We aren’t great wine drinkers, never have been very keen on any kind of alcohol. Which doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy the occasional glass, but it is occasional. However, we love to support local industry and today we combined this with a family gathering at the Old Walls Vineyard in Bishopsteignton, a village near Teignmouth here in South Devon.
Old Walls Vineyard was chosen for this family birthday gathering as our younger son and daughter in law had popped in there for coffee recently, and said how nice it was. Furthermore, you can take well-behaved dogs in, so that Barry-the-dog could be with us.
And Barry had one of these
English wine is no longer the vinegar it once was. Indeed, the Sharpham Vineyard close to Totnes was on national News recently, following the excellent grape harvest, thanks to a long wet spring and a very long hot summer. We visited this vineyard several years ago as background to an article I was then writing, and so I thought it might be appropriate to include some of that article here:
The history of winemaking in Britain is long and complex although it is generally accepted that the vine was introduced to these islands by the Romans; the Celts preferred beer and mead. But between the Middle Ages and the Great War, and whether for political reasons (the dissolution of the monasteries which owned the majority of the vineyards) or because of climate change (wetter, cooler summers and milder winters, which led to increased fungal growth), commercial wine growing fell into rapid decline and had virtually ceased by the end of the Second World War.
And then in 1951, with the planting of a vineyard at Hambledon in Hampshire by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, commercial wine growing returned to these islands. This was the first vineyard to be planted specifically to produce wine for sale since 1875. It was planted with a variety of grape called Seyval Blanc known for its resistance to mildew and botrytis.
One of these relatively new vineyards is in south Devon. Half-hidden in a spectacular setting, its slopes reaching down to the tidal waters of the River Dart (which create a mild micro-climate), the vines at Sharpham were planted in 1981.
The River Dart, with Totnes in the distance, as seen fro the Sharpham Estate (2009)
Sharpham’s method of wine production, using both traditional and modern techniques and specialising in slow, cool fermentation with the minimum of intervention is serving Sharpham well: in the English & Welsh Wine of the Year Competition, 2005, Sharpham’s 2003 Pinot Noir won the President’s Trophy for the best wine produced in smaller quantities, along with a clutch of other awards.
But perhaps the greatest English wine achievement thus far has been the success of the father and son team of Bob and Sam Lindo of Camel Valley Vineyard. Their 2001 ‘Cornwall’ Sparkling Brut won the Gold Medal at the 2005 International Wine Challenge (indeed, the only Gold in the whole world for a sparkling wine from outside Champagne.) Furthermore, the UK government for official functions in Brussels used the 2003 vintage of Camel Valley during the UK’s EU Presidency.
What this clearly demonstrates is that English wine producers who manage their vineyards professionally are getting excellent results. This coincides with the changing English palate – no longer will a sweet German white wine suffice – for English wine has a clean, fresh taste. But don’t take my word for it – sup it and see.
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But we weren’t at Old Walls today to tour the vineyard or to participate in a wine tasting (both of which are offered at Old Walls Vineyard) but to have afternoon tea, and at lunch time as afternoon tea is now a staple on many establishments’ menus, and you can have it at almost any time after, say, 12 noon.
We all chose our own sandwiches, from cheese, ham, Coronation chicken, or prawn mayo, and I chose ham, and it was delicious. With it we could have a cheese, plain or fruit scone, with cream and jam for the plain and fruit scones. It was simple fare but all excellent, and pots of tea and coffee. What was once a simple tea room has recently been expanded into quite a large bistro-style restaurant, with views stretching – on a fine day – to the coast at Teignmouth.
Two interior photos of Regent’s Bistro
Bishopsteignton is a village on the banks of the River Teign, and like many Devon villages, has lots of narrow streets, and with a variety of properties. I took the following photos four years ago:
It was up Radway Hill that we reached Old Walls Vineyard
And how could I visit a vineyward without buying a bottle of their wine?
The produce, red, rose, white, and sparkling white and rose wines at Old Walls Vineyard
After our lovely meal we returned home for a little snooze and a read of the Saturday paper with a cup of tea.
Until next time.