Farmers toast first grape harvest on idyllic tide mill site
- Credit: Archant
A new vineyard set by a beautiful working tide mill on the Essex coast is celebrating its first harvest.
It was a particularly poignant moment for Polly Baines, whose late father – farming stalwart Tom Glover – saw the vines planted at the family’s small farm in Thorrington, near Brightlingsea, shortly before he died in 2018.
Polly – who has also been involved in setting up a shepherd’s hut glamping holiday venture on the farm – worked with husband, Mark, in establishing a complementary new vineyard venture as another diversification project.
Polly’s father, Tom – who was heavily involved in organising the Tendring Show for many years – had previously run a pick-your-own strawberries venture on the farm.
Now the family has planted three types of grape varieties – 5.25 acres of Pinot Noir and 5.25 acres of Chardonnay, as well a further 1.5 acres of Bacchus which is not being harvested this year.
They have been working in partnership with Hattingley Valley in Hampshire on the project, and will be selling the grapes to them.
Hattingley Valley Wines said it had signed up Thorrington Mill Vineyard as a grower “as soon as we saw the potential of the land”.
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The vines were planted out in 2018 and already, two years in, are producing a viable crop.
“My father saw them being planted but sadly passed away shortly afterwards,” said Polly.
“My grandfather bought Mill Farm in 1941 and grew seeds for flowers.
“He also sold the Tide Mill here to Essex County Council so it could be protected for future generations. They restored it beautifully and opened it to the public as a museum. It is one of only three working tide mills in the country.
“The mill has been on the farm since the 14th century. The mill has recently been bought back from the council and is now owned by my family and my brother’s (Tom Glover). “My parents then took over the farm in 1978 and grew strawberries very successfully for 40 years. This was for local shops but mainly for pick-your-own.”
The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Bacchus will be used to create English sparkling and still wines.
“It’s our very first harvest after 2.5 years of waiting and we are all very excited,” said Polly.
It’s a “massive milestone”, she added, and the grapes “look amazing”.
“My husband has enjoyed viticulture so much and together with his horticultural and agricultural background we have started helping others locally install vineyards and help manage them.”
The couple – who have two sons and a daughter – have called the vineyard business Thorrington Mill.
It has been an enjoyable – if challenging – project, said Mark.
“We have put a huge amount of time and effort into our crop to ensure that the grapes are the best they can be. We have really enjoyed the journey from them being first planted to our first harvest this year. We are excited to see what they are capable of in the years to come.”
Meanwhile, the couple’s glamping business continues to go from strength to strength, said Polly. Known as The Shepherd’s Hide, the site now has the added benefit of the vineyard and walks.
“In the future we hope to offer vineyard tours and tastings,” she said.
Essex and Suffolk vineyard owners look set for a good grape harvest – in spite of a season of extremes.
Emma Rice, director and head winemaker at Hattingley Valley Wines Ltd said the weather had worked in the new vineyard’s favour.
“The young vines have had the benefit of two exceptional growing seasons in 2018 and 2019. 2020 will be their first harvest producing a small, yet super-ripe crop while the vines are still getting established,” she said.
“The incredibly warm spring, summer and early autumn of this vintage means the grapes are ready weeks earlier than we would normally expect and the ripeness levels will give us plenty of options with regard to the wine style we plan to make.
“Sparkling wine made in the traditional method is our core business, but the potential of some of these more recent plantings in Essex suggest we may be able to branch out in other styles.’