Every day we look at the view surrounding the Land and the Vineyard Fields and find it hard to believe how outstandingly beautiful it is here in the foothills of Mamhead Forest. It is quite breath-taking! The gentle rolling landscape is spectacular with the early morning sunrises and the evening sunsets. The clear skies and sparkling stars out here are staggering.
And when you see the wild Deer elegantly walking quietly through the fields and hear the early morning calls of the Pheasants - it is indeed magical.
The Woodpeckers swoop along the rear Drive - "Winery Drive" as we enter and leave, swooping from Tree to Tree of the Cherry Tree lined Driveway leading to The Winery and a magnificent White Owl that watches us with curiosity.
The Pheasants make us smile as they run and hide under the hedges. These beautiful Birds are reluctant to fly unless they really have to and we laugh out loud as we watch them running and limbo dancing under the gates. Its a great way to start the day.
It's not long now until we plant the NEW Vines here at Kenton Park Estate.
We have spent the past 12 months in the Vineyard Fields making sure our soil ("Terroir") is the best it can be. We are very fortunate that the Soil is excellent soil for the growing of Grapes. However, we needed to start right back at the beginning and make sure we treated our Terroir with the utmost respect!
A French Consultant from a famous Vineyard in Bordeaux came to inspect our Land and to blow our minds with his mind boggling facts and information all delivered in a very strong French accent which took time to translate.
We were very surprised that he loved the Sparking Wine that had been produced here by the previous owners. We found 4 Bottles in the old warehouse tucked at the back of a cupboard - obviously forgotten about, which the Frenchman enjoyed very much! We have one last remaining Bottle so that we know the quality of the Wine that we have to produce. We are keeping it as a benchmark.
Our first major task, as ordered by the Frenchman, was to remove all of the old Vine Roots that had previously been planted here, in case there had been any disease, and we had to remove them completely from the Site. No bonfires allowed!
Our next task was to persuade some Farm Contractors to come along and plough up the Land with the specific instructions from the Frenchman. We must only plough to a depth of 3Ft and it must be on an angle.
The biggest Tractor I have ever seen came thundering into the Vineyard and out stepped a giant who crushed my hand with his greeting. After a few days the Fields were no longer luscious green grass but a mass of churned up soil. The ploughing did not manage to remove the old Vine Roots and another Team had to come in .....
A Team of Rugby players, all Blundellians (Ex-Blundells School 1st VI Rugby Team) rose to the challenge to help Ben (our eldest son) to remove these stubborn old Vine Roots during what was an incredibly hot week. These old roots were spread deep and wide over a total area of approx 12 acres. Large volumes of Beer were consumed at the end of each day after such back breaking work. The Team really enjoyed getting back together for a few days and much laughter was heard coming from the Fields. Ben enjoyed being in charge of his old Team mates as Captain once again and a few Rugby Balls were booted around during breaks.
The Farm Contractors finally came back after much persuasion (they were busy working on other jobs) and they churned up the soil again. This time it would seem that all the old Vine Roots had gone.
I nearly cried when it was finished. We had created quite a mud bath. It was not a pretty sight and certainly not what visitors would expect to see when exploring a Vineyard. Luckily we didn't have Visitors at this stage!
However the cover crop was then planted to lock in the Nitrogen over the next few months and add more wonderful nutrients to the soil and the local wildlife went crazy. The Butterflies were stunning, the Starlings swooped and dived overhead for weeks, large Birds of Prey were spotted daily and the Pheasants and Partridges ran wild. There was something exciting going on!
By the end of September, the cover crop was so high you couldn't walk around or through the fields anymore. It was a mass of yellow flowering mustard seed and other flowering crops.
The next challenge was to request the help of locally based Contractors, County Grounds Maintenance (David Burdick and his trusty crew based in Topsham) to bring their heavy duty machinery down our narrow Country Lanes to cut that cover crop and restore the Vineyard Fields to their former beauty.
We then set to work on the vast overgrown hedges on the Estate which hadn't received any attention for quite a long time. We needed to make sure that these were cut back so that any Frost in the Winter months can easily circulate down the sloping fields and flow freely through the Vineyard. We don't want the Frost to get trapped by the large overgrown hedges. The Wind also needs to be allowed to blow freely through the Site to help prevent disease.
