I’ve been completely distracted this last week, unable to get to my laptop because I was devoting every spare minute to my knitting. I’d promised Lizzie a sweater and so nothing else was allowed to get in the way of that…well, very little else. I don’t mean to suggest that I haven’t been anywhere or done anything at all! I’ve about an hour before we set off for Lonndonn, so I’m going to fill the time by telling you about our first foray into the world of wine-making.
Wine has been made on these islands for centuries but I think most people who buy a bottle or six will buy something from Europe, South Africa, Oz & NZ or the Americas rather than a home brewed vintage. But there’s a growing industry here, despite the climate (!) and the wine is very good. There are two vineyards within easy reach of us and one of them is the White Castle Vineyard in Llanvetherine, just outside Abergavenny. Lizzie had enjoyed an afternoon of wine-tasting and canapés there back in the spring, and had told Robb (the owner) that we lived fairly close. He said that they held grape-picking days and that we could sign up if we wanted. I’d kept an eye on the web-site but hadn’t seen anything but then met Robb at the Abergavenny Food Festival. I imagine that anyone involved in the wine-making business to be convivial and Robb certainly fits that picture! What a very jovial, larger-than-life character! He told me to drop him an e-mail and he’d add us to the list, which is exactly what happened.
So last weekend we drove across to Llanvetherine with Ruth and Archie, a couple of friends, and joined about sixteen others for a day amongst the vines. The weather was glorious – a day that wouldn’t have embarrassed itself in July.
We were each issued with a pair of small and very sharp pruning scissors and invited to choose a row. We were tackling the pinot grapes for the first few hours and soon got the knack. The great thing about grapes is that they grow at about chest level and so there was no bending down or stretching up, giving the activity an immediate advantage over strawberry or plum picking.
We stopped for a welcome coffee break, and were offered enormous slices of Victoria sponge and/or coffee & walnut cake. I should have known better than to accept this (we’d already had croissants for breakfast) but it was too difficult to resist. The other thing I should have known better than to do was to say that I was surprised that nobody had yet cut themselves…
Within five minutes of returning to my row of pinot, I’d snipped into the top of one of my fingers. Robb, clearly a man who is prepared for everything, produced a box of plasters and I returned to the fray. By the end of the afternoon I wasn’t the only one wearing a plaster and we’d picked enough grapes for about 900 bottles of wine!
We finished by about 3:30, and sprawled in the beautifully renovated 16th century barn for a late lunch of cold meats, cheeses and salads, accompanied by bottles of the White Castle white, rosé and reds. The lucky teenagers had to make do with cold water or locally pressed apple juice but they didn’t seem to be too disappointed. We spent a thoroughly chilled hour just chatting before we strolled back up the lane to Ruth and Archie’s, each clutching a bottle of wine and explaining to Archie why we were ignoring the swollen, delicious looking blackberries in the hedges. He wasn’t convinced that the devil spat on them on Michaelmas day, but Ruth and I were adamant. The blackberries stayed put.
And now it’s time for me to be on my way. We’re travelling to Lonndonn by National Express coach, due partly to the fact that it’s a third of the cost of rail tickets and also that the train journey is currently at least thirty minutes longer because of the work being done in the Severn Tunnel. It’s Katie’s thirtieth birthday on Saturday and no doubt we’ll be coming into contact with more wine…
With thanks to Robb and Nicola Merchant at the White Castle Vineyard, Llanvetherine – a fun day in great company with wonderful food and terrific wine! Iechyd da!