It is difficult to write about English wine without paying tribute to the dedicated eccentrics who rescued a moribund industry in the early 1950's and turned it into a reasonably large-scale area of farming. The scale is still not comparable to Germany, France, Australia etc., but then where was the wine industry of Canada and New Zealand 30 years ago ? No government help is given, tax levels are over 1.20 sterling a bottle and with few exceptions - the most notable of which are Jancis Robinson and Jilly Goolden, the wine writers of our national magazines and newpapers sneer at English wine and its 'second class grape varieties' ( Incidently, German /English varieties such as Huxelrebe, Schonburger and Reichensteiner rarely need the addition of oak chips to give them some taste !)One magazine recently created an April fool joke about sales of 'oak chip bags' (rather like tea bags) designed to put in glasses of Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay

Major pioneers

Ray Barrington Brock 1907-1999
In 1946, set up scientific examination of grape varieties in 1946 to find varieties suitable for the British Climate. Published 'The Grape Vine in England' with Edward Hyams.He was responsible for setting up the Oxted Research Institute at his own expense.
Major Sir Guy Salisbury Jones
Planted 3 acre vineyard at Hambledon in Hampshire and produced the first commercial wine for 30 years. Gave the industry the impetus it needed, since Sir Guy , with his impressive diplomatic background, could not be classified as a total eccentric. The vineyard is still in production. Actually exported wine to Germany in 1973
Bernard Theobald
Planted Westbury vineyard near Reading in 1968 . At the time it was the largest in the country and used the Geneva Double curtain method, growing grapes, in his own words 'high, wide and handsome' He learned his craft from Professor Shaulis at New York State college of Agriculture. One of his claims was that Reading had a similar climate to Bordeaux and could produce red wines.
Bernard Theobald was a great character, who swept round his estate in a deerstalker hat and cloak, enthusing about his wines. Sadly he died in the late 1980s and his vineyard was grubbed up by the new owner.

Gillian Pearkes

Guyot trained vines at Court Lane, Hampshire
Gillian Pearkes established Yearlstone vineyard in Devon, and for years maintained a debate with Bernard Theobald on the merits of the Guyot training method against the GDC. Both are now sadly dead but the debate may still be going on ! She was a founder member of the English Vineyards Association in 1967, 4 years after she planted her first vineyard at the age of 18. Author of'Vinegrowing in Britain' published by Dent in 1982 A tribute to Gillian Pearkes is also available on the Yearlstone vineyard page

  • Lt. Colonel Robert and Mrs. Margaret Gore-Browne
    The Gore-Brownes established a vineyard in the Beaulieu estate in Hampshire in 1958. Margaret Gore Browne is author of several books including 'Lets plant a vineyard', published by Mills & Boon One of the premier English wine trophies is named after them. The vineyard was inherited by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and is now part of the Beaulieu estate.

    Major Colin Gillespie
    One of the few survivors of the early pioneers. He retired from the Royal Engineers in 1967 and set up the Wootton vineyard which had its first crop in 1973. Still very active as a wine maker, with many vineyards in the South-West sending their grapes to him for vinification. The vineyard has now been taken over and wine-making activities have ceased, and Colin is enjoying a second retirement.

    Of these pioneers, few are left. Colin Gillespie has retired from his retirement occupation. Richard Barnes at Biddenden no longer makes the wine, although he still owns the vineyard. Stephen Skelton is probably the best known. Of the long-term wine makers, having been making wine in several locations (latterly at Tenterden) for over 20 years. Of the producers, Malcolm MacKinnon at Hendred continued to produce excellent wine until his death in 2001. His original 1972 vineyard has been grubbed up but the new one, planted in 1990, is now in production. That is enthusiasm, given that he is a full-time company director in 'real life'. Bodenham too has been in production since 1971 on what its late founder, Keith James, described as 'the perfect site for a vineyard'. The sad feature of the English wine industry is that many vineyards are grubbed up when their owners retire. One of the best known examples of this is Bruisyard, where Ian Berwick, long a stalwart defender of the industry though his General Secretary role at the UKVA, retired in the early 2000s, at the same time earning a well deserved OBE for his services to viticulture. He now gazes out over bare fields once thick with his beloved Muller Thurgau vines.

    The tradition of handing vineyards down through the family, familiar in France, is slowly reaching this country. Both Camel Valley and Ridgeview have heirs taking an active part in the industry. For many others, the vineyards are grubbed up or sold. If anyone wants to buy a vineyard, there should always be a few available ! If I have missed out anyone that you think should be included on this page, please let me know .

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