The Vineyard Vision Garden
Hampton Court Flower Show 2004 - Plot F16
The Story of the Vineyard
We never planned to start a vineyard - or at least I don't think we did, and I certainly never dreamed of having a garden at Hampton Court Flower Show, but somehow they gained an impetus of their own!
It was back in 1996 that Dominic suggested we plant a vine in the back garden. Since the garden is rather small, and was already suffering from too much shade from a large ash tree next door, I wasn't too keen. So we got an allotment - well two actually! Adjoining strips, each approximately forty metres by five, in Redlees Park just down the road from Sky, where I work as a weather presenter.
Dominic had done a lot of research on growing vines in northern climes, but acquiring the canes did not appear to be too easy. However, as things so often are, the problem was solved in the Make-Up Department at work. For those who visit, Make-Up is the heart of Sky - the hub of all gossip, a centre for fashion advice, dispenser of cups of tea and counselling, and a mine of information on all topics. So it is not surprising that when I mentioned in passing what Dominic was planning to do, someone piped up, "You want to talk to Martyn Doubleday, he's Sky's wine expert and he has his own vineyard". Martyn and his partner Chris were duly contacted and we arranged to visit them at their Hidden Spring Vineyard in West Sussex . A firm friendship was formed, and a vineyard conceived. Instead of the modest lone vine that Dominic had originally wanted, suddenly we were planning to plant a hundred!
Since it was really only a hobby our choice of vines was somewhat eclectic, and we finally decided on a combination of Reisling, Pinot Noir, and a red called Dunkelfelder. In retrospect perhaps a bit of a mad melange, particularly since they all ripen at different times. Martyn and Chris threw themselves into the project, and come May 1997 we started the planting. After two long hard days we were rewarded with twelve neat rows of what appeared to be lifeless sticks, each protected against rabbits with a cylinder of blue netting. It was hard to imagine that eventually this might turn into a productive vineyard.
When we first began Dominic told me that once the vines were planted there would be hardly any work involved apart from harvesting the grapes - hmmm! Anyone who has experienced the backbreaking task of pruning and controlling rampant vines through the summer months will know that this is not quite the case! Nevertheless, in theory all we had to do in the first couple of years was to keep pruning to encourage the vines to concentrate their vigour into a good root system.
On a cold day in October 1999 we finally took our first crop, and in the meantime Martyn had arranged with Will Davenport, a vine grower and winemaker in Sussex , to produce our wine for us. Will did this more as a favour than anything else, as even though he specialises in making wine for smaller concerns, our meagre quantity was verging on the ridiculous. Nevertheless, come the following June our moment of triumph arrived, in the form of 29 bottles, glorying in the name of ‘Redlees Rosé'. Our quantities have increased year on year since then, and now that the vines are fully mature we can expect up to three bottles per vine.
There is a well know saying in viticulture circles: "Question - how do you make a small fortune? Answer - start with a large one and buy a vineyard!" Since we are on council property there is no question of us selling our wine, and it is pretty much consumed by friends and family. Even then it is definitely not a cheap way of getting a drink - we reckoned that our first vintage cost us somewhere in the region of a hundred pounds per bottle! Of course the costs have lessened a good deal now, but even so, hardly economic!
I for one would not be keen to try to make a living from wine producing in this country. However, for all its worrying implications, global warming does seem to be bringing about a more favourable climate for viticulture in southern Britain ; in fact the report last year by the UK Climate Impacts Programme “Gardening in the Global Greenhouse” forecast that within fifty to a hundred years it will be practical to grow vines as far north as Scotland . Certainly the number of vines grown in England is on the increase, and notably we will soon be seeing the setting up of a vineyard at RHS Wisley. Happily for those in the business, the bumper crops of 2003 should also do much to enhance the ever-improving reputation of English wine.
Apart from being such an extraordinary summer – featuring the hottest day in Britain since records began - 2003 was special for me because I entered a
garden for the Chelsea Flower Show. I am still not quite sure how I achieved it, certainly with absolutely no experience, but with a lot of help from friends as well as support from Sky; and to our amazement and delight we were awarded Best Courtyard Garden in Show. While I was working on the plans for that, the idea of an English vineyard garden popped into my head almost fully formed and wouldn't go away.
‘A hot day working in the vines, a doze, a dream, a vision.....
.....of the idealised English vineyard garden.'
The garden is not designed to reflect the realities of a vineyard - that is where its roots are, but it is transformed Cinderella-like into a relaxing and serene space. The old shed is re-invented as a graceful gazebo, the hummocky grass becomes bowling green perfect, tangled snakes of hosepipe turn into rills, the dripping tap into a water feature, while pernicious weeds evolve into elegant borders .