I've been meaning to go and visit this vineyard for some time now. It's only 40 minutes away from home and so I really should have been sooner. That said, I have now been there and seen what they're building, other than a good reputation. I was also able to purchase 'first release' versions of their 2012(v1) white and rose wines.
A little intro. This vineyard has been going since 2009, when fresh vines were planted after the owners renovated an old property next to a small (7 acres) plot, previously used for sheep. It is located just outside Holmfirth, actually closer to Holmbridge, halfway up a pretty steep hill. The setting is wonderful, and in the sunshine yesterday, the view was magnificent. The owners are a young couple from non-wine-making backgrounds. Bec is an ex-Formula 1 engineer (potentially the only female engineer at the time, or maybe the first, I'm not sure) and Ian used to run successful businesses, I think via the internet mainly. They clearly did well for themselves and worked hard for what they earned. This turned out to be enough to buy their property and land just north of the peak district national park.
The vines are now pretty well established and providing grapes for the Holmfirth cuvees. To begin with, maybe for the first couple of years, they made wine using purchased grapes. Now though, things are in full swing. They have a range of varieties including many that are adapted to colder climates, pest-resistant and utilise hardy root-stock (grafted I presume). They mainly use Seyval blanc and Solaris white varieties and Regent and Rondo red varieties.
When I got to the vineyard yesterday, I have to say I was initially a bit disappointed. I don't want to knock the vineyard at all, because I think they're doing a great job, especially considering their geographical position. Incidentally, there are more northerly vineyards near Leeds and York, however, I believe Holmfirth may be the highest in altitude. I'll describe things as they happened, and we can go from there. Hopefully I'll convey why I initially felt as I did.
The car park is at the top and looks down over the slopes. It is perhaps a touch small, like the rest of the vineyard, but I prefer it that way, rather than being overbearing on the landscape. Just below is the visitors center attached to the winery behind. It appears very well built and adapted to it's position. It has a stone facade which fits the environment nicely. Inside, it is again small, but cute. Its appearance is chic and clean, containing lots of untreated wood and glass, with clean stone floors and white-washed walls. Around the outside of the semi-circular visitors center runs a terrace and guardrail. from here you can gaze over the vines, running away from you down the slope. This the point at which I became down-heartened. I think it stems from reading a lot about vineyards, seeing many internet snaps of rows of vines, and visiting other vineyards in France. All of the above appear immaculately well groomed and carefully tended. Currently, Holmfirth vineyard looks a little shabby. The vines are coming on nicely, with flowers now starting to turn to mini grape clusters. The problem was that the grass surround the vines was too long and needed mowing. Among the vines were tall weeds and the trellis system looked like it had been battered by a storm, flopping loose. I think the pictures in my mind were probably a little staged for publicity and advertising, and therefore a bit too perfect. However, I couldn't get away from the feeling that I just wanted to get out there and give those vines at Holmfirth a bit of love. As my wife and I walked round the vines, the story continued, and in some cases was a bit worse! We also got shouted at by the neighboring farmer's wife/daughter for saying hello to a couple of lovely sheep in the next-door field. There were patches of the vineyard that seemed to have been tended-to, but they were patchy and sporadic. Well, after what was actually a most pleasant walk through countryside, we got back to the winery/visitors center and had a nice lunch. Which was, by the way, pretty reasonably sandwiches, cake and tea.
I have been wanting to work at Holmfirth for bit. I have asked if I may volunteer there and help out, in order to better understand the processes involved in grape-growing and wine-making. As I was walking round, I kept getting the feeling that I could do so much to help them, if they let me. I'm not saying I know-it-all, and I'm sure they know what they're doing, and it's far more than I do, but I wanted to get out there with a mower, do some weeding, tighten up those trellises, clip the vines and generally sort it out a bit. If only the small parcel closest to the 'punters'. I do very-much hope I get the chance.
Moving on now, I shall stop whinging. I wanted to convey my feelings because I'm passionate about wine and I so wanted Holmfirth to be something spectacular. Maybe I'd built it up too much before I went. After lunch I got a chance to speak to a lovely bloke in the winery called Luke. He'd just finished doing some 'pumping', as he put it, and afterwards was less busy, and so able to chat (I don't know what he was pumping, maybe just routine racking!?). I asked him a few questions about the vineyard and the wines, and he was most informative. He explained a little about the vines and their varieties, he also explained that they'd just finished blending and bottling the first of the 2012 vintage. I knew last year had been terrible for English grapes, due to the weather, and a lot of vineyards had struggled with, or even abandoned the crop. Luke confirmed this to me and said the Rondo had not ripened enough to make red wine. Mainly, it did not have the acidity, so they decided to try and make rose with it instead. Maybe that's a little risky, who knows? The biggest thing I gleamed from him though, was the reason the vineyard looked as it did. He explained that the start of the year was full of snow and, more recently, rain. This meant that they were about 2 months behind in the vineyard maintenance, which is a lot of work to be catching up with! In addition to that, it's now time to bottle the winery's current 2012 lot. So even though fine weather has now arrived, this had to be done instead of looking after the outdoors area. They are now, apparently, taking on extra staff, both inside and out, in order to cope with the workload. I have to say this made me feel a great deal of sympathy for the vineyard and made me feel less disappointed about the whole thing.
On the way out we bought a bottle each of the 2012 white and rose, and has since tried the rose. It is dark for a rose, a lovely (oxygenated) blood red/scarlet. I think the must must have been on the skins for a long time. It has a lovely fruity nose that reminds me of summer puddings. It has all those lovely tart berries and currents in it. It's almost a little like jelly or sweets! unfortunately, the taste, although refreshing and pleasant to begin with, smacks of unripe fruit. There is a lack of freshening acidity and it is a bit flat. There are some fruit flavours, but they are a touch too green. There is also a large dollop of VA in the finish that leaves the palate with a slight sickly feeling. It's not a bad effort, considering, but I've had better. I'm looking forward to trying the white though, in anticipation that may be a bit better.
I'm still excited about Holmfirth vineyard. They are new, and clearly still learning their trade at that location. They are investing in new holiday homes at the bottom of the hill. This makes the vineyard seem a touch unfinished right now, but you can smell the potential in the air. They are making good wines, sometimes under considerable cosh. and I hope the vineyard establishes itself with time. I would still, very much, like to help them out with their dream, and hope I get an opportunity to do so. One thing I wish for most is that the efforts remain concentrated on the vineyard, and not on just making money from tourists. This may very well happen, through no fault of their own, because maintaining a productive vineyard, in such a location, may just turn out to be too costly. I don't know, I shall perform a sun dance and hope for more fine weather for them. Ian and Bec, the very best of luck to you, and remember, I'll help. "gis-a-job"!