The chances are in recent years you’ve noticed an increase in popularity of British wines. And you may question the legitimacy of growing grape vines in a country that has an average temperature of 9 degrees. But lo’ and behold it’s possible, and we’ve been busy growing our own.
Over the past six years we have planted and grown around 2000 grape vines on our south facing hill overlooking the Langdon Lakes. The grapes are cared for by our dedicated gardener Graham Titchmarsh. The process of conditioning the soil and caring for the grapes can, at some points coming quite tedious, but the outcome is certainly worth it.
It’s vitally important to choose the right grape based around the conditions in which you wish to grow them. Some varieties are suited to warmer climates and others grow well in slightly cooler conditions. There’s a plethora of information to be gathered from local Vignerons (wine makers), who have already gone through the trial and error phase of finding the perfect grape to grow in your area. The grape we’ve chosen to grow is the Madeleine Angevine, a white grape originally grown in the Loire Valley, France. The grape is a cross between Madeleine Royale and Précoce de Malingre and as such is suited to grow well in the cooler British Climate. Madeleine Angevine creates a crisp yet fruity wine with notes of flora on the nose. We recommend pairing it with Fresh Dartmouth Crab or Beesand Scallop.
The main things to take into account when growing your own vines is the conditions in which you wish to grow them in. This involves Climate, Rainfall, Soil and the ‘Terroir’ of your new vineyard. Most plots of land can be used to grow grape vines, you just have to fine tune the conditions as well as finding the right grape for your locale.
In order to achieve the correct acidity for our vines, we apply limestone yearly in order to get the balance just right. Grapes actually don’t do too well in nutrient rich soil, and become vegetative, meaning you’ll have more leaves than grapes. It is also important that the plot of land remains well drained, which is why a hill is always preferable.
This factor will largely determine what grapes you can grow or not. You’ll need to understand the length of your growing season if you’re to determine which grape will grow best. Besides the Madeleine Angevine grape Perlette or Siegerrebe Vines grow very well in South Devon and are both suited to cooler climates
‘Terroir’ relates to the geology and geography of a plot of land, that integrates with a plant’s genetics. This is particularly important for growing Grape Vines as it will affect the quality of your grapes and the abundance in which they grow. The word ‘Terroir’ can be loosely translated to ‘a Sense of Place’.
Once you have chosen your land your grapes you can start planting. The soil needs to have a ph level of around 6.5, slightly acidic for optimum nutrient intake. Vines should be planted in rows for maximum sunlight, making sure to leave around five foot in between each row.
The best time to plant is early Spring, in the event of a Spring frost the grape vines will not be damaged. Early Spring showers will only work to benefit your Grape Vines. Avoid planting during the summer months.
Grape Vines must be supported by a trellis. This can include fencing, walls, or as we’ve used posts wired together. The function of the Trellis is to keep the vines upright and in direct sunlight, as they are unable to carry the weight of a full harvest. Grape Vines will naturally lash on to the Trellis as they grow.
As your Vines begin to grow it is important to maintain them by pruning. This creates a healthy balance of fruit and vegetation and allows your vines to produce the most quantitive harvest. For the first year it isn’t as urgent as most young vines come already pruned. As the years go on it is important to prune the weaker vines, allowing the larger, healthier vines to latch on to the Trellis. Within two years you should start to yield your first crop. As your vines become older they will start to yield larger crops until eventually, in about 3 to 4 years you can begin making your own wine.