An English vintage: Devon's Pebblebed Vineyard
PUBLISHED: 10:57 18 August 2014
Vineyards are reporting record harvests, which means things have been very busy for the team at Devon's Pebblebed Wines
It may seem like a dream life, owning a vineyard and making your own wine; just imagine sitting with friends amongst the vines bathed in the late afternoon sun, sipping on last year’s vintage, with some delicious local food, children and dogs running around the vines.
But wine-making is a precarious existence. One rogue frost can obliterate an entire crop. A bad summer can affect the harvest so much that the same number of vines may produce just a tenth of their potential yield.
“My advice to anyone thinking of getting into this game is ‘sit down, have a glass of wine and think again’. You have to really want it, but it is possible,” says owner of Pebblebed, Devon’s largest vineyard, Geoff Bowen.
In the depths of winter, Geoff will be out pruning vines. Then in the pouring rain and gales, he will be out fixing fallen vines. At harvest, there is the mad rush and long days spent gathering all the grapes. Then attending to the delicate process of fermenting the grapes in the winery, with a single error rendering an entire batch undrinkable.
However the mood is upbeat when I pop along to the winery at Clyst St Mary near Topsham. Dominating the farmyard are enormous crates, full of empty wine bottles waiting to be filled and Geoff and his team of helpers are busy with their production line, filling and capping last year’s record harvest, which has been sitting in huge gleaming stainless steel fermentation tanks for the past few months.
“This is by far the biggest harvest we have ever had. I expect we will produce nearly 45,000 bottles of wine this year,” says Alex Mills, Pebblebed’s chief wine maker.
“We had to buy another vast tank to store and produce all the wine. So far we have bottled about 12,000, so well over 30,000 still to go.
“We have filled our huge wine press 45 times over just four weeks this year.”
Last year’s bumper yield contrasted sharply with the previous year, where just 4,000 bottles were produced from the 22,000 vines at Pebblebed, (previously, the best year had been 2010 which produced 25,000 bottles). The British climate is not without its challenges; the weather is never the same, and the grapes that are picked will come in at different degrees of ripeness, which lend themselves to different styles of wines.
Despite all the challenges, Pebblebed regularly wins top awards, especially for its flagship sparkling wines. In a recent competition of all the country’s best, sparkling Pebblebed came close to the top proving that the Devon terroir can match the best in the UK and possibly the world.
Pebblebed, which has vines planted at Ebford and Clyst St Mary, is very much a community operation, with hundreds of locals helping out with the pruning, bottling and the harvest in early autumn.
The vineyard offers tours and tastings, “I love showing people around and explaining how the wine is produced,” says Alex.
“It’s a nice way of getting people involved with what we do. People don’t realise how much work goes into producing the wine and for some, it’s the first time they have tried English wines.”
To find out more about Pebblebed, book a wine tour or get involved visit pebblebed.co.uk