AN ambitious planting programme will begin in Beaulieu this April as the team behind the New Forest Fruit Company set their sights on becoming a significant local wine producer.
The East Boldre-based company is one of the UK’s major strawberry producers, supplying five major supermarket with locally grown crops between April and early December.
Last year, owner and managing director Sandy Booth took over the tenancy of Beaulieu vineyard, which was previously run by the Beaulieu Estate, and this spring his team will plant up to 4,000 new Bacchus and Chardonnay vines which will then take around three years to reach maturity.
There are currently around 1,200 vines at Beaulieu vineyard, which produced around 40 bottles of wine last season. However, if production goes well the annual output could increase to 5,000 bottles a year by 2025.
Sandy said: “It is a long-term investment – from the vines we plant this year it will be 2024 before we pick our first crops.”
The current vineyard, which is over 20 years old, is made up of vines spaced at four meter intervals; however, modern growing techniques mean that new vines will be planted two meters apart – doubling the potential yield.
Sandy said: “Obviously our main focus is strawberries – but this is another bolt on to the business. We have years of experience growing excellent, quality products and I’ve always fancied dabbling in wine – so when the opportunity arose we decided to go for it.”
As well as expanding the vineyard at Beaulieu, Sandy and his team are set to experiment with growing red grapes at the main farm in East Boldre.
“Our plan is to plant six varieties of grapes in April and May back here at Newhouse,” he said.
“They say that reds don’t really grow well here but the reason I want to try it is we grow strawberries in tunnels – everyone turns their nose up at vines being grown in tunnels but I enjoy a challenge.”
Alongside the experimental crop of red grapes will be a variety of white grape called Gewürztraminer – which is a soft skinned grape typically grown in the south of France.
Sandy said: “I like the wine so I’m going to have a go – just have a play with it. We will plant up about an acre and see how it goes. If the vineyard goes well at Beaulieu there is scope for additional planting at our East Boldre site in the future.”
Once the new vines at Beaulieu have reached maturity, the existing vineyard will also be replanted with a combination of Bacchus and Chardonnay grapes spaced at two metre intervals.
Sandy said: “We sell our strawberries to five major supermarkets so we already have our contacts and hopefully if our wine is good enough we could be selling direct to them in five years’ time.
“It will certainly be a bit of trial and error for a couple of years but if you can get a good name and produce a good wine then you can do well as an English wine producer. We have tried many different crops over the years so we certainly have the growing expertise.”
During his annual report into life on the Beaulieu Estate published last autumn, Lord Montagu wished the New Forest Fruit Company well in the new enterprise. He said: “It is my earnest hope that Sandy’s expertise in fruit production will enable him to make a success of the vineyard, which was a loss-maker for many years when we ran it in-house.”
For more information about the New Forest Fruit Co. see www.newforestfruit.com