Wine growing in Devon has a long history, going back…
It’s been snowing, and I am hoping for some picturesque shots of snowy vines, but by the time I arrive at Pebblebed for a stroll around the vineyard, any trace of snowflakes has vanished.
It’s a pleasure talking with someone who clearly loves his vines and wines.
Pruning is now well underway, with around half the vines neatly trimmed, their two strongest arms wired-in to hold this spring’s growth. I ask why some vines only have one arm?
“We tailor the pruning to each individual vine, depending on how vigorous they are. We prefer medium vigour while the vine puts down deeper roots and then hopefully next season get a second arm. We are looking for more quality than quantity.“
Behind the winery there are several rows of each of the 8 varieties of grapevine grown here. There are around 22,000 vines set over 20 acres here and at their Ebford site.
Most of the vines look healthy but there are a few rows where there are gaps. Alex explains that this is the Siegerrebe grape, an early ripening aromatic variety, the first to burst its buds and the first to harvest, producing pink berries and used to make a white wine quite similar to Gewurtztraminer, “It was badly hit in 2017 as it has the earliest bud break. The young vines were close to the ground and therefore more susceptible to the frost.” Cuttings will be taken in spring from healthy vines, which will be propagated and nurtured in raised beds, before being planted out next winter.
The amount of growth on the vine each year is matched by root growth, which goes out as a web into the soil. When I ask about weeds, Alex adds, “Once they [the vines] are 4 to 6 years old it doesn’t matter because the roots can reach depths of 20 feet plus if they need to.”
One of Pebblebed’s main crops is Seyval Blanc. Being disease resistant, it’s more economical to grow and produces very good wine, such as their sparkling, which has won awards.
In terms of feed and fertiliser, Alex explains, “Foliar feeds are sprayed onto the leaves at very low levels and can be put directly onto the plants that need it; there is no blanket treating.” Devon soils can be short of some trace elements so a little fertiliser is used. “We also put a lot of seaweed syrups on, which the vines love.”
Last time we spoke, Alex was approaching the first wine tasting from last year’s crop, so I enquire how it’s coming along? He replies, “I am really happy with how the wine is developing… the wine has finished fermenting and is clarifying so every few months we move it from tank to tank and remove sediment. Another process is filtration. I will do the blending trials shortly on the bench.” When the optimal blend is found, it is transferred to the tanks for this year’s wines. This is a trial by taste as there are no set recipes.