As I drove down the dusty gravel drive, I thought how little the track had probably changed since the First Century AD when the ancient drovers were nearing a welcome stop on their travels with their sheep. Then the irony of my thoughts struck me as I looked back in my rear-view mirror at the clouds of dust following my once shiny Tesla. I had been invited for my first visit to my friends Nigel and Lesley’s vineyard. Nigel is also an Old Cheltonian, and equally entrepreneurial as I.
Having gingerly navigated several farm tracks, and having wished I had brought my four-wheel drive, I arrived at the vineyard. True to form there were Nigel and Lesley (and dog) buried amongst vines, with their shears lovingly snipping branches, and looking rather hot in the unseasonably late September sun.
Nigel and Lesley, not satisfied with running several successful companies, decided in 2015 to create their own artisan vineyard on the lower slopes of their land overlooking the beautiful Cotswolds. The slopes were perfect for wine growing as the side of Dryhill has three terraces dating back to 76AD below the Roman Villa Rustica which once stood. This was where the sheep drovers used to stop for food and rest bite on the way to Stroud market. It is believed that they are reinstating a vineyard that was probably here many years ago, and which had been a long-lasting dream of theirs. The hill was called ‘Dryhill’ apparently as an ironic joke because the hill has an abundance of natural springs across it making it perfect for wine making. And now the hills are certainly not ‘dry’ as Nigel and Lesley are due to harvest 5 tonnes of grapes which will make over 5,000 bottles of sparkling wine in the near future.
As I follow Nigel around the vineyard, which is approximately ten acres in total, I started to realise how much passion and dedication both Nigel and Lesley have for their creation. They refuse to use any machinery or artificial fertilisers on the grapes. Everything is done by hand, including pruning and de-leafing for several days a week, rain or shine. No machinery is found here. Seaweed is sprayed on the vines as natural fertiliser instead of chemicals. There are twenty-five lines in total which include grapes grown for Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and, unusually Chardonnay. Nigel and Lesley were the first to try growing Chardonnay in the Cotswolds, and against the odds (and naysayers) Nigel and Lesley managed to do it successfully making them truly unique. Nigel squeezed the insides of a Chardonnay grape to show me how to tell if the grape is ready for harvest. Their onlooking dog, Bibi looked as confused as I did.
Sadly, my time at Dryhill Vineyard was coming to an end so I decided to take some pictures for prosperity, including of a cheeky and very delicious glass of wine at the end. As I drove back up the dusty drive towards normality as the sun went down over the fields, I couldn’t help feeling jealous at the obvious happiness this mad project gave them. During lockdown I’m sure it had helped eradicate any feeling of isolation too in this other worldly place.
My hat off to them both for creating such truly wonderful artisan bubbly, while adding to the history and craftsmanship of their land.
Written by Stephen Shortt. Copyright 2020.