As we settled in for the short journey from Belper to Wessingham, destination for our vineyard tour, I asked our guide, owner and viticulturalist Barry Lewis “Why plant a vineyard in Derbyshire”. “Madness” came the short reply.
Barry explained that he and his Morecambe-born wife had considered a move to Australia at one point but they wanted to remain in beautiful Derbyshire, but Barry still wanted a vineyard, so he set about his dream.
He and business partner Duncan spent a lot of time visiting vineyards across the world, tasting wine and planning.
They identified land around Wessingham, small plots with just the right
aspect to capture sunlight and shelter from the worst of the weather.
The plans were done, the fledgling vines had arrived and the expert to set up the all-important trellising was booked.
It was April 2012 and Barry rose early full of eagerness to realise his dream. Throwing open the curtains to look out on the spring Derbyshire countryside he was shocked to see nothing but a blanket of white, it had snowed overnight.
Following a panic call to the trelliser the decision was made to go ahead anyway, not least because the visiting South African expert had never seen snow!
The rest is history, Amber Valley Wines was born in the snow.
We had taken the Vineyard Tour weekend package from Amber Valley Wines, including two nights in a cottage in Belper, a tour of the vineyards and lunch with our guide, Barry.
Barry’s passion for his vineyards was obvious as we arrived first at the large vineyard.
Explaining how the vineyard, nestled on a sloping hillside was protected from the worst weather by surrounding hills, Barry took us through the vineyard, pointing out the different grape varieties being grown.
Some had already been harvested, others were nearing readiness and we were able to share the experience of tasting grapes on the vine, assessing sugar ripeness, along with acidity levels for suitability to make a good wine.
Grape varieties here might not be so familiar, Reichensteiner, Muller Thurgeau, Solaris, Pinot Noir Precoce and others… all suited to survive the changeable and damp English weather conditions.
Moving on to the small vineyard which shares its land with an orchard, Barry explained the plans to build a winery and visitor centre with tasting or function room available for weddings, celebrations and corporate hire.
He certainly has ambitious plans, and plans that dovetail nicely with Amber Valley’s Tourism portfolio.
Here we settled at a
table under the wonderful September sun to enjoy the Lindway white. A delightful typical English floral elderflower and hedgerow aromatic wine. Light and refreshing with grapefruit citrus and perhaps a hint of stone fruit.
A delicious long length. Easy to drink on its own or would pair nicely with fish.
What could be more civilised than sipping English wine in beautiful English countryside. Here and later over lunch as well as winery plans we talked through the possibilities of rosé wine, sparkling wine, cider and even gin and whisky production from this Amber Valley gem.
I don’t doubt Barry’s ability to achieve all of these things having started by planting vines in the snow.