Friday, 22 February 2013

A visit to a Yorkshire vineyard

Yorkshire - a word that summons an image of beautiful rolling hills, rain, men in flat caps with whippets, stone-clad villages, Last of the Summer Wine, penny-pinching individuals, nice pie and a good pint of ale.

Tuscany - a word that summons an image of rolling hills, sunshine, good food, beautiful white-washed villages, podgy, old Italian ladies and lots and lots of vineyards, which of course equals lots and lots of wine.

These are two places which probably couldn't sound much more different. But, believe it or not, a Yorkshire vineyard isn't an oxymoron - it actually exists. In a little village just outside of Holmfirth (where Last of the Summer Wine was filmed), lies a little slice of Tuscany - seven acres of vine covered land that blend into the Pennines. Holmfirth Vineyard is home to over 7,000 vines and four different types of grape - all of which cling to its steep slopes and battle the snow, wind and rain to form one of the highest and most northerly vineyards in the world.

Thanks to a Christmas present of a Livingsocial voucher for a tour of the vineyard and afternoon tea from my lovely cousin Claire, Ash and I found ourselves battling the snow(!) and bitter cold to learn why on earth anyone would choose to produce wine in Yorkshire, and see if what's produced is actually 'quaff-able' (a word that's up there in my top five favourites ever, right next to plethora).

Getting to Holmfirth Vineyard without a car was an adventure in itself - one that required a train, a bus and a fifteen minute walk up a narrow, country 'road' (read perilous lane) that scales a pretty ginormous hill - all in the snow. By the time we'd reached the vineyard, which appears out of nowhere after a sharp turn in the road, a glass of wine or ten was definitely in order to help us recover and thaw out.

We were welcomed into the gorgeous restaurant-cum-visitors centre where we took a seat to wait until the tour of the vineyard began. The building is glass-fronted and the restaurant - which is beautifully simple - has wonderful views out over the Holme Valley - perfect for visiting just for a spot of lunch or a cup of tea if vineyards aren't your thing. We happily waited for fifteen minutes or so, watching the snow fall outside and admiring the views.

By the time the tour started, we had warmed up enough to want to brave the outdoors again. Led by Matt -who had previously been a wine merchant before he started working for the vineyard last year - the tour took us on a journey from the romantic story of how the vineyard was started by a husband and wife team who knew little to nothing about wine but wanted to escape to the country, right through to describing the vine pruning process and the difficulties that the vineyard has experienced due to the British weather.

Matt's passion for English wine shone through throughout the tour. Although it's still really young and has a way to go (about ten years or so) until the vines are anywhere close to maturing, the vineyard is clearly a real labour of love for everyone who works on it. The seven thousand vines were planted by hand in a particularly bleak winter by Ian and Bec - the owners - after their original plans to source the work to a company in Luxembourg had fallen through in 2008. The vineyard really is a completely unique place - one that's fueled by the owners' willingness to understand the intricacies of the wine making process, willingness to collaborate with other British wine makers and vineyards and a passion to take real risks to make it a success.

After half an hour in the cold, it was definitely time for some wine, so we headed into the winery for an explanation of the bottling process and an all important quaffing session. Matt was completely honest about the quality of the fruit that had been produced from last year's harvest - perhaps not the best batch ever due to the wettest summer in over a hundred years, and one that the vineyard would have to be quite creative with in order to make it commercially viable. Although the wine we tasted wasn't quite ready to be bottled yet and it was therefore quite acidic - it was very drinkable. Starting with a white grape Solaris, which was crisp, dry and elderflowery, we moved onto two Ros├ęs that had bags of potential. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wine - if I found a bottle of Holmfirth Vineyard wine in my local Tesco, I'd buy it!

We rounded off our very enlightening trip with a spot of afternoon tea in the restaurant. Although portion sizes were a tad on the stingy side (three sandwich fingers, half a scone, half a flapjack and half a chocolate tart each) and the restaurant was under-staffed, the food was fresh and completely avoided the stale bread factor that's often synonymous with bad afternoon teas. A special shout out must go to the scones which were exceptionally soft, delicious and still warm - top marks. It's a shame that it wasn't possible to buy Holmfirth Vineyard wine at the restuaraurant, as we definitely could have gone through another few glasses! Instead we made do with a glass of sparkling wine and a cup of tea that went down very well indeed.

With that we bid the little slice of Tuscany in Yorkshire goodbye and headed back down the winding lane to catch the bus back to Huddersfield. Our visit exceeded all expectations, and the vineyard is a seven acre case study that shows that sometimes going out on a whim with a seemingly crazy idea can pay real dividends. Not sure if it's something I'd ever be brave enough to do, but massive kudos goes to owners Ian and Bec for doing their very best to make it work. I'm already planning a trip in the summer to see the vines in full fruition!


  1. Great photos - they definitely make me miss Yorkshire's scenery!

    Vanessa x

  2. Aw, thanks Vanessa - I bet you don't miss the cold, though! x