It rains on the Isle of Wight; I remember a sentence that explains this: “There is no dry season in England”. And so it was that a typically murky day in June on a short holiday in the Isle of Wight, I came to visit the island’s only two remaining commercial wine producers: Adgestone and Rosemary Vineyards. These have in common that both are on the East of the island, which probably helps protect them a little from that wet South Westerly wind everyone is familiar with on the South coast; they benefit from South facing slopes on clay, silt, and sandy soil, which provides good drainage (especially useful in a place with no dry season); and, being maritime, a relatively moderate climate.
Adgestone is the dream project of ex-Chartered Engineer Russ Broughton. His sanguine
recounting of his story provides a cautionary tale for those attracted to the romance of wine production. “It’s not a retirement job, you work seven days a week; I’ve had one day off in the last 3 years.” But he’s happy, especially when the labelling machine misbehaves, as he can fix it himself (the wine world is full of troublesome gizmos like this).
When Russ took over the place
the vines had been abandoned since the 80s, but he revived the mainly Seyval vines, some of which were 48 years old. His Dry White is predominantly Seyval, and appropriately named: it showed the typically neutral character of the grape, with a hint of white melon nose, but a slightly unripe citrus palate. The Medium White (mainly Phoenix, some Bacchus and Orion) was more interesting, with a tangerine and riper melon nose, and only 4g/L of residual sugar. Blush (Regent, Schonberger) was a delicate flower, with hints of ripe strawberry, a bit of a red fruit cordial, attractive. Finally,
the Full Bodied Red, made from Rondo. I often ask myself why English wine producers bother to make red, but the answer is always that it is their best-seller, and anyone with a vague interest in money should remember the adage “Give the people what they want and they’ll come”, allegedly said at the well-attended funeral of the reviled Louis B. Mayer. It was light and fruitsome, but, without food to soften it, a little harsh.
Like many English wine producers, Adgestone have converted the farm building into very comfortable rooms; only two, but this is a small operation.
Rosemary Vineyards seem more focussed on
their liqueurs; their Elderflower wine, an infusion of Elderflower in dry white, was beautifully floral and fragrant, with just enough sweetness; lovely. Their sprits from the Isle of Wight Distillery were perhaps the most interesting, though: Wight Mermaid gin, with coriander and rock sapphire was beautifully floral and dry, the Rock Sea Vodka fresh and intriguingly savoury. Apple Pie Moonshine, a blend of vodka, local apple juice, cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar had a warming charm to it. Their wines reminded me of why I started this with a sentence about the English climate; and their fizz, the one I was most interested in, was not available for tasting. Maybe it would have made me change my mind?
Is the Isle of Wight the best place in England to own a vineyard? Maybe Russ Broughton’s words from his page on his website will give some insight into prospective vineyard revivalists:
- Am I an experienced commercial wine maker?….NO, well, I say no, but I was bought a home brew kit at Christmas when I was 19, so lets not write that off just yet.
- Do you understand the complex art of successful viticulture?….. Had a nice rose growing up my wall in Chandlers Ford, but..well, probably a no again!
- Good customer skills and ability to run a small commercial kitchen?… OK, had a life working on machines without faces, but I make a mean curry!!! … Its another no isn’t it?
- Fancy buying something that was a part of the whole English Wine revival. A vineyard that was so good in the 70’s it held the enviable Gore Brown trophy for English wine. Having the opportunity to feel alive again every time you wake up??….Hell yes, I’ll learn the rest, where are the papers!!