If you dream of living life in a rural idyll, surrounded by wildlife and sipping wine made by your own hands, then a trip to Oatley Vineyard in Somerset will give you a taste of that life. The vineyard lies at the end of a long, narrow lane, that with each twist teases and invites you towards a hidden wonderland.
Oatley Vineyard is home to Iain and Jane Awty, who in 1985 decided to give up life in the rat-race and build their own vineyard. They spent a year searching for the perfect site and what a site it is. The vineyard is just under a hectare in size and is part of the land where they live. It is surrounded by green hills and the whole area is abuzz with wildlife.
Iain and Jane both have degrees in chemistry, and this scientific knowledge is obvious as Iain takes us around the vineyard. Their approach to the vineyard and winemaking is scientific but they also display a real passion for their product. And it must be this passion that keeps them going through all the hard work of running a vineyard in a marginal climate. If your dream of owning a vineyard is a romantic one where the grapes grow themselves, throngs of workers come along and hand-pick them before the wine ages in barrels ready to be quaffed by you and your friends, then it is probably best to keep it a dream. Owning a vineyard is incredibly hard work; although the rewards can be fantastic. There’s the planting, pruning, trimming, mending, mowing, spraying all before you even get to the back breaking work of harvest. And Iain and Jane have been doing this pretty much on their own for over 25 years. And that work never stops; as we walk amongst the vines every now and then Iain stops and breaks off a few leaves or inspects a trunk and he curses that he’s left his secateurs behind.
They also have a clear passion for the environment and treat the land with respect. As we stood talking, several common darters swooped in and around the vines while butterflies and other insects danced and fluttered around us. A buzzard was also spotted sweeping through the sky. And at the top of the rows of vines, you will find a wonderful hedgerow bursting with different berries, which they encourage to stop the birds wanting to eat the grapes. I don’t think I have ever been in a vineyard that has felt so alive before and this can only be a testament to the work that Iain and Jane do (and also the things they don’t do).
The vineyard is home to two varieties, Madeline Angevine and Kernling, but from these two grapes comes a fantastic range of wines. Madeline Angevine is a cool climate, early ripening white grape from the Loire, which has become popular in England. Kernling is also a cool climate, white variety, with wonderful aromatic qualities.
- Jane’s 2013 is made from Madeline Angevine – wonderfully light and zesty with a bright acidity.
- Leonora’s 2011 is made from 85% Kernling and 15% Madeline Angevine. This wine is also low in sulphites. Fuller bodied than the Jane’s with aromatic stone and citrus fruits. Great with fish.
- Elizabeth’s 2012 is made from a blend of the two varieties (65% Madeline Angevine / 35% Kernling). Wonderful body with touches of honey and a great acidity.
Following some experimentation there are also two barrel matured wines available:
- Barrel Matured Jane’s 2013 – 6 weeks in French oak. The oak is very delicate but gives the wine a bit more body than the non-oaked version. It also feels a touch more serious.
- Barrel Matured Leonora’s 2011 – only 309 bottles made and each has been numbered by hand. A delicious wine and my favourite. Lovely body, the oak is more apparent than on the Jane’s but it enrobes the perfumed fruit rather than swamping it. Fab.
All of these wines are naturally low in alcohol (between 11.5-12% abv). The majority of the wines are sold through the cellar door, with a few local shops and restaurants also holding stock, so a visit is your best opportunity to buy a bottle or twelve.
As we were sitting in the shade tasting the wines more wildlife appeared in the form of two baby pheasants that were incredibly tame (and a bit scatty) and the vineyard’s cat who obviously loves a bit of attention from visitors. This is a wonderful vineyard to visit and as you sit there tasting the wines it is hard to believe how close it is to the motorway and civilisation. So go and visit and forget about the rat-race for a couple of hours. Close your eyes, listen to the music of the birds and insects and imagine that you’ve fulfilled your dream and you’re sat in your own vineyard sipping your own wines.
Recommended for: those who dream about running their own vineyard, English wine lovers, wildlife enthusiasts. The vineyard is a dog-friendly site.
The vineyard is open 1100-1800 on Fridays and Saturdays from April to mid-September. They are also open Bank Holiday weekends. Please check the website for any closures. If you wish to visit on any other days please contact Iain and Jane via twitter, email or telephone.
The tour is free.
For further information:
Oatley Vineyard, Cannington, Bridgwater, Somerset, TA5 2NL. Email: email@example.com Telephone: 01278 671340