Win a case of Great Bardfield wine

Great Bardfield Vineyard

Great Bardfield Vineyard - Credit: Archant

In English Wine Week, ANGELA SINGER raises a glass to the award-winning Bardfield Vineyard on the Great Lodge Estate in Great Bardfield which on Bank Holiday Monday is holding an open day with wine tasting and teas.

Bardfield Vineyard

Bardfield Vineyard - Credit: Archant

In the torrential rain, Rebecca Jordan and Claire Kohlis, both qualified solicitors, who at some point decided they no longer wanted to work indoors, were out in an open field, as part of a team, bent double, planting 750 grape vines. Claire is the vineyard’s manager and Rebecca owns it.

No doubt, the results will win them even more English wine awards but that won’t have made the work any drier.

On a sunny day, the vineyard is beautiful. As a venue for weddings, it’s booked up until 2017 and it has a long-standing connection with marriage. When King Henry VIII said “cheers” to Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, the only one of his six spouses to manage an amicable separation from the monstrous monarch, he gave her the Great Lodge estate as part of the annulment settlement.

The estate still has the Anne of Cleve’s barn built in 1540. Now Grade 1-listed, it is used to stage operas, as well as for weddings and wine-tastings. It’s next to the award-winning vineyard and an historic walled garden.

Bardfield Vineyard

Bardfield Vineyard - Credit: Archant

In 1989, when Alan Jordan, Rebecca’s father, decided to plant his vineyard, Anne of Cleves was his inspiration. He said: “When I was considering the possibility of planting a vineyard, my research found that I was following in her footsteps. When I found that she had a vineyard on the site that made me even more determined to go ahead with the venture.”

He planted just over an acre of vines on a south-facing gentle slope, part of the land which had been farmed by his family for over a century and which he has now worked on for 60 years. Since the soil and climate were said to be similar to that of the Alsace region of France he put in the Bacchus and the Reichensteiner grape on his 1,000-acre arable farm.

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The results have gone down extremely well. In 1998, the Bardfield Dry 1996 vintage won the East Anglian Wine of the Year Award. Last year, two more of their white wines, the Bardfield Bacchus 2013 and the Anne of Cleves Bacchus 2013, won the East Anglian Vineyard Association’s silver medals. The vineyard is about to expand its range with the 750 vines of pinot noir put in this week.

Though English wine has bubbled up in popularity in the past 10 years, it was produced by the Romans. Just as in Roman times, the vines are planted by hand, pruned by hand and picked by hand.

In many ways, it is just as difficult now as it was then. A late frost can damage the grapes. One of the solutions to that is as old as the hills. You light a bonfire to move the air -– in New Zealand they fly helicopters over the vines. Even more disastrous can be wildlife. Claire said: “The main problem last harvest was that badgers ate half the grapes. It was pretty devastating.”

She added that it did show that the grapes were good and sweet, but that can hardly have been a consolation.

Claire said: “The badgers always eat the end rows near the set but last year they came further in. It shows the grapes were really good, they had high sugar levels.”

The badgers come out during the dark. The UK Vineyard Association Forum suggests various methods to combat the problem, including leaving lights and a radio on at night – so a bit like the methods you might use to deter any burglars.

Claire said: “If the worse comes to the worse, in the last fortnight before harvest I shall be sleeping here in a tent.”

The wine is not made on site. After the grapes are picked in October, they are sent to New Hall Vineyard in Maldon, Essex.

It is just by chance that both Claire and Rebecca are former lawyers. Claire, 33, who worked as a lawyer in London and Dublin for five years, retrained in horticulture at Capel Manor in Enfield and worked in a vineyard in New Zealand.

Claire could be, as it were, part of a growing trend. Rebecca said: “There are now training schemes for women choosing horticulture as a second career, run by the Women’s Farm and Education Association which has its roots in the Women’s Land Army.” If the law was too dry, certainly on Monday, it could not be claimed for the vineyard.

Bardfield wines are sold direct to the public and are also on sale at The Blue Egg café and shop in Great Bardfield and The Star Restaurant in Thaxted.