Buy new vineyard's pink fizz to help local breast cancer charity
- Credit: Denise Bradley
The growth at Old Hall Farm (close to the Suffolk/Norfolk border at Woodton) over the past few years has been remarkable.
What began as a passion project rearing calf-at-foot Jersey cows, selling raw milk, butter and milkshakes, alongside milk-fed pork, has expanded exponentially.
Today, as well as attending farmers’ markets and events in Suffolk and Norfolk, Old Hall has a purpose-built café, deli and butchery.
And now... a vineyard.
Owners Stuart and Rebecca Mayhew have yet to bottle wine using grapes from their own three-year-old vines, but have been busy working with other East Anglian businesses to create Old Hall wine – an endeavour that’s seen interest piqued by Michelin starred chefs, who are interested in stocking their fledgling fizz.
“It’s like being in the South of France,” muses Rebecca, talking about the outlook from the café over the vineyard.
She and Stuart worked with expert Ian Phillips, who helped make their vineyard dreams a reality, advising on soil, vine varieties, planting and more, to boost their chances of success. Solaris, Bacchus and the ‘noble three’ for Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) have each found a place on the farm as part of the venture.
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It was while running the Paris Marathon a few years ago that Rebecca caught the wine-making bug (though she says it’s something she and Stuart have talked about for a while).
“We stayed in the Champagne region, where there were lots of vines and it was stunning. Wonderful. To do this...it just seemed like a really nice complimentary business to go with everything else we have on the farm.
“We chose grape varieties based on the soil. It’s quite vigorous, so a bit better than you’d expect a vineyard to be. Normally you’d go for poorer land. Our root stock matches the land and the varieties match our aspirations of the kinds of wines we want to produce.”
Old Hall has (like numerous other vineyards in the region) used fruits from another grower, Humbleyard in Mulbarton, to produce their initial releases, now available to buy.
Still wines have been made by Shawsgate in Framlingham, and sparkling by John Hemmant at Chet Valley Vineyard.
There’s a sparkling white (Norfolk Brut), Old Hall Bacchus and Old Hall Sauvignon Blanc.
The sparkling pink wine, Boudicca, has a special place in Rebecca’s heart. “Ten years ago I had breast cancer. I was 33 and still breastfeeding at the time. I was very well looked after by the NNUH (Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital) and have raised a lot of money for them over the years.
“I thought it would be nice to raise money for their Boudicca Appeal while we’re building the wine brand up – to pay something back.
“So the idea is £10 from every bottle goes to the appeal. We’re aiming to sell 1,000 bottles – raising £10,000 for the charity.”
Rebecca says Boudicca is “really refreshing” and “a bit too drinkable”.
“We can’t wait to try the wines when they’re made with our own grapes. If they’re as good as they are now, it will be fantastic.”
“We’re taking it [growing the vines] quite steady, aiming to take the grapes off after five years,” Rebecca reveals, adding they’re keen for Old Hall vineyard to be as natural as possible. There are talks of introducing Southdown sheep, and possibly geese to help keep pests off the vines. “We don’t want to use any sprays or fertiliser or other chemicals. It’s a ‘beyond organic’ system because organic farms can use sulphur and copper which aren’t great for the soil.
“It’s very much a French laissez faire approach here. And it’s fantastic to see the vines growing in such a natural way.”
Rebecca says she and Stuart have come into a bit of criticism for ‘doing it wrong’.
“But I’ve never let that stop me doing anything else over the years. The vines look really healthy. I’m sure they’re not going to be as ‘efficient’ as defined by someone else’s metrics, but we will have genuine terroir of the land, rather than something touched by chemicals.
“The vineyard is surrounded by fields of legumes and clover, which smells divine, and the vines will be fertilised by the clover. It’s like everything else we do here – as little intervention as possible.”
Vineyard tours and tastings will be popping up in July and August (keep an eye on the farm’s social media and website), and there will be a farm walk and tour on June 28 in association with Mind.
All the Old Hall wines, and a selection of other local wines, are available at the farm, and at the deli at Wroxham Barns.
If you fancy sampling your own wine, there’s also the opportunity to purchase vines at Old Hall, which will be cared for, pressed and bottled for you.
Find out more at oldhallfarm.co.uk