Dalwood Vineyard: The Story
PUBLISHED: 16:32 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 16:37 08 August 2016
From a flippant skittles team joke Dalwood Vineyard has bloomed into producing its own award-winning wines, Kate Williams writes
Late one night in an East Devon village pub, someone asked the question: “Did you know, the Romans grew vines on Danes Hill?”, referring to land lying one side of Dalwood.Fuelled by alcohol and enthusiasm, the members of the Tuckers Arms skittles team all agreed they should try it themselves and now, eight years on, Dalwood Vineyard fizz is award-winning.
“It was a drunken joke really,” laughs Mike Huskins, who along with his wife Jo, is a key member of the Dalwood Vineyard syndicate. “But after a couple of weeks, people started coming back with information and then it became a credible idea.”
The six skittles players and their wives formed a group, which needed some cash and plenty of willingness to learn in the hope of creating something they could all enjoy drinking. All Dalwood residents, the members, along with Mike and Jo, are John and Melanie Gostling, Mick and Ann Oliver, David and Veronica Dower, Paul and Gill Eastburn and Les White, who owns the vineyard land.
Mike explains: “We then had to look for suitable parcels of land and do soil tests. Local farmer Les offered us a three-acre site.”
After much talking, visiting of vineyards and a lot of tasting, the group decided on their varieties. In 2009, the first vines were planted, all 1,100 devoted to Seyval Blanc and, the following year, saw three more varieties planted - Solaris, Madeleine Angevine and Pinot Noir - giving a total of about 3,000 vines.
The vineyard is sited in the heart of the village, overlooking the East Devon countryside and just moments from the pub. Mike says: “Growing vines is a very slow and brutal job, all done by hand. We didn’t take our first harvest until 2013 - then it’s another 18 months to make the fizz, which was our first batch.
“By years six and seven, the dynamics of the group really got tested because everyone had put in a lot of hours, a lot of money, and no one had drunk a drop. There was nothing to show for it all. We’re talking a seven-year cycle. Everyone has their own jobs, which has settled now, but there was a lot of tongue-biting going on then!”
Jo remembers the first tasting: “We got it in January 2015. It was home-brewed wine really, so we didn’t know what it would taste like. Then we tried it and there was a stunned silence.”
Mike adds: “We all thought, ‘Wow, this is something a bit special.’ And suddenly, the dynamics changed and everyone was happy.”
The sparkling wine won bronze at trade magazine Decanter’s World Wine Awards in 2015 and is popular in the Tuckers Arms.