Wines of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, a history then a taste

Jon Hurley

Meeting of 18 January 2018

The first evidence for wine growing in Britain is from the Roman period; the wine was cloudy, sour and acidic. Only the lower ranks of the army drank it, the leaders had better wine shipped in from Europe. It was much the same with the Benedictine monks later on, they let the lower orders drink the homegrown wine and imported better stuff for their own table. The Benedictines created some of the best vineyards in the World, and drank loads. Walls Hill, Ledbury was planted in 1289 by the Bishop. Dore Abbey records refer to the monks drinking. However, monasteries had pretty much given up winemaking in Britain even before the dissolution as it was such a thankless task. The best grape varieties do not ripen in our climate, and it is only recently that new varieties and concentration on cold climate grapes have improved our wines.

Most big country houses had vineyards by the early 20th Century. In 1875 the Marquis of Bute had three acres planted at Castell Coch vineyard near Cardiff. He sent his gardener, Pettigrew, to France for 3 months to learn about viniculture. In 1877 he had his first harvest – 240 bottles which were “fizzy, cloudy like good white wine” (all champagnes were cloudy at this time). Bad weather meant no harvests for the next few years.

Keith James, an ex-soldier, planted Reichensteiner grapes in 1971 at Broadfield Court, Bodenham after a romantic cruise down the Rhone with his wife. These vines bred for cold climates are still going.