A Warwickshire vineyard is celebrating its first restaurant listing in its nearest city at a time when many consumers are becoming interested in sampling locally produced food and drink, whilst local people wish to support local enterprises.
That is the opinion of Richard Le Page who, with his wife Jo, owns and runs Bearley Vineyard, in the eponymous village just north of Stratford-upon-Avon. Last month, the business secured a listing at Blue Bistro, a relaunched restaurant in Coventry’s medieval Spon Street.
Le Page, who combines working for a Midland-based leading High Street clothes business with running Bearley Vineyard, says: “Currently we supply about 15 local outlets. These include village shops and several local produce stores within garden centres, farm shops and National Trust sites.
“To supply Blue is a great opportunity to extend our catchment area to our nearest city. Their attitude towards English wine is most refreshing; many restaurants do not realise the extra appeal attached to local produce. Visitors to the area are interested in sampling locally produced food and drink, whilst local people wish to support local enterprises.”
Now that the 2011 harvest is safely gathered in, what predictions does Le Page have for likely production next year? He has a bullish outlook for likely quality next year, if not quantity.
He says: “One of the best bits of being a wine grower in England is dealing with the challenges that the weather throws at us. 2010 and 2011 really couldn’t have been much different from each other. 2010 gave us beautiful dry, warm and breezy weather during the critical flowering time in June/July which resulted in huge crops. 2011 was possibly the driest summer we can remember in Warwickshire, with no significant rain from May to September.
“The result was smaller grapes and therefore a less abundant crop, but the smaller grapes and some remarkably warm weather in September resulted in berries bursting with sugars and flavour which we are confident will produce some exceptional wines.”
The three-acre vineyard was created in 2005 on land which was once used as part of an RAF base and village cricket ground and lies on a gently sloping site is at the edge of the village. Whilst creating the vineyard, the family hand-planted over 1,500 native hedging plants as a windbreak and sowed grass between the rows to create the ideal sustainable microclimate for the vines.
Le Page is confident this attention to detail has paid off, saying: “Vines don’t like to be exposed to strong winds, so planting a hedge to act as a windbreak on the South and West borders has helped in this respect. Some of the local farms have, over the years, removed many of their hedges so we hope that in some small part we have helped reverse this trend.
“The grass swards between the rows were all sown by hand, for two main reasons. The first is environmental in that the grass prevents soil erosion in dry weather and compaction by machinery and footfall in wet weather. The second is purely that it is far more pleasant to work on a vineyard with a soft carpet of grass than one that is muddy and with great clods of earth. We use a mulching mower so that all the mowings are composted straight back to the vineyard.”
Bridge over troubled water
The Le Pages spent a lot of time deciding on the format of the vineyard’s label, basing the design, which is used uniformly across all wines, on a significant local landmark. This serves as an attractive totem for the brand and works to ground it in a specific locality.
Le Page says: “We decided to use our local landmark as the basis of the design. The landmark is the longest aqueduct in England which is within half a mile of the vineyard on the Stratford-upon-Avon canal. We asked a friend who is a local artist to paint the aqueduct. She transferred the watercolour original to Photoshop and we worked together on this to produce a clear, uncluttered retro image of the aqueduct in black, white and a third variable colour. By changing the third variable colour, sometimes with half tones, we can produce a label that identifies the product as Bearley wine, but different enough not to become predictable or boring.
“The label is one of the most critical factors that determine the success of a wine which is to be sold in shops. We most of all wanted the label to be eye-catching without being gaudy, and we wanted it to be adaptable such that we could use the same basic design with slight variations depending on the type of wine.”
The Le Pages are planning to add a pink sparkling wine of a similar merit to their Best Rosé Wine winner.
He says: “Following the success of the Regent grape in producing the best rose wine in the Mercian region, it seemed natural to progress to a sparkling rose from the same grape. Early indications are that it will produce a great sparkling wine – but we won’t know for sure for another 18 months!”