I woke up early on Sunday, and those thoughts went through my mind. I was really looking forward to the arranged visit to the Yorkshire vineyard, but before that, the dogs had to be walked. Having sorted the pooches, we were on the road for 11.30, Google had suggested it would take one hour and fifty minutes to get to Ryedale Vineyard, just a short way north-east of York, towards Scarborough.
I've been looking into English vineyards for a while now, and having been to a few, including the very approachable Sharpham's vineyard in Devon, thought I should investigate a little closer to home. I've already reported my visit to Holmfirth vineyard in the Pennines. I found several vineyards in the north of England simply by searching Google. I think I chose the one that was either, at the top of the page, or the one who's website looked the more impressive. I'm not sure, maybe it was Stuart Smith's smile on the homepage, but I decided that Ryedale vineyards would be a suitable place to visit. It is also in my home county of Yorkshire.
Ryedale Vineyard is owned and run by Stuart and Elizabeth Smith (I heard someone call her Liz, so I'll stick with that to save characters!). They have settle in Yorkshire after over 30 years in the business of vine importing. Stuart is and expert in viticulture and all things vine-related. They used to (and I think still do) provide climate-suitable vines to start-up vineyards, while also acting as consultants for such endeavours. The couple are friendly and charming, proven when we (the wife and I) arrived 45 minutes early for the tour. Stuart was kind enough to direct us to a local pub where could get a hearty lunch, in the form of a generous roast beef sandwich with roast potatoes on the side! (I refrained from an accompanying pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord).
When we returned, the tour party was almost fully assembled. We set off around the vineyard, lead by Liz, expecting the late-comers to trot along shortly after. This is when the information stream began. As an individual trying to consume as much wine-related knowledge as possible, this was great. Liz first took us through the root-stock and grafting of the various vine varieties (varietals). The grafting process is employed to avoid a repercussion of the Phylloxera infestation (an aphid-like insect) that decimated European vineyards in the 18th and 19th century. The hardy root-stock now used, originates from a native-american vine species which is resistant to Phylloxera. Many English vineyards also use root-stocks developed to be frost resistant too. The different varieties are grafted onto the root-stock as a young vine, and can be just about anything it seems.
Moving through the south-facing (and, she admitted, slightly east-facing) slopes, Liz spent about an hour walking around the vineyard, taking us through the many varieties they grow and explaining why. For example, they grow a few varieties that are better suited to the English climate, such as Ortega and Madeleine Engevine, for white wine, and Rondo, for red wine. The Rondo is apparently great, because, although it is a bit unruly and requires attention, the grapes have a short season and ripen early. This is perfect for shorter English summers. In addition to these, they grow the 3 varieties required for sparkling wines, according to Champagne. These are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Ryedale make sparkling wines using the traditional method, employing a secondary, in-bottle, fermentation. There are other varieties grown there that contribute to other blended wines also. I get the felling that Stuart likes experimenting with the vines, to see which grow best under certain circumstances. He's still learning, or is it playing!? Overall they have over 5000 vines spread over 10 acres.
I took a few snaps of the vineyard. It was explained by the Smiths that the work on the vineyard is never done. they assured us that there is always something to do. Despite this, the aisles of vines all looked immaculate to me. The two pictures below are very representative of the whole vineyard, and the high standards kept there.
I took a few snaps, closer to the action, so to speak. Below, from left to right; a Rondo cluster, already doing well. A Madeleine cluster, on it's way. Apparently the flower 'caps' sometimes get stuck, if it rains at the wrong time, and prevent the berries developing. In which case, these need removing by hand! On the right, a Pinot Meunier leaf, notable by it's 'downy' hairs along the veins (I hope they can be made out. In french, Meunier means Miller, i.e. dusted with flour).
After the tour of the vines, Stuart took over and showed the group around the winery. This was a very quaint, converted, old cow barn, adjacent to their house. Just two large(-ish) rooms house the cold store and the rest of the equipment. The larger equipment includes; many-hundred-litre steel tanks, 'food-grade' plastic barrels, a de-stemmer, a bladder press, and a single french barrique. These are accompanied by many hoses, filters, metal racks, and cellared bottles of last years vintage, maturing nicely. Stuart took us through the processes, from harvested grapes, through to finished wines. This was followed by a little bit about the selection and blending processes. Interestingly, they also make cider at the vineyard, from apple trees that surround the vines. These provide vital shelter for the vines, from high winds, and also an extra, maybe more reliable, additional income. I'm always surprised by how simple the basic process of winemaking is. It seems to be the subtle differences, such as care, attention to detail and timings, that make great wines!
Next, around the back of the main house, a tasting was conducted. On a lovely lawn stood traditional wooden tables and benches, pub-style. Here we were served a selection of cheeses to go with the wines. As this was the weekend following Yorkshire day, the theme was Yorkshire. The cheeses included Wensleydale, Yorkshire blue and a local brie. The wines we tasted were also a selection of Yorkshire wines, not just from Ryedale vineyard. I thought this was a great idea. Not only because I got to try a few different wines, but also because it gave a representation of what the region can produce.
There were 5 wines in all. A pink fizz, two whites, a rose and a red. I'm sorry to say that I cannot remember where they all came form. However, I'll do my best here. I think the fizz was from Leventhorpe vineyard near Leeds, and was great. I recall a good dry palate with rich fruit aromas. One of the whites was from Ryedale, their 'Yorkshire Lass'. This was mellow, but aromatic. It had a mineral palate with soft fruits, slight acidity and a good finish. The rose was Ryedale's Yorkshire Sunset. This was one of the best, i thought. Lots of light red fruit (strawberry) and refreshing acidity. The red wine was a Rondo from a small place near Doncaster, called Summerhouse Vineyard. This is a property that the Smith's have adopted the management of, having been asked to do so by the owners. The owners apparently feel they have, let's say, aged beyond a level they feel is able to run a vineyard! The Rondo had a surprising body to it. The aromas were fruity with a hint of spice, but the palate stood out, with lots of character. I pressed Stuart to compare it to continental varieties, which he politely declined, preferring to describe it, simply, as English. I'd say it was a nice mix between Syrah and Pinot Noir. Like something from the southern Rhone maybe.
Before we left, we were given the opportunity to buy some wines. Of course, we did. We bought a bottle each of the Rondo, the Yorkshire Sunset, Ryedale's 'Taste of Paradise' sparkling rose (which we didn't get to try for some reason), and a bottle of their cider, 'Tyson's Tipple'. I'm looking forward to trying these in due course. The sales process was conducted in the Smith's entrance hall. Their cute collie dog was complaining about being banished to the stairs, with high-pitched whimpers. At this point I noticed all the certificates and awards adorning the walls. A couple of which were from the notable Plumpton College in Sussex. These compound just how passionately serious the Smiths are about their vinous venture. As we were leaving, Stuart also invited us back to help with this years harvest later in the summer. I think I may take him up on that! As we drove home, my wife and I chatted freely, going back over what we'd learnt in the short 2 hours at the vineyard. It was a little like when you come out from the cinema and recreate the best parts of a movie you really enjoyed! This goes to show just how enjoyable the experience was, for both of us, and it is one I hope to repeat in the future.
More information can be found on the vineyard's website, www.ryedalevineyards.co.uk, and can also be found on Google. I can thoroughly recommend visiting the vineyard. The Stuart and Liz also run a B&B, which looks very inviting.