Dunleavy Vineyards





Through the Bristol foodie network, I heard about a vineyard south of Bristol, where award winning rose was being made. My ears pricked up at the prospect of delicious local wine made mere miles from my doorstep, and soon I found myself in the beautiful Wrington Vale on the hunt for Ingrid and her vineyard.

An elderly border collie with a wagging tail greets me from his station in the boot of a car, a sure sign of good things to come. Ingrid pops her head over the gate to say hi, and I enter Dunleavy Vineyard. Rows of vines stretch across the field, growing up and onto wire stretched between metal posts. It’s early April when I visit and Ingrid is in the midst of pruning, but takes a break to chat to me. We sit, cradling cups of rooibos on the step of her shipping container shed, and talk about how the vineyard began.

After studying Biology at University, Ingrid found herself working at the natural history unit in Bristol, but quickly realised it wasn’t the path she wanted to take. “I thought about what could I do that I would really enjoy day to day,” she tells me, “And I thought I'd quite like gardening; being outdoors and it’s a nice productive thing to do.” Through a friend, she ended up gardening at Thornbury Castle, a hotel and restaurant in South Gloucestershire. She sips her tea and continues; “They had a vineyard there which is one of the oldest vineyards in the country; it's quite small, but nobody was looking after it. So I asked the manager if I could look after it and he said yes.” She got someone to show her the basics, and soon found herself looking after it for the next 6 years. “One day I just thought I'd really to do this for myself, so I started saving up,” she explains. Unfortunately, land around Bristol is expensive to buy, and after realising she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the land and set up the vineyard, she found a supportive local landowner who’s given her a long term lease on the field. And why rose? “The vineyard I looked after at Thornbury Castle produced a white wine, and I thought I'd quite like to do something a bit different. I just loved the idea of creating a single product that was really lovely and I could market really well.”

The vineyard is an impressive site, with 2500 vines stretching in long rows down the field; a combination of Pinot Noir and Seyval grapes. “The Pinot Noir vines were planted in 2008,” she continues, “And although you have to wait about 3 or 4 years before you get any grapes, you have to come and do all the management anyway. It's quite a long process!” These vines make up about 2/3 of the vineyard, and while they produce a lovely wine, they are very low yielding. The Seyval vines are only 1-2 years old, and so just beginning to produce, and are a much higher yielding variety. Her hope is that these new vines will help increase the production capacity of the vineyard, which currently sits at around 2000 bottles a year. 


We walk out into the vineyard and Ingrid explains the process to me. “Right now, most people are just coming to the end of their pruning”, she begins as we walk down one of the rows. “You start the pruning around Christmas time and it just takes a long time. Some people blitz it and get teams of people in. I just do it all on my own, bit by bit, gradually over the winter.” The vines start really growing in April/May, and as they grow, they get tucked into the wires that run between the posts. “By July time, they're at the tops of the wires, so you trim off the tops, and in the mean time, there's side shoots like you get on tomatoes, and you have to pull some of those off. The idea is to maximise the air flow; keep the air flowing underneath, down the middle and through the leaves, so you don't want really dense leaf canopies, as if you leave too much on you can get mildew.”

The flowers form a couple of inches from the base of the stems; “They look like tiny little brocolli florets!” Ingrid points out. “The little tiny flowers open, but only for a couple of weeks, and they're wind pollinated, so it all hangs on that couple of weeks.” It’s nervous few weeks until you can see how well they’ve set and whether each little flower has formed a little grape. They start swelling and growing, then undergo a process called veraison. “They change colour and they stop growing, and start producing sugars,” she continues. “With the pinot, you can see them starting to go pink and then dark red which is really lovely. And with the white varieties, when they start going through that process they start going slightly translucent, and you can see inside them a bit more.”

The grapes are normally ready in late September, early October. “Every year is different, and I'm learning if I leave my Pinot on into October, I start getting problems with starlings,” Ingrid explains, pointing out the electricity wires running across the edge of the field that the birds love to sit on. She calls on friends and neighbours to come and help with the picking. “The thing with picking is that the more people you get to come and help, the more fun it is for them because you can just do the whole lot. This year we did the whole lot for a few hours. So far we've been lucky with the weather every time we've done the harvest too, which makes a massive difference.” The grapes are then taken over to the wine maker near Shepton Mallet. “They go straight into a machine which is a de-stemming machine, so you're tipping the grapes in and there's this giant corkscrew thing, and it's got blades on it, and out one side comes perfect stalk with no grapes on, and down the other side is all the juice and pulp. Then it gets pumped down this pipe into a big silver press, which forces all the juice out. Then the whole lot gets pumped into a big stainless steel tank.” Ingrid keeps in regular touch with the wine maker, talking about what kind of wine she wants to produce that year. The advantage of the varieties she chose is that they can be blended, or kept separate depending on whether she wants to make a rose, or use the Seyval to make sparkling wine.

The wine making process takes just over 6 months. “We leave it with him in October, and it's ready the following April.” She’s been selling out every year, and is hoping to start making a sparkling wine from the Seyval too. “It takes a lot longer to make though, as you leave it in the bottle for a minimum of 18 months,” she points out. She initially just sold to Grape and Grind, the independent wine shop on Gloucester Road, and now sells to a number of farm and independent shops, as well as a range of local restaurants, including a few down in London. She’s got her own license so she can sell directly to customers, and has been working on getting a license for the cafe next to the vineyard so the wine can be sold there.

So where is Dunleavy Vineyard headed? “I'd like to buy a little bit of land to get some more security. I'm quite persistent, and I'm working my way around local landowners and just chatting with them, and some of them like the idea of someone wanting to use the land and creating jobs rurally, rather than just buying things for investment purposes.” 

I grab some photos before we leave, knowing I’m not seeing the vineyard at its finest, but excited to have had the chance to pop by. Ingrid continues with her pruning, and I’m captivated as I watch her select which branches to keep and which to prune; she hits her stride and the pile of discarded branches grows beside her as I watch, fascinated by the rhythm of the cutting and tying. 

A few weeks later the 2015 wine is ready and I find myself tucking into my first bottle of that year’s wine. It is, quite simply, delicious.

Find out more: http://www.dunleavyvineyards.co.uk