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.
Our Dogs and the Pheasants live in harmony together as their main quest is to chase Rabbits. They couldn't be happier.
If it's a little too early in the day for Wine Tasting, then we can always offer our very own hand roasted Coffee "Trail Blaze" made for us using Coffee Beans from a small Coffee Plantation in South America. We have launched the "Full of Beans" Artisan Coffee range which has "Flynn", another of our Pheasant Characters, sitting slumped on a giant Coffee Sack Beanbag sipping his morning Latte.
Wine and Coffee obviously go together very well and we have even gone as far as to be able to offer your a very unique Coffee where our dark roasted Beans are infused In the process with Wine. The aroma is incredible and you'll have to come and visit us to find out more.
We haven't just been tasting Wine and Coffee for our own purpose - we spent 6 weeks converting The Old Winery Building into a beautiful space for all sorts of Events to take place. One end of the Building has been converted into a large Bar (The Motley Cru) serving Coffee & Cocktails ppand the interior is themed along the lines of a traditional Alpine Wooden French Chalet with a Contemporary twist (reminiscent of all the years we have spent in the French Alpine Town of Chamonix). The large middle section of the Old Winery Building is being converted into a very Contemporary Conference space for Seminars and Events with more of a minimal architectural style. The end section of the Building is a Lifestyle Emporium.
We will install the Fermentation Tanks into another Building here on the Estate in Stage Two of our Development Plans once the Grapes have started to really establish themselves.
In the meantime we will continue to reuse, recycle and regenerate what we have here already.
Part of our recycling Programme includes converting our Coffee waste once it has been through the state of the art espresso Machine that we have here (The San Remo Opera Machine) it is then collected and sent to be processed into none other than Coffee Logs which are burned on our Log Fires in the Main House and in our outdoor Fire Pits and Guest Lodge Hot Tub.
In keeping with this Theme of reducing waste or converting our waste into other useful bi-products we have developed a strategy for being environment friendly in the Vineyard Fields. Our aim is to use only Electric powered Tractors - silent to maintain the tranquility and not polluting the atmosphere with diesel fumes.
We will need a casual workforce in the Vineyard at different times of the year for Winter Pruning and Harvesting and our aim is to incorporate Robotics into the Fields where possible to carry out these tasks.
Battery operated Drones will survey the Vines for us and keep an eye on Canopy development. But will also be great fun to fly!
We are very excited about the journey ahead. We look forward to being able to offer employment for all different aspects of managing not only the Vineyard but also the Estate.
Work is underway as we speak on the Herb Garden here to bring it "back to life" as well and to burst forth with Herbs that we can use in the Kitchen and even for making small batches of our very own Artisan Gin in the future! We have a Mobile Gin Distillery Truck coming here in February to create our first batch of Gin and although the Gin market has seen incredible explosive growth in the last 2-3 years it will be fabulous to create our own from our own Botanicals to our own recipe.
Another project for 2018 is to create a "Herbal Tonic". Watch this space for news of our Health Drink Brand (INNER Core) and also our Energy Drink Brand (INNER Bull) with a strong link to Rugby as both of our sons, Ben and Josh, are Rugby fanatics.
We can't just sit around for 3 years waiting for our Grapes to grow - we have to do something with all the creative energy flowing around here!!
Our Bee Hives will also be buzzing with activity in the Spring and we look forward to showing visitors the new Flow Hive Bee Hives made in Australia with their unique way of collecting Honey. Our Honey of course already has its own branding "Kenton Nectar" featuring a humorous illustration of another of our Pheasant characters.
Our Olive Oil "Liquid Gold" arrived Bottled just in time for Christmas. Having always loved the "Olive Farm" series by Carol Drinkwater and having spent many hours reading and re-reading her Trilogy of Books whilst on holiday in Chamonix, it was always a dream to be able to have our own Olive Oil. Moving here to Kenton has given us the space to plant many Giant Olive Trees with more arriving in March 2018. The thrill of being able to have our own Olive Oil Brand created was irresistible. "Roger" is the character used in the illustration for our Olive Oil. He is the largest of all the Pheasants here.
We are full of so many ideas and the trick is to really develop a couple of them so that we provide an experience here that is quite unique and hopefully inspiring to others.
It's hard work and we have spent so many hours working on the Land and when we feel like moaning, we just have to stop and look around at the natural beauty of this place to put things into perspective.
We may be the current owners of this Land but it is our duty to be the best Guardians we can possibly be so that we can pass our Land on to future generations and for them to continue to share the magic of what has been created here.