What is it like to run your own vineyard in the UK? - Alison Nightingale, owner of Albourne Estate
PUBLISHED: 12:25 14 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:25 14 January 2015
I set up Albourne Estate, a 30 acre vineyard and winery near Brighton, in 2010 and last year we launched our first wines. In this monthly column I’ll be telling you about my experiences.
The annual cycle in the vineyard begins in January and, as I write, I’m looking out of the window from my study at the rain pouring down on the vines and getting anxious about the growing list of jobs - compost spreading, sub-soiling, lime application, winter pruning, new trellising - awaiting a dry spell.
However, this forced abstinence gives us time to reflect on 2014: particularly what went well and how we can improve. As a young vineyard in a country where vine growing does not benefit from years of experience overseas, we need to continually observe and modify our approaches.
One of the crucial decisions at this time of year is how we are going to undertake the winter pruning. This is the single most labour-intensive job of the year as we hand prune more than 40 thousand vines to remove the previous year’s growth except one or two shoots (canes) which are tied down to the wire and will produce this year’s new shoots and crop. Selecting how many and which shoots to leave requires knowledge, judgement and trial.
Afterwards, all the unwanted shoots from each vine have to be pulled out of the trellising wires and either removed from the vineyard and burnt or mulched in-situ. I am always hoping I’m going to find a better way of using them. In France, vine prunings are often seen sold in bundles for firewood – I just can’t yet find an economical way of doing this here!
In the meantime, this is an exciting week in the winery as we work on our 2014 harvest blends ready to start bottling next month. I have 26 pallets of empty bottles being delivered by lorry this week – unloading these carefully will test my forklift skills to the limit!
Blending decisions involve making up many samples with different proportions of different wines and tasting them…its a tough job! We have some great wine in tank though from the excellent 2014 grapes we harvested back in October – so we are really looking forward to seeing how they turn out and how they compare to our 2013 wines.
In addition, I am now working on the website to add an on-line booking facility for regular vineyard and winery tours and tastings starting in May. So never a dull moment here – thank goodness our three children are back at school!
See more at www.albourneestate.co.uk