FOLLOWING the announcement that Eden Food and Farming Festival will mark the official launch of the first Cumbrian grape wine, Gazette reporter Flossie Mainwaring-Taylor goes behind the scenes at the Eden winery where it is made to discover how it all started.
WHEN Ron Barker got his fellow sixth form pupils drunk on homemade wine in 1963, he never thought that more than 50 years down the line he would be producing the first Cumbrian grape wine in the county’s first and only winery.
But this month, the 68-year-old and his wife Angela, 67, will offer the public the chance to test out the rare tipple made at their High Cup Winery at Keisley, near Appleby.
The couple own just one of about 400 vineyards in the country and produce 4,000 bottles of wine a year, which are sold at their winery and across Cumbria as far north as Carlisle and even down into Lancashire at Preston’s Brockholes Nature Reserve.
“We’re not experts but we like wine and it’s just pocket money,” said Angela.
And while 4,000 bottles may sound a lot, Ron claimed that to make ‘real’ money they would have to make at least 12,000 bottles per year.
“Four million bottles of English wine are made every year, but that only makes up 0.03 per cent of the wine drunk in Britain!” added Ron.
Having moved from Birmingham to the Eden Valley in 2002 after Ron’s retirement from lecturing as a geophysicist at Birmingham University, and Angela’s retirement from teaching, the pair started making wine in 2007.
But the North West, not exactly renowned for its sunshine, dry or warm weather, has proven difficult for the duo to produce a huge amount of grape wine.
“We harvested grapes in 2006, a red grape called Rondo, before we went commercial, and that was the last good summer that we had.
“And we only have a very small vineyard with 100 vines,” said Ron.
So instead the wine enthusiasts, who insist they are ‘not experts’, branched out into different fruit wines and now make and sell raspberry, spiced beetroot, damson, elderberry, rhubarb, blackcurrant, apple and elderflower and apple wines.
However, last year Ron – who has in the past completed a course on wine making at Plumpton Agricultural College, Brighton – decided with Angela to give grape wine making another go.
Ron continued: “We were approached last year by someone in Appleby who had moved into a large house with a big conservatory that had grape vines growing in it. It was amazing, but they didn’t want them. We thought: ‘What if there are other people with grape vines like this?’, so put an advert out.”
With the success of their advert, the pair gathered enough grapes from greenhouses and conservatories across the Eden Valley, plus grapes from their own south-facing vineyard at the base of Keisley Bank, set between Murton and Dufton pikes, to produce 300 to 400 litres of wine.
And it is from this year’s harvest that the wine lovers have created Eden Dawn, a medium dry rose that has become the first commercial grape wine to have been produced in Cumbria.
“It’s just an experiment really, a novelty wine,” said Ron.
As well as 250 bottles of rose, the pair have also made 150 bottles of white from this ‘community grown wine’.
Priced at £10 (all their wines are £8 or £10), the pair describe the unique wine as being ‘pleasant and drinkable’.
Its official launch will be at the winery as part of the Eden Food and Farming Festival on Wednesday,July 23.
Visitors keen to try out the Eden Valley Rose and White wines should book a place and can drop in between 2pm and 5pm.
For more information about the festival and to book, visit www.edenfoodfestival.org.
Or for more information about Ron and Angela’s High Cup Winery visit www.highcupwines.co.uk.
- Arnside House, The Promenade, Arnside
- Low Sizergh Barn, Kendal
- The Eden Emporium, Kirkby Stephen
- Hesket Newmarket village shop
- Bojangles Bistro, Appleby
- The Bowness Deli and Sandwich Bar, Bowness
- Brockholes Nature Reserve, Preston
- Cranstons Cumbrian Food Hall, Penrith
HOW THE WINE IS MADE
- Grapes crushed and sterilised
- Juice extracted
- Sugar and nutrients added and mixed in tank
- Yeast added (start of fermentation)
- Grape skins removed after a few days
- Wine pumped off (end of fermentation after one month)
- Wine stabilised and allowed to settle
- Wine filtered (settling and clearing takes about six months)
- Wine bottled (after six months to one year)