A Tasting Tour of Hereford's Vineyards
PUBLISHED: 11:09 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 11:39 28 February 2013
A tasting tour of the wines of Herefordshire. Words and photographs by Martin Griffiths.
If wine is poetry in a glass, then the wine makers of Herefordshire are now producing some of the most elegant and sophisticated rhymes in the country.
During the last forty years tastes and circumstances have changed. Farmers have diversified, and commercial and family vineyards have grown in popularity. New hybrid varieties of grape are increasingly successful in the English climate and respond well on south-facing Herefordshire hills, where clay soil sits on top of well-draining sandstone. Pioneers in grape growing have shared their experiences and the future looks not only rosy, but also red, white and sparkling.
While well known 'supermarket varieties' of white grape, such as Chardonnay, tend to need more sun and longer summers, varieties such as Bacchus and Schönberger produce wines with a beautifully clean and slightly herby palette. Classic reds like Shiraz are also difficult to grow here, unless grown in a polytunnel, but grape varieties such as Rondo and Regent can produce delicious medium-bodied reds and are often blended to create delightful rosé and some really excellent sparkling wines of great character.
One of our most charming vineyards is to be found near Ledbury in the village of Coddington. Here Dennis and Ann Savage have a two-acre vineyard, modern winery, shop and complimentary tasting area, which sit alongside their pretty garden, stream and carp pond. The vineyard was planted on the site of an old cider orchard in 1985 and in a good year can produce 3-4000 bottles. Dennis is unusual in having his own state-of-the-art winery and bottling equipment so a visit is always rewarding. They are open Thursdays to Saturdays or you can telephone for an appointment.
I found the Coddington Bacchus wine especially interesting, a delightfully crisp palette balanced by a touch of elderflower and herby flavours. They also produced a rare and hugely successful late harvest dessert wine at the end of the hot summer of 2006, when, with their vats full, their grapes developed botrytis and turned to raisins on the vine. The resulting juice was concentrated and packed with sugars. The Savages sell directly from their shop and Coddington wine can also be found at the Cottage in the Wood restaurant in Malvern and The Hop Pocket Wine Company, Bishops Frome.
Paddy Shave's Hop Pocket Wine Company stocks a full range of Herefordshire wines, including the ones produced just up the road at the Frome Valley Vineyard, Pauntley Court. Jeanie and Ian Falconer run their vineyard and tasting area at the Court and there is a small selection of vines growing right outside their shop. Here you can see a variety of methods for growing and training grapes while sipping a sample or two.
Despite the difficult growing conditions of the last two summers Jeanie and her delicious wines can be found at various events including the Hereford, Abergaveny and Ludlow food festivals. Her wines are also stocked at the Galanthus Art Gallery, Wormbridge and the Clockhouse Restaurant in Tenbury. Jeannie specialises in white wines, including an off-dry Huxelrebe with its characteristically zesty, nutty bouquet and a creamy and dreamy Madeleine Angevine.
Along the road from Bromyard towards Leominster you see signposts to Broadfield Court, home of Bodenham English Wines. Here the first vines were planted in the charming walled garden back in 1971. Continued development has seen production rise and in a good year they can produce 50,000 bottles of classic English wines and an especially delicious dry sparkling wine. These can be tried in Alexandra James's friendly and helpful tasting area; and having decided on your favourite, why not sip it while exploring the beautiful gardens or enjoy it with a home-grown, home-cooked meal in the award-winning restaurant?
Closer to Hereford The Four Foxes Vineyard at Bartestree sits on a quietly sloping site and is still producing grapes although no longer running its own outlet. However, a little further out from the city, at Tarrington, there are two vineyards. At Tarrington Court, Catherine Jago and her family tend just 50 vines and produce 400 bottles a year. The wines grow on a gentle slope at the back of their beautifully laid out gardens and harvesting has become a family occasion.
Nearby Sparchall Farm and vineyard is run by Edward Watkins, who has recently planted a hectare of vines. He is successfully growing both red and white grapes, including the red grape Ronda. This has already won him a prestigious best red award in the South West Vineyards Associations 2007 tasting competition.
Most vineyards in Herefordshire use systems for training their grapes which were developed in France or a variation on the one used at Three Choirs called the 'Geneva double curtain'. Edward uses a system called the 'Scott Henry', which was developed in New Zealand. He is working closely with Simon Day and is planning to develop production and sales of high quality English wine through a farm shop and internet site.
