Vintage: It’s going to be a great year for Norfolk’s vineyards
It looks like being a bumper grape harvest this year. We visited a Norfolk vineyard and winery to find out more
Every plant, marshalled into long rows across a Norfolk paddock, is laden with bunches of glossy grapes. Pick one and the juice squeezes clear and sweet. Pick entire bunches, load them into crate after crate and pull them on a cart across the lane to the back-garden winery and you have the best-ever harvest for Babu’s Vineyard.
Babu himself, or Peter Ross, began planting his vineyard eight years ago. It was a retirement project, to transform an acre opposite his home in Weston Longville into a vineyard.
The name, Babu, comes from the Swahili world for grandfather – which his children called his father, who had lived in Africa, and which his four grandchildren now call him.
When we visit, just ahead of harvest, the vines of Babu’s Vineyard stand tall, grapes gloriously abundant. Each was planted by hand, is pruned and tied and sprayed and checked by hand, and every bunch of grapes will be picked by hand, cut from the
vine by a harvesting party made up of friends and neighbours.
The deep red rondo grapes will make a rose wine, the green solaris grapes a crisp white, created in Peter’s tiny back-garden winery.
Peter can’t quite remember when he first decided he would love to run a vineyard, but after retiring from a career in the Royal Navy, and then Norfolk police, he began researching – and realised the paddock and pond over the lane, bought with his house, and which he had been renting out for horsegrazing, could become his vineyard.
Over the next few years he planted 35 rows of vines, in lines north to south across the field so that each plant could soak up as much sunshine as possible. He has learned how to look after them, and transform the grapes into wine, both from books and from Norfolk vineyard consultant Chris Hatto, who works with him.
Every harvest, more than 20 friends and neighbours from the village gather and after picking the grapes and towing them across to the winery are rewarded with a lavish lunch in the vineyard. Across the lane the grapes are de-stemmed, split and pressed, the juice extracted, sterilised, and poured into huge vats.
After it has settled, yeast is added for fermentation to begin and turn the fruit sugar into alcohol. As the
GRAPESHANGHEAVYFROM THEVINES,HUGECLUSTERS OF FRUIT RIPENING IN THELATESUMMERHEAT.
leaves drop in the vineyard, exposing bare stems which must be cut back and tied down ready for next year’s growth, this year’s vintage takes shape.
“The critical thing about harvesting is that the sugars and the acids in the grapes should be well balanced,” said Peter. “The right moment to pick is when the acidity is enough to give the wine its body and bite and the sugars are enough to give the right level of alcohol.”
By April the results are ready to bottle. In May the vines begin to bud and in June they burst into flower and the age-old process begins again.
“This year’s harvest is going to be as good as it gets,” said Peter. “Conditions were absolutely perfect at bud-burst and flowering.”
Last year was about as bad as it gets – late frosts destroying the burgeoning crop and resulting in just 200 bottles of wine, compared to 600-700 in previous years. This year Peter is hoping for 1,000 bottles.
“It’s going to be a bumper harvest. The vines have never had so much fruit on them – although you should never count your chickens before they’re hatched! We might have more wine than we have tanks for it.”
As well as planting, picking and tending by hand, Peter also labels every bottle by hand, selling to local pubs, a deli, at food fairs and after vineyard and winery tours.
It’s a very small-scale operation and a labour of love. One year he made just £9 profit.
“At times it does take every waking moment,” he said. “It’s more intense than I thought. There is a big oak tree in the corner of the vineyard and I had this idea that I would sit under the tree with a glass of wine watching the vines grow. I have never had the chance to sit under that tree!” N
LEFT:Peter Ross’s Rondo grapes at Babu’s Vineyard at Weston Longville, soon to be harvested to make a rosé wineABOVE:Peter Ross at Babu’s Vineyard, a hobby which turned into a passion
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT:Peter Ross with partner Julie Lyell and family (daughter Katie Rogers and grandchildren, Erin, 12; 10-year-old twins Amelia and Joseph, and threeyear-old EdithRose at Babu’s Vineyard; the wines in the winery; Peter checks the rosé; Solaris grapes for white wine; The two wines Peter makes at Babu’s Vineyard