Wine-growing is a labour of love for Ian and Amanda Brown, of Brook Hill Vineyard in Bramshaw
WITH their sights set firmly on running a vineyard in France, Bramshaw couple Ian and Amanda Brown never imagined they would be making their own wine right here in the New Forest.
When Ian retired from his job as a scientist with British American Tobacco, he and Amanda wanted a passion project they could share in.
Their new home in Bramshaw, which they moved to in 2010, had acres of land but Ian had not considered the possibility it could be used to plant a vineyard until a friend from the industry planted the seed in his mind.
“It was never our intention to grow wine here,” Ian recalled. “But James Dodson from Vine-Works said this looked like a good site for doing just that. I hadn’t thought about it because I didn’t think it was feasible.
“Being a biochemist, the first thing I did was take soil samples and I found the ground, being gravelly, was perfect for vine growing. The site had good drainage, which is also important, and was south west facing so the grapes would get a lot of sunshine.
“Grapes like poor soil so the poorer the better – when you put the vines under stress they produce more fruit in order to survive.”
With the help of a local farmer and a team from Vine-Works, Ian and Amanda planted 2,500 vines in their two-and-a-half-acre field in just two days in 2012.
In 2017 they began selling their wine, which has won a host of awards including a silver in the national Wine GB awards.
A variety of grapes are grown at Brook Hill, including Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Bacchus, Dornfelder and Ortega. These are used to make a still and sparkling white wine, and Ian and Amanda have just this year produced a red, aged in a French oak barrel for nine months.
“It is not unusual to produce an English red wine, but it is perhaps unusual to make a drinkable one,” said Ian. “We are really pleased with this, though, and we have so far had really good feedback.”
Ian and Amanda oversee the entire wine-making process, from tending and harvesting the grapes to fermenting and bottling the wine.
“What we do here is very small scale and very sustainable,” explained Ian. “There are double the number of UK vineyards now than when we started out, but it’s still a small industry so it’s easy to get to know people and it’s a great environment in which to learn.”
Ian and Amanda have taken wine making courses run by Plumpton Agricultural College, and have also learned valuable skills through helping out at other vineyards.
“This is the best thing we have ever done,” said Ian. “You have to love it because you don’t make a lot of money from it – not on this scale anyway.”
Wine-making is a long and arduous process, says Ian, with much that can go wrong.
“The first job of the season is winter pruning,” he said. “Between January and March you cut the vine right back to its basic skeleton.
“In May the buds burst into life – this is when the vines are most susceptible to frost; but for us, being in a valley, this is less of a problem luckily.
“After more pruning – and vineyard management is a series of constant pruning – you choose your canes, and then it is a case of checking for disease and stripping leaves off to make sure the sun is getting to the grapes.
“Harvesting takes place between September and October, and we do that ourselves; we pick in the morning and press in the afternoon to ensure freshness.
“The juice is left in the tank to settle overnight and we add the yeast and nutrients the following morning.”
The primary fermentation takes between four and six weeks, and after the liquid is separated from the solids it is stored over the winter.
In April, the wine is blended and tasted before being filtered and bottled. To get sparkling, more yeast and sugar must be added to a still wine, which then undergoes a second fermentation over a minimum 18-month period.
“When you drink a bottle of wine you’ve created, knowing all the work that has gone into it, it’s tremendously satisfying,” said Ian.
Brook Hill wine is vegan, without additives, and sulphites are kept to a minimum.
“Some sulphites are needed to keep wine from going off, and you are allowed 200mg, but we use between 10 and 20 in our wine to ensure the flavour and aroma is as clean as possible.”
Brook Hill wine can be bought from various shops around the New Forest, including the Solent Cellar in Lymington, Page’s of Lyndhurst, Woodgreen Community Shop, the Gourmet Grocer in Fordingbridge and Shallowmead Farm Shop. It is also used by The Forest Foodie, which delivers hampers and picnics, and The Trough mobile horse box bar based in Sway.
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