Vineyard Blog

Royal Horticultural English Wine…?

Vineyard board 2

Noticeboard at RHS Wisley’s Vineyard

I finally made it to the vineyard at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley Gardens this week. A vineyard at Wisley, who knew? Well not the lady in the ticket office for one! To be fair, it is not very well known and the reason I had heard there was a vineyard is that Alex Valsecchi, vineyard manager at nearby Albury Organic used to be manager here.

If you don’t know RHS Wisley, it’s 60 acres of ornamental garden with educational and scientific roles, trials are conducted which ‘epitomise…the Society’s endeavour to show to the public the best kinds of plants to grow’ and remain one of the principal objects of the garden. That combination of learning with pleasure is the essence of Wisley. There is also a School of Horticulture founded to instruct young people in the principles of horticulture and prepare them for careers as professional gardeners. It’s situated at the junction of the A3 and M25 in Surrey.

Undulating Rows

Rows of Wisley vines in autumn sunshine

The appointed day was grey and drizzly, so I was expecting a quick nose at the vineyard, a bit more time in the glasshouse and then a bite of lunch.

However the sun came out just as I arrived and the sky was blue, so I met up with a friend and we followed the map and hot-footed it over to the vineyard in case the rain came back. The weather was on our side, though, and we were able to see the self-described “mini-vineyard” in its autumnal post-harvest glory.

RHS Garden Wisley - Autumn Map and Guide

Map of RHS Wisley showing the vineyard at top left

At just under half an acre, 756 vines planted in 2004 and trained on double guyot trellis enjoy a south-westerly-facing slope between orchards at the top and a wind-break of mighty trees below. There’s a small board explaining that “Reflecting the success of the English Wine Industry, the Wisley Vineyard demonstrates wine production on a small but commercial scale”. The last date for which figures are given there is 2008, when they harvested 3 tonnes.

The grape varieties grown are Phoenix, described as “aromatic and flavoursome” and Orion, which is sweeter. Both are mildew resistant and are often grown at charity / volunteer vineyards because of the relative ease of management. In good hands, though, they can make pleasant and drinkable white wines. Wisley’s wine is made by students at Plumpton College, the UK’s centre of excellence in wine education.

Juice in Plumpton Glass

Sample of newly fermented juice from Wisley’s 2014 harvest at Plumpton College

The grapes have only just been harvested, but I checked with Sarah Midgley, Plumpton’s winemaker, who reported that the juice has finished ferment and is tasting clean, so we can hope for a good vintage.

“Wisley Dry White” is not on offer in the restaurant or the cafés, which seems a shame, but bottles are for sale in the shop. The food and ambience in the café were excellent, though, and a massive improvement on last time I visited a few years ago.

Overall, Wisley is clearly not, and nor is it intended to be, a major wine destination, but the vineyard is certainly worth a visit when combined with the other attractions of the gardens.

It’s no secret that Brad Greatrix, winemaker at Nyetimber really enjoys visiting Wisley, so who better to sum up its attractions: “I love the diversity of plants – something is always in season… I go to learn, to relax, or just for fun…”

So there you are, enjoy a visit to RHS Wisley and you will be in good company. While you’re there, why not check out the vineyard, maybe have a bite to eat and take a bottle home, too?

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