vines, cutting off the growth of the previous year. Each one is therefore cut back to its basic inverted L or T shape. In March we spread nutrients down the rows, the amount and type depending on the latest soil test.
Budburst, which usually occurs in late April or early May, is the first sign of growth, and is followed by flowering a few weeks later and by veraison (the conversion of the flowers into grapes) in mid- to late July. In May we remove the many surplus buds, and in June and July we cut back the excessive growth. We spray the vines every fortnight from budburst to the end of August to prevent attack by rot, the most prevalent for us being powdery mildew.
The Vendange (i.e. the picking) usually takes place in mid-October, the actual date depending on how well the grapes are ripening and on the weather. Our earliest picking date was 1st October, and the latest 2nd November. The ripeness of the grapes is measured in degrees oechsle, which we use a refractometer to calculate. We need a minimum of 60 degrees by the time we pick.
The Crops We picked our first crop in 1993. The amounts picked in that and subsequent years have varied between 0.7 and 5.7 tons. This last crop, in 1996, was exceptional, and the usual crop is around 1.25 tons, which gives us 1200 bottles. The ripeness has varied between 63 and 76 degrees oechsle.
It is difficult to be specific about the reasons for high or low quantities or ripeness, but the weather definitely has a big influence. We think it likely that the enormous crop in 1996 was largely due to the warm autumn in 1995, and (despite a late budburst) the hot summer and warmish autumn in 1996, as well as the maturing of the vines. The high ripeness level of 76 degrees oechsle in 2003 was undoubtedly principally due to the hot, dry summer.
We make a single wine each year, blending all the grapes together. All so far have been still, dry whites, with the exception of the sparkling wines in 1998 and 2000.
The Winemaking was, up to 2002, carried out for us by Chiltern Valley Winery at Hambleden, near Henley. In 2003 Stanlake Park (formerly Valley Vineyards) at Twyford, near Reading, took over. We deliver the grapes to them immediately after they have been picked. They crush them and do all the necessary winemaking. They bottle the wine in April or May the following year (except for the sparkling which takes two years), put on the capsules and labels, and put the bottles in cases. We then take delivery, and the wine is ready for sale.
Hale Valley Sparkling Brut 2000 was awarded Gold in the Thames & Chilterns Competition 2003, and Bronze in the prestigious English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition 2003.
Hale Valley Dry White 2003 and 2004 have also been awarded Bronze in the English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competitions.
Please phone to order. A tasting and vineyard walk can be arranged for groups.
N.B. For every bottle we sell, we have to pay duty to the government of £1.29 for the still wine and £1.65 for the sparkling. In France the equivalent figure is 3p!
Boddington East, Hale Lane, Wendover, Bucks HP22 6NQ Tel/fax: 01296 623730 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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