We are quite full of useful facts and information having developed a whole new way of learning about Viticulture, Vineyard Management and best practices by listening to Podcasts produced by The UK Wine Show - all 550 of them!!
We have learnt a huge amount from listening to them whilst constantly being on the move. The daily school run is an hour long round trip twice a day which is a perfect time to tune into a backlog of Podcasts and repeat the Interviews over and over again until all the information sinks in.
Meanwhile Ben has attended Plumpton College (part of Brighton University) and several of their Wine Making Courses. Plumpton are famous worldwide for being the leading Academic institution for the Study of Wine production and all things Viticulture.
So switching back and forth between studying and a real life Vineyard Project has meant that our first year here in the Vineyard has been a very rapid learning curve in a very upward direction and of course lots of Wine tasting in between.
More heavy duty machinery came in to blitz our Hedges (miles of them) and the Job took 2-3 days.
Amidst all this activity, the Shooting Season started in earnest as our land is surrounded by Powderham Castle Estate. The Shooting Season is big business and it's taken very seriously. It amuses us however that all the Pheasants & Partridges seem to run across the Fields, over the road and up our Front Driveway (aptly know as Partridge Drive) and hide on our Land. Some days we can be seriously late on the School Run because of the hundreds of Pheasants & Partridges all hunkered down quietly behind the Cherry Trees that line the mile long driveway and when one of them decides to make a run for it, the whole feathery tribe follow.
Duncan McNeill, our Vineyard Contractor came to visit to test our soils and was really thrilled with progress. Duncan is very passionate about Viticulture and despite thinking that the South East is the best place to have a Vineyard, he told us we have something quite special here at Kenton Park Estate.
Duncan and his Team will be installing the miles and miles of Trellis for each of the rows of Vines of which there are 14,000 Vines in total spread across 6 Vineyard Plantations in approx 10 acres.
We have discussed long and hard around the different Grape varieties that could grow well in our Soils. We are lucky to have fabulous soil over here and having completed all the soil analysis on each part of the site, we know what will grow and with a little Biodynamic Magic being created (see separate Blog) we hope to produce fantastic grapes, bursting with flavour. Our Grape varieties for the moment will remain a secret as we are including some new varieties not grown here before.
It's taken over 12 months of study and research to reach the point where we are now. We don't proclaim to have any previous experience of Vineyards but we are looking forward to the journey of finally creating our own Wine.
We already have our own House Wine available to try in our Tasting Room - "The Wine Pod" - situated inside The Winery Building, as we managed to track down a few Bottles of the Wines that had been produced here previously and we also managed to establish relationships with other Vineyards around the World who have made Wines for us with our own Label to help put Kenton Park Estate "on the Map".
So we have our own House Red Wine "Flying Start" which is an Australian Shiraz. We also have our own House White Wine "Great Escape" which is an Australian Chardonnay and our House Rose Wine "Grape Escape" is from California.
It's not all about Wines here at Kenton Park Estate as we also have our own Sparkling Cider. The Apple Orchard happened to have an abundance of Apples at the end of September and after two weeks of continuous picking, we then had these pressed into our very own 1st Vintage Sparkling Cider. It's a Limited 1st Edition of just 500 Bottles ("Hard Core Cider") and you can enjoy it chilled or warmed as a Mulled Cider Cocktail which makes your toes tingle. It's quite simply delicious and all the more so because we have made it here on the Estate.
We planted another 16 Cider Apple Trees in December to allow us to increase production. I have never been a Cider Drinker before but I love Mulled Cider with Oranges, Star Anise and Cinnamon sticks thrown in to a large stainless steel Pan and left to simmer very gently on the stove. The aroma is wonderful.
Ben has spent a week at a Cider Academy in Gloucestershire and experimented with flavours in a Laboratory and we look forward to seeing how our Cider will develop for next year's harvest and in the years ahead (see Ben's Blog).
So we have created our own Labels for our Wines all based on our beautiful Pheasants and their very funny characteristics and our Cider Label is also a humorous Pheasant character called "Remy" shown below.