Future's bright for vineyard

PUBLISHED: 12:00 31 July 2008 | UPDATED: 21:32 31 May 2010

Chilford Vineyard.
Between Linton and Balsham.
July 14, 2008.
Photograph by Michael Boyton.
Pic shows: Mark tends to the vines.
Name: Mark Barnes (wine maker and vineyard manager).

Chilford Vineyard. Between Linton and Balsham. July 14, 2008. Photograph by Michael Boyton. Pic shows: Mark tends to the vines. Name: Mark Barnes (wine maker and vineyard manager).

NOBODY would argue that climate change is a good thing, but there is one UK industry for which longer, hotter summers would be great news. English wine has traditionally suffered from a poor reputation. However, the marked emergence of new world wines has

NOBODY would argue that climate change is a good thing, but there is one UK industry for which longer, hotter summers would be great news.

English wine has traditionally suffered from a poor reputation. However, the marked emergence of new world wines has opened people's eyes to new possibilities, and English wine has gradually begun to be taken more seriously.

The largest vineyard in East Anglia is situated a short distance outside Linton at Chilford Hall - 20 acres of southwest-facing vines lie on a gentle, sheltered slope, perfect for the cultivation of a variety of red and white grapes.

Winemaker Mark Barnes has been working at the vineyard for two years of its 26-year wine-producing history, having completed a degree in viticulture and oenology - winegrowing and winemaking - at Plumpton College in East Sussex.

"The reputation of English wine is constantly improving," he said.

"From say 10 years ago, it's improved immensely. English winegrowers are benefiting from much better equipment, better know-how and of course the fact that our changing climate is allowing grapes to ripen properly. Our wines are getting much better. English sparkling wines in particular are up there with the best of them."

For Mark and the rest of the team at Chilford Hall, the winemaking year begins early in January when they do their winter pruning. The vines are then tied to trellising to support them, ready for the 'bud burst' in mid-April, when the flowering process begins.

That process came to an end last month; now Mark is keeping an eye on the plants as the grapes begin to develop.

"We've had good conditions this year and the flowering has gone well," he said. "The fruit set's looking good.

"Now we're being careful to maintain the canopy to make sure the grapes are getting enough sunlight, then come September we'll begin monitoring the grape ripeness.

"We normally begin picking at the start of October."

Once picked, the grapes will be processed in the onsite winery, before being bottled ready for drinking. Chilford Hall produces between 20,000 and 30,000 bottles each year.

"We're constantly evolving our wines," said Mark. "Over the next three or so years we intend to introduce new varieties of grape, such as Bacchus and Pinot Meunier, and continue to invest in the facilities at the winery."

Chilford Hall - which picked up five prizes at a recent winegrowers' awards ceremony - is one of around 400 English vineyards producing a combined total of roughly two million bottles each year.

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