Wine-making on the historic Renishaw Estate near Chesterfield
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 August 2018
Amy Noton takes a tour of the vineyard at Renishaw Hall
Think of wine-making regions and most of us picture the sun-soaked vineyards of France, Spain and Italy, or perhaps New Zealand and Australia. England is unlikely to spring to mind but in recent years corks have been popping for an award-winning vineyard in the north of the county.
The grapes grown on the historic Renishaw Estate near Chesterfield make wines that have scooped accolades in some of the most competitive awards in the world, beating major wine producers and earning recognition across the globe.
A secluded plot of land near a stately home in North Derbyshire might seem an unlikely location for growing champion vines, but for the Renishaw Hall vineyard its unique environment – or ‘terroir’ as it’s known in the wine-making world – has proved key to its success. And so it was that my friend and I found ourselves embarking on a vineyard tour on a sunny mid-June day, keen to learn more and to sample some of the award-winning wines ourselves.
After a warm welcome from wine-maker and vineyard tenant Kieron Atkinson, our group is led through quiet gardens, past greenhouses and through a farmyard to the vineyard itself, where we learn Renishaw Hall has always been blazing a trail as far as English wine is concerned.
‘The vineyard has been here since 1972 and is actually one of the oldest in the country,’ Kieron explains as we gather around. ‘It was planted by the late Sir Reresby Sitwell, the father of Alexandra Sitwell who currently lives at Renishaw Hall, to recreate the family’s beautiful Tuscan estate in Montegufoni. It originally started off with classic Italian grape varieties that were used to make big, strong, Italian red wines – needless to say in 1970s’ North Derbyshire, that was pushing the envelope a bit!’
With its quaint stone walls and peaceful surroundings, the Renishaw Hall vineyard certainly resembles a slice of Italy and standing amidst the flourishing vines, its remarkable to think this was once the most northern vineyard in the world.
Kieron’s passion for wine-making is infectious and as he talks us through the grape varieties in the vineyard – Madeleine Angevine for the white wine, Seyval Blanc for the sparkling and Rondo for the rosé and red – he buzzes with enthusiasm. ‘Right now, the weather is perfect for sparkling wine,’ he says, looking across the two and a half-acre vineyard, ‘Champagne is the closest wine-making region to England and the beauty of international wine awards is that we can put our sparkling wines up against Champagne – and I’m very proud to say we’ve beaten Champagne in blind tastings!’
We inspect the vines and Kieron explains the technicalities of ‘growing degree days’, autolysis, shoot positioning, inflorescence and the fermentation process in a fun and informative way. ‘You never know what the vineyard is going to throw at you and that’s the beauty of it,’ he says. ‘One of the most difficult aspects of growing grapes here is the unpredictable weather.’
So what makes a good vineyard location? ‘Most people employ the cornflake method when planting a vineyard,’ says Kieron. ‘Whilst eating a bowl of cornflakes, they look out of their window and think: “Vineyard!” The blessing is that every great wine region in the world has a different soil type. The direction the land faces, its exposure, latitude, wind chill and disease resistance all play a role in its success, but one of the main reasons English wine has improved in recent years is the weather. Unbelievably, we now have the same “growing degree days” as some regions in New Zealand.’
The popularity of eating and shopping locally has bolstered the success of English wine to record heights but there are still ‘myths’ to be debunked, Kieron feels, namely the pricing. ‘Come autumn, the grapes are hand-picked by myself and volunteers,’ he says. ‘The fruit travels just a handful of miles to be turned into wine and everything is bottled traditionally which is a time-consuming process. We create bubbles in our sparkling wine the classic way by making a “base” wine, then add yeast and sugar to create the fizz – a process which takes around two years.’
The vineyard uses a pneumatic press to extract juice from the grapes and nothing is tank fermented or force carbonated. ‘Time gives wine complexity,’ Kieron says. ‘But when you’re buying any wine – especially English wine – what you’re really buying is “terroir” and that’s what makes Renishaw Hall wine so special. You’re also supporting the local economy and helping a great industry to grow.’
At the end of our talk it’s time for the wine tasting; an experience all the more pleasurable for our new-found knowledge. First is the Madeleine Angevine 2014, a white wine with notes of peach and elderflower, followed by the Classic Red 2015 and a vibrant Rondo Rosé. We finish with a sparkling Seyval Blanc 2014, a light and refreshing wine – and one of Renishaw’s most popular.
Aside from managing the vineyard, Kieron runs the English Wine Project which supports and champions UK wine production. He says: ‘It used to be a case of people saying: “A vineyard? In North Derbyshire? Really?” but now they recognise our wine industry can not only survive but thrive, and it’s great to say to all the doubters: “Look what we can do!”’ u
Public tours at Renishaw Hall vineyard take place on 9th and 23rd September. Booking essential. Group tours available for a minimum of 12 people throughout the year. Visit www.englishwineproject.co.uk