Vineyards can also be found in the south and west of the county. At Treago, near St. Weonards, Sir Richard Mynors grows vines in the family's walled gardens and makes use of sheltered polytunnels to grow red grape varieties such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the main, these are used to blend with Seyval Blanc to make a superb rosé. Sir Richard describes his approach as being "a bit quirky" but he produces a range of wine with wonderfully individual characters. They are sold locally or served to guests staying at the castle's spectacularly sited holiday homes.
A little further to the west is the charming village of Eywas Harold where for several years Brian and Anne Edwards ran the National Vine collection, soon to be taken over by new owners.
Just to the north from here is the village of Madley and Lulham Court Vineyard, where Phil Pennington grows three acres of vines. They were planted in 1979 as part of the farm's policy of diversity: when I visited Phil recently he was busy watering young hops and dealing with the potato harvest. I tried his 2005 Reichensteiner and found it deliciously crisp, with a slightly floral nose. It makes an ideal aperitif, or lunchtime accompliment to fish. Lulham Court wines can be found at The Hop Pocket, Madley Post Office and Oakchurch farm shop, and they were served at the Flavours of Herefordshire awards dinner.
There are two vineyards just outside Ross-on-Wye. First is the small vineyard at the Beeches in Upton Bishop. The Beeches is a beautifully proportioned Georgian house with sweeping lawns and mature ornamental trees. It looks like the perfect backdrop for a Jane Austen novel. The wines produced here are equally elegant. There is a fresh dry white made from Madeleine Angevine grapes, a smooth gently spiced red and a delicious rosé which won the 'best rosé from a small scale producer' award this year from the South West Vineyards Association.
Not far from Ross on the A49 Hereford road is the splendid Pengethley Manor Hotel, which proudly features its own wines on its extensive list. At the back of the hotel gardens a wooden doorway leads into the pretty walled garden and vineyard. Sipping wine made from grapes grown in the garden, while enjoying the classic countryside views, is close to bliss. I especially enjoyed their sparkling rosé. The abundance of tiny bubbles, delicate pink colour and clean palate with hints of strawberry and rosehip make it a superb drink to accompany any celebration.
Just beyond the county borders near Newent are the charming little vineyard of St Anne's at Oxenhall with its pretty garden and tasting area, and the Three Choirs vineyard. Producing wine since 1984 St Anne's is a small scale producer which sells its wines through many of the county's farmers' markets and directly from the cellar door.
Three Choirs is now the second largest vineyard in Britain, and was established in the early 1970s. Its gently south-facing slopes and well-drained soil make for a near perfect site for growing grapes. The facilities and expertise in the winery, including those of Martin Fowke and Kevin Shayle, are used by many of the Herefordshire producers.
Martin Fowke was voted wine maker of the year in 2008 by the English and Welsh Wine makers Association; and among many top awards this year the Three Choirs 2007 Siegrebbe, a lovely, herby, slightly spicy wine, was named top dry white wine. The Three Choirs 'Cellar door noble rot' is a golden coloured, sweet desert wine. It has scooped a host of awards and I loved it! Besides offering a full range of its wines for sale, Three Choirs also runs guided tours, wine breaks, 'adopt-a-vine', and has a superb restaurant.
Given the range and quality of wine now being produced in Herefordshire, just as it was in Roman times, we have no excuse not to follow the advice of this Latin proverb:
There are five reasons to drink good wine:
1: The arrival of a friend.
2: To quench your thirst.
3: To quench your future thirst.
4: To enjoy the excellence of the wine.
5: Any other reason.
Coddington Vineyard, Ledbury.HR8 1JJ 01531 640668
Lulham Court Vineyard, Madley. HR2 9QJ 01981 251107
Sparchall Vineyard, Tarrington. HR1 4EY 01432 850800
Treago Vineyard, St.Weonards. HR2 8QB 01981 580208
Broadfield Court, Bodenham. HR1 3LG 01568 797859
Frome Valley Vineyard, Pauntley Court, Bishops Frome. WR6 5BJ 01885 490768
Pengethley Manor, Ross on Wye. HR9 6LL 01989 730238
Four Foxes Vineyard, Bartestree. 01432 340679
Three Choirs Vineyard, nr Newent GL18 1LS 01531 890223
Hop Pocket Wine Company, Bishops Frome. WR6 5BT 01531 640592
Tarrington Court, Tarrington. HR1 4EX 01432 262827