I'm writing this on a campsite in the village of Villegly, just north of Carcassonne. This afternoon we're going to visit the lady who kicked off my wine journey, Wendy Gedney, who lives just up the road in Villeneuve-Minervois. It's only 10 minutes away by bus for the princely sum of one euro.
We've worked it out that it was probably in 2009 we first met Wendy, when we were staying in Pepieux, a few miles east of here and, incidentally, the end of bus route A from Carcassonne. At the time she was just starting her business and then it was mainly just a summer thing. Now she's fully integrated, I think.
It's going to be interesting catching up. For a start, Wendy's settled in her newly renovated home with her man, and she appears to have stepped back from the day to day leading of tours with her company, Vin En Vacances.
I last saw a few years ago when we worked on some publicity for her book about the vineyards of the Languedoc. She told me back then she had a plan to write a bodice-ripper novel, too. If she's anything like me, I imagine something might have distracted her along the way. All that to find out!
As you can imagine, travelling through France it's hard to avoid a vineyard or 3,000. We drove through the Loire Valley and later to Saint-Émillion, pictured in the gallery above.
The one thing I've noticed in comparison to the relatively young vineyards of Shropshire, is how mature the vines are, and how close to the ground. We've seen little or no sign of high trellising at all.
You arrive in Saint-Émillion through a sea of vineyards. Everything's green and as you drive through there are signposts to the competing domaines on either side of the road.
The town is dominated by its wine industry and I had an interesting conversation with the owner of one well-stocked shop overlooking a busy brasserie packed with people under parasols in the sunshine of a scorching day.
He was astonished to hear that there were vines growing commercially as far north as Shropshire and assumed production must be solely based on sparkling. I was happy to put him right and he was more than happy to share information about his locality too.
Coming down to the Languedoc region again, we came through vineyards even on the short trip from Carcassonne to Villegly. Much more to see, I'm sure.
I'll keep you posted.
Here's where our recent acquisition of a motorhome combines with promoting Shropshire's vineyards. I've created an interactive map on Google Maps which not only shows the location of local vineyards, but suggests routes between them. It also includes a list of touring sites for visitors to the area and, if you're so inclined, a list of overnight pub stops, too. I intend to update and improve it in the coming weeks, so check back,
It's always great to come across a surprise, and to discover a new addition to the family of vineyards in Shropshire and on the near border. So it was great to meet Jane and Stevie Wilcox from Pattingham Vineyard at the super-busy Much Wenlock Xmas Fayre yesterday.
Jane and Stevie were doing swift business with their brand new 2021 offerings - including a red that Jane says is one of the coming grape varieties set to flourish in the English climate.
The website Victoriana describes the Divico grape like this:
Bred in Switzerland in the late 1990s, and released for planting in 2013, Divico is attracting a lot of attention among UK growers looking for a grape that will produce a full-bodied red wine, reminiscent of a Pinot Noir. A cross between Gamaret (itself a cross between Gamay and Reichensteiner) and Bronner, Divico named for an ancient Gallic chieftain who led his people into battle against Julius Caesar. Naturally resistant to many fungal diseases, including mildew, powdery mildew and grey mould, Divico thrives in the humid UK climate, and is well suited to more northerly climes.
I managed to grab one of the last bottles of 'Rudge Heath 2021' on Pattingham's stall at Much Wenlock, along with a bottle of their Moor Meadow Rosé, a blend of Solaris and Pinot Noir Precoce.
Martin, Jane and Stevie Wilcox bought their land on the edge of the South Staffordshire village of Pattingham, between Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth, in 2016.
The land is served with natural spring water and has free-draining sandy soil which slopes gently south and what started as four acres is now 12, making it one of the more substantial vineyards in the locality. In 2021 they took their first harvest, producing around 30,000 bottles of their Rosé, the Divico and Pinot Noir Precoce reds, plus a Solaris white. They grow other varieties, too, including Seyval Blanc.
Find out more, here.
You can visit their beautiful website, here.
It's all go in the vineyards of Shropshire as a combination of warm, then wet weather has seen the whole county start to green up in an eruption of new life.
I've been helping out with tours and tasting at Hencote over recent weeks and it's been noticeable from weekend to weekend how much the vines have progressed in a relatively short time. I swear you can almost hear them breathing.
Hencote have just launched their new Vivienne estate white, which is a blend of 83% Solaris and 17% Chardonnay. It's a little more alcohol heavy than Hencote's usual offerings, coming in at 12.5% ABV, and it's definitely going down well in the tastings.
Congrats to Hencote, too, on the IWC Silver Medal for their 2019 Evolution Sparkling, which leads the wines available in the tastings and gets the the sessions underway in a light and bubbly fashion.
I'm really enjoying meeting people on the tours. Most are there for a good time and happy to be informed and entertained. Surprising where they come from, too. In recent weeks we've had groups from as far away as Essex and Yorkshire.
I know from my sister-in-law, Sam, and her wife Suzy, who went to Kerry Vale for a birthday treat on Sunday, that Russ and Jan Cooke provide a really informative tour and tasting, too. I was interested to compare presentations between the two venues. Sam and Suzy really enjoyed their visit - especially the cheeseboard which made them a little late for lunch in Ludlow - and they even saw the Rondo vine my wife, Cal and I sponsored a while back. I haven't seen it yet, so we'll have to head back soon.
Rob and Laura Windsor have just launched their tour season at Colemere. I was hoping to pay them a visit sometime soon, too and I wish them well. Of course, the Haywoods are in full flow at Astley, too.
No update would be complete, however, without a word or two about the vin-twins, the fabulous Evans sisters Mel and Zoe, who continue to innovate at Rowton. They held their first in-vineyard event on Sunday. I was hoping to be there but family took precedence on this occasion. The twins have recently launched their 2021 Solaris, which I'm also hoping to try soon.
Roy Williams is a former journalist, systems editor and has his name in small letters as the editor of a book about big data. You can see where the wine comes in...