Interview: Sir Richard Mynors On Wine

PUBLISHED: 20:31 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:14 20 February 2013

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

Jon Hurley joins Sir Richard Mynors for a wine-tasting at Treago Castle, St. Weonards.

The 15 th century Treago Castle, built by the then Sir Richard Mynors (c 1440- 1528), a tax collector in Wales, is tucked into a fold in hills dotted with mature oaks, beeches and the finest tulip tree in the county, all planted by another Mynors in the 18th century. The current holder of the baronetcy - charming, softly spoken Sir Richard - and his wife, Lady Fiona, have lived in the castle since 1989.

They have three daughters, Alexandra, Frances and Victoria, who have followed their parents into education. Lady Fiona is an educational consultant and former chair of Cheltenham College.

Sir Richard is a man of many parts. Apart from being a trained musician and teacher, whose luxury is a quiet tinkle on his renovated grand piano or a blast on the organ, he is enthusiastically 'green', and is contemplating erecting a windmill on a hill behind the castle, as well as installing an energy-saving water heating device to supply the castle and guest buildings.

Sir Richard is kept busy looking after the many self-caterers who come to Treago from London or Manchester for reunions, significant celebrations, or just to chill in tranquil countryside. They occupy the coach house, Hollyhock House and the converted loose boxes, which date from a time when barouches drawn by thoroughbreds and crammed with swells used to gallop up the winding drive.

Now guests arrive with their children in Mondeos and Jags, their boots full of Waitrose grub, for a relaxing soak and a splash in the castle's heated swimming pool before sitting down to dinner. Up to 26 visitors can be accommodated. When I asked if he found the influx an unwelcome intrusion, Sir Richard was quick to point out the reality of the situation. He genuinely likes people and he likes the income.

A dozen years ago Sir Richard planted a small vineyard of less than an acre which fascinates him and occupies a good deal of his time. He selected vines for their durability with regard to the English weather, and for their resistance to bugs and diseases. He prunes, weeds, sprays, prays, picks, presses and makes several different wines from the Bacchus, Huxelrebe, Seyval, Regent and Triomphe grapes.

He's even planted Syrah, and some classy Cabernet Sauvignon, yielding a blackcurranty red which won a Highly Commended from the South West Vineyards Association in 2005. These are grown in small polytunnels. Three Treago Castle wines from the 06 vintage were highly commended in 07: the Bacchus/Seyval dry, the Sparkling, and the Regent/Triomphe.

Though a winner of the Best Small Winemaker in 2001, a Gold Award, and the Eglantine Trophy for his fizz in 2002, Sir Richard describes himself as a semi-professional. His knowledge has been achieved by trial and error, and by reading Vine Growing in Britain by Gillian Pearkes, published in 1982, still the bible for the back-garden winemakers who make up the bulk of the one hundred and sixty UK growers from the Isle of Wight to Lincolnshire.

After his precious juice has turned into wine, Sir Richard tastes before bottling. He then bangs in the corks, and sticks on the labels. He makes 2,000- 4,000 bottles, depending on the weather.

The castle's guests consume the bulk. Sir Richard welcomes them on arrival with an enthusiastically tutored tasting. Nearby farm shops, who insist on local, low mileage products, also stock the Treago wines: Sir Richard packs his boot with the new vintage and trawls the neighbourhood, chatting up shopkeepers who are generally delighted to see a baronet vigneron on their thresholds, and will gladly take a few bottles of wine made on St. Weonards' sunny slopes.

The Treago house style is zesty, appetising, and light in alcohol. Perfect for luncheon, or for complimenting the contents of the hampers opera lovers bring to the garden opera Sir Richard and Lady Fiona host every two years in a sheltered amphitheatre behind the castle. The old stone walls provide a perfect 'sounding board' for the singers and musicians. Last year the event raised 6,000 for charity.

We tasted a tableful of bottles in the castle kitchen. "Do you recognise anything about this particular wine?" Sir Richard asked as I nosed an attractive white made from the aromatic Seyval and Bacchus grapes.

"I'm getting a little oak on the nose," I ventured.

"I'm glad you spotted that," Sir Richard said with a smile. "I filled my wife's tights with oak shavings and dangled them in the wine. Delightful isn't it?"

Apart from the wine-making, the gardening, the bookings, and the cleaning, Sir Richard personally washes acres of sheets, duvet covers, pillow cases and towels every week. He sometime has as many as 28 sheets hanging from the kitchen beams. It's hard but it's also the good life, and when the work's done, Sir Richard and Lady Fiona have the pleasure of cracking open a bottle of their own wine, grown barely 20 yards from the castle door.

For buying wine, tastings, tours, and other events at Treago Castle, or for self- catering accommodation, contact Sir Richard Mynors, Treago, St. Weonards, Hereford HR2 8QB.


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