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Award-winning wine at the Dunleavy vineyards

It’s English Wine Week from 28 May-5 June and loads of the UK’s 500 (no, that’s not a typo) vineyards are opening their doors so that those of use who love knocking the stuff back, can find out how it’s made. I joined a tour of the small Dunleavy Vineyards in the Wrington Vale, producer of an award-winning Pinot Noir Rosé .

Driving though Burrington Combe to reach the vineyard, with its little white goats clinging to the rock face, put me right in the mood: it felt more like the south of France rather than the north of Somerset.

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Dunleavy Vineyard is just outside the village of Wrington (where you’ll also find the Ethicurean restaurant and the Barley Wood Walled Garden) and next door to the Somerset Flower Farm (wedding flowers/florists’ flowers and a ‘pick your own’ later in the year, a cafe and artisan makers). It’s small, at just over 1 hectare (2.5 acres) and last year its 2,400 vines yielded about 2,000 bottles of still rosé wine.

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Ingrid Bates, who owns and runs Dunleavy, is one of the UK’s youngest wine growers and was a finalist in the NFU’s Young Grower of the Year Award 2015.  She set up the vineyard in 2008 after working as a researcher at the BBC’s Natural History Unit and a career change looking after the vineyard at Thornbury Castle. Her very first bottles of Pinot Noir Rosé were released in 2013.  The wine turned out to be rather good, winning a bronze in the International Wine Challenge, the world’s biggest wine competition judging 13,000 wines from across the globe, as well as various other awards.

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Ingrid makes setting up a vineyard sound so easy; find some land, buy some young vine plants, invite a team of specialist vine planters to plant them in orderly rows (teams come over with tractors and special planting contraptions, set up a satellite dish, input data into their computer, press a button and off they go – the entire vineyard was planted up in about half an hour).

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It’s then that the hard work starts.  Two-thirds of the vineyard is planted with Pinot Noir vines, one-third with Seyvale – and it’s the Pinot Noir that have to be cossetted. There’s bud rubbing to ensure growth along the arms of the vine rather than the trunk, constantly ensuring the health of the vines – like thinning out leaves in wet weather to prevent mildew and creating walls of wines rather than thick bushes –  spraying and then ensuring the fruits don’t get damaged throughout the season.

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There are others who are after the crop too, so Ingrid has to protect the vines from pest like wasps and starlings. There’s a hawk kite currently on duty.

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While both soil and the climate overall may be good for growing vines here, the issue for growers is to respond to erratic weather, such as an expected late frosts. Then there’s the September harvest, when family and friends are roped in to help. The grapes are sent to a wine maker in Shepton Mallet and a few months later the wine’s ready.

Enough about growing the grapes, what does it taste like?  We strolled over to the barn of the Somerset Flower Farm to have a slurp.

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In the words of the judges at the International Wine Challenge, the wine is ‘fresh with aromas of rose hip and red fruits. Bright and lively flavours with crisp acidity’.  I say if you sipped and closed your eyes you really could imagine being in the  South of France…

You can buy Dunleavy Pinot Noir Rosé e through stockists in Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire, at the Somerset Flower Farm and through the Dunleavy website. The 2015 vintage has yet to be released.

Contact the vineyard to arrange a time to visit. For a complete list of Somerset vineyards, many of whom organise wine tours, wine tastings and private visits, see the English Wine Producers.

Dunleavy Vineyards, Nates Lane, Wrington, Nr Bristol, Somerset BS40 5RS. Tel. 07779085420. dunleavyvineyards.co.uk

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