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25 years a vineyard owner - John Boyd
How did we come to have a vineyard in the depths of Herefordshire? It was all my wife’s fault really. Let me explain.
For several years she and I had a wonderful time travelling, and sipping, our way through the wine producing regions of Europe. As we were camping, we could afford to sample and buy some of the more expensive wines and try out fancy restaurants. We told ourselves that this indulgence was purely educational. In a way it was, and it certainly gave us a taste for wine.
In the early 1990s my wife, a strong-minded woman, told me out of the blue one day that she had decided that we should have a vineyard on a patch of ground which was doing nothing. In my feeble way I asked a few basic questions such as what it would cost, and then agreed it was a brilliant idea.
We had by then come across John Edwards who ran a small vineyard outside Newent which included a large selection of vines. He agreed to prepare the ground, advise on the vines, and do the planting. So, the vineyard came to be.
About three years later we noticed to our surprise that some of the grapes looked rather full and we thought they might be worth picking. They filled a few shopping bags. We took them to Three Choirs Vineyards and though we had made no prior arrangement, we asked the winemaker Martin Fowkes to process them for us.
He looked at these shopping bags doubtfully, realised that we were eccentric amateurs (which we were) and after some hesitation said he would do his best. A few months later we collected the wine – a rosé made from a mixture of red and white grapes, 43 bottles in all. It was drinkable. We were thrilled. It was the beginning of a love affair.
As time went on, we expanded the vineyard and added more grape varieties. We employed someone to look after the vines, and we recruited friends and neighbours to help with the picking. These harvests turned out to be great fun. We rewarded the pickers with a slap-up lunch and as much wine as they could drink and carry away. Needless to say, they came back year after year!
As we gained in confidence, we submitted our wines in for competitions run for vineyards in the south-west and the whole of the UK. We usually won something, mainly with the white wine, and occasionally a trophy such as the Best Red from a Small Vineyard. Our sales often went to local pubs and shops. Now and then a big order came in for a wedding venue or for something posh like the International Wine & Food Society. There were compliments. A Frenchman attending a dinner was invited by his hostess to try an English wine (ours). He pooh-poohed the offer saying that “the English can’t make decent wine”. He was prevailed upon and took a taste. “But this is good”, he said. “Are you sure it isn’t French?” He finished the bottle.
The vineyard never made a profit, though it broke even once or twice. We put this down to our small scale and to the care we took in keeping the vineyard tidy. The wine standards inspector who paid us annual visits said he always enjoyed coming and that ours was the best kept vineyard he had seen. We were not in it for the money. For us it was a pleasurable hobby.
Eventually, after my wife had gone to a better world and I realised that the house was far too big, the time came to sell. I was fortunate to find a buyer whose ambition it had always been to own a vineyard. He is enthusiastic and eager to learn. Such modest know-how as I possessed, I happily passed on to him. With luck the name of the vineyard will live on. My wife would be incredibly pleased.