Being a Vineyard Owner
Planting a vineyard can be one of the most rewarding things a wine enthusiast can do, its also extremely terrifying and a true labour of love. Having planted hundreds of acres of vineyard there’s not much I haven’t seen or had to overcome, however the night before planting my own vineyard I didn’t sleep a wink, being both excited and nervous as I went over every fine detail in my head. Once morning came, I was up and raring to go safe in the knowledge that everything was properly prepared and planned for.
The most important thing when planting a vineyard is site selection. Climate, slope orientation, altitude, soil type are all important factors that can significantly influence the varieties you plant and how your vineyard is managed so that it is efficient and profitable. For example, a vineyard planted on the chalk of the North Downs in Kent will be different to a vineyard planted on the London clay of the Crouch Valley in Essex, yet both areas have a reputation for producing fantastic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for still and sparkling wines. Vineyards planted in Sussex on green sand can produce top quality fruit for sparkling wines but can also ripen aromatic varieties for extraordinary still wines if setup appropriately. The key is knowing what your site is capable of, enhancing its positive attributes whilst mitigating against its weaknesses.
Unfortunately, this is something that can’t be learnt by reading a book or watching a Youtube video. Planting a vineyard is a balancing act of compromises that can only be perfected with experience. Ask any WINEGB member about planting a vineyard, they’ll all tell you of the things they would have done differently, the problem is you often don’t know it’s a mistake until years later. Sometimes it’s more obvious with simple fundamentals ignored resulting in costly mistakes. Sadly, I’ve seen vineyards whereby the owner has been fixated on the idea of making a top English sparkling wine resembling Dom Pérignon or an English Pinot Noir like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, when their site is not suitable. If you do not properly invest in the time and expertise required in correctly planting, establishing and managing your vineyard, you’ll be paying for it for years to come.
Once you’ve ascertained and understand your sites capacity for growing grapes you need to formulate a plan. What acreage should you plant, which varieties, planting density, soil preparation, are we going to make wine or sell grapes? All important questions that need careful consideration before a vine has been planted.
Vineyard owners also need to consider the running costs of establishing a vineyard and how the work is to be completed. Grapevines typically take three years before yielding their first crop and don’t reach full production to around year 5. During this time, they need to be trained and nurtured so they can provide for the years to come, but this all comes at a cost. I was taught that a vineyard should last 20-30 years, but in truth, vines don’t just die, we kill them through mismanagement. There are commercial vineyards all over the word with vines over 100 years old, I see no reason why English vineyards should be any different if looked after properly.
Now for the good bit
The real fun starts when you get to harvest your vineyard for the first time. After years of planning and hard work it’s time for your vineyard to repay you for all your blood, sweat and tears. Harvest is such as great time, the sense of achievement you feel bringing in that first crop is something very special that never goes away, and when you get to experience your friends, family, colleagues and customers enjoying the finished product whilst you share the tales of the vintage and the distinctive attributes encapsulated in the wine, it all feels worthwhile.