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Blue Cheese and Bubbles

In an area famed for its blue cheese and meat pies, Hanwell Wine Estate is looking to add something else to a list of local products – English sparkling wine. In the delightfully named village of Hickling Pastures in south Nottinghamshire, Will and Helenka Brown’s 8 acre vineyard lies near the Leicestershire border. It’s less than 5 miles to 4 out of just 6 dairies permitted to produce Blue Stilton (in the villages of Cropwell Bishop, Colston Bassett, Long Clawson and Saxelby) and a couple of miles further away is Melton Mowbray, the home of the pork pie.

Vines dormant in the rain.

Dormant vines in the rain.

The vineyard was planted with 8,000 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines in 2012. The plot slopes gently down to the Old Dalby railway test track which runs along the south western edge of the property, the proximity of which accounts for some incongruous sights such as a brand new London Tube train parked beyond the vines.

Helenka’s father is the award-winning wine maker Tony Skuriat, whose beautifully unctuous North Star dessert wine is a favourite among English wine aficionados (and just happens to go rather well with blue cheese). Tony has made the first vintage of Hanwell’s fizz, which is currently lying on its lees at the Skuriat’s nearby Eglantine Vineyard. Produced from a blend of grapes from the inaugural 2015 harvest, the first 500 bottles of this are due to be disgorged in September this year for release in 2018, an event I’m very much looking forward to.

Mind the gap!

Mind the gap! Tube train and frost hoover.

While waiting for their first wines to be made available, the team at Hanwell are busy making the vineyard a popular place to visit, offering a range of tours and imaginative arts and craft workshops. These include drawing, oil painting, poetry, weaving and foraging. Wildlife is a common theme, with dawn chorus walks and a children’s bug safari, and visitors are welcome to follow the nature trail through the vines and down to the lake at the bottom of the vineyard. Will and Helenka are keen to encourage wildlife and the lake will be stocked with fish, hedgehogs will be housed and owl nest boxes are being put up in the trees. I doubt that many of the people who will walk around the vineyard will spot the ‘frost hoover’ which was pointed out to me though. After losing the grape crop to frost in 2014, father-in-law Tony (who once built his own manual gyropalette at Eglantine) came up with a method to suck the frost from the vineyard and down to the lake with a large fan in front of a concrete culvert which has so far been largely successful.

Welcome to Hanwell.

Welcome to Hanwell.

On regular open days, visitors can enjoy a guided tour followed by a tasting of wines from a couple of nearby vineyards – Eglantine, obviously, and Walton Brook, near Loughborough.  Soon Hanwell’s own wines will be offered and longer term the plan is to be able to convert farm buildings to house a winery on site; there’s also scope to expand the current planting to around 35 acres. Various other buildings offer plenty of scope to hold a tasting room, cellar door shop, workshop and event space, and Will and Helenka certainly seem to have the necessary vision to make this a reality.