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

Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell Š PHO­TOS: Denise Bradley

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


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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.