Dryhill Vineyard's first sparkling wine
PUBLISHED: 14:28 13 January 2020 | UPDATED: 14:28 13 January 2020
There's cause for celebration as the first sparkling wine is bottled at Nigel and Lesley-Anne Rowley's Ullenwood vineyard
Don't be surprised if you hear the sound of corks popping over the Cotswold escarpment this year. Nigel and Lesley-Anne Rowley have something rather special to celebrate.
The Rowleys have just bottled the results of their first grape harvest from Dryhill Vineyard at Ullenwood near Cheltenham and it's thought to be the first sparkling wine produced at that location since the Romans lived there.
Dryhill was built on the site of an important 'villa rustica' in Roman times and the escarpment has another two Roman villas close by. With such historical links, Nigel says it was always the couple's intention to plant vines on the lower terrace carved out by the Romans.
"We selected the lower terrace due to altitude considerations since we were advised to plant below 150m above sea level. Much of the Cotswolds is above this and hence we are quite unique."
Both originally from the area - Lesley-Anne is from Minchinhampton and Cheltenham-born Nigel went to Cheltenham College - they have lived at Dryhill for over 30 years.
In recent years, they have been involved in hotel and safari lodge design in Kenya, although Nigel is a chemical engineer by profession so the winemaking process has been understandable even if he had to learn the viticulture skills from mentors at 16 Ridges Winery near Ledbury.
The Rowleys have had no tractors or heavy machinery to help them due to the steep terrain of the Cotswold escarpment and the vines are cared for by a lot of personal attention.
Nigel says: "We planted 2,000 vines and selected Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and chardonnay grapes, which are the same varietals used in the Champagne region for making sparkling and are well suited to our climate. By the end of 2019, we had produced 1.5 tonnes of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier red grapes and one tonne of white Chardonnay grapes."
The grapes were pressed in November and when blended should yield around 2,300 bottles of bubbly - an impressive result for the first harvest year at Dryhill.
"We were exhausted and elated after our first harvest as we had to pick all the grapes in the vineyard in a single day for maximum freshness and flavour. We had 16 friends and volunteers to help us but finding a sunny day after all the rain in October was a real challenge."
The launch of Dryhill's first bubbly is timely as sales of English sparkling wines are on the increase and the product is becoming more and more sought after in restaurants as an alternative to Champagne.
Nigel says: "We have grown the grapes in the traditional way just like many of the small family-run vineyards in the Champagne region of France.
"The climate in this part of England is most suited to producing bubbly and there has been a huge upsurge of interest in recent years. The quality of English sparkling wine has improved greatly in the last ten years with many of our award-winning vineyards capable of beating the French Champagne in blind tastings."
Nigel says the aim is to supply the sparkling wine to the local wedding and events market as Cotswold weddings are in such strong demand.
"The venture had risk, involved hours of hard work and personal attention but we have proved to all those who said that we were mad that Cheltenham has the climate to ripen delicious, well balanced grapes and therefore produce fine sparkling wine.
"It's perhaps the first time since 76AD that such wine has been produced here and, as Cheltonians, we are very proud of that."