“The bunches are eye-level for him, and the fruit is so sweet that I can’t stop him from eating half the crop.”
Some vineyards have issues with birds or wasps, but a ravenous toddler is a first for me.
Once a lettuce farm where Art’s dad produced the UK’s first Icebergs for Marks and Spencer, Tinwood is now an acclaimed 120 acres of vineyard with a long-term, sustainable approach to winemaking.
It’s that long-term thinking that helped Tinwood make the switch from greens to grapes in the first place, as Art begins to tell me:
“It was on one of these trips to California that he first saw iceberg lettuces. These were fresh and crunchy, and totally different to the limp, loose-leafed lettuces you could buy in the UK at the time. Nobody in England was growing them, so when he came back, he rented 20 acres of land and started growing iceberg lettuces to sell to M&S, and it became a phenomenon.”
Art was born on the farm and from a young age knew that he wanted to take over the family business. He studied agriculture at university in Kent and believed he “was destined to become the country’s greatest lettuce farmer.”
Then in 2005, just a year before Art graduated, Dad suddenly announced that with increased costs and competition there was no future in growing lettuces, so he was going to sell the business and retire. Aged just 21, Art had to decide what to do with the farm. It was a blank canvas. He could do whatever he wanted. He just couldn’t grow lettuces.
The year being 2005, and the location being in Kent, a few vineyards were starting to pop up. Art visited Chapel Down and got talking to the winemaker, asking if the well-drained, sunny, and chalky soils of Tinwood farm could be suitable for growing vines too. “You’re on to an absolute winner,” was the answer.
Art went home and told Dad he had “a wild idea”, Dad said “I love a wild idea.”
A year later, and his university degree completed, Art headed off to New Zealand to spend a year learning about cool climate grape growing. His teachers? Mike and Claire Allen – early pioneers of Cloudy Bay and subsequently founders of Huia Estate. Not bad mentors.
And it wasn’t just viticulture he learnt about. Art “loved the whole Kiwi philosophy – the openness, how to treat your staff, how to welcome people to the estate. Always being open to trying something new – not just doing things according to the book or the way they have always been done.”
But in 2007, nobody in the UK was buying grapes for sparkling wine, and Tinwood had no winery or winemaker. That’s how Tinwood’s connection with Ridgeview was formed – by investing in Ridgeview and helping them to expand their winery, they created a customer for their grapes and a link to an award-winning winemaking team. And the rest is history.
Well, not quite….
A lot has changed in English wine since 2007, when it was commonly understood that the biggest problem faced by an English vineyard was fully ripening its fruit. Also commonly understood was that a bare soil without any weed growth would be dark and would therefore have more heat in it for ripening fruit. So, for the first six or seven years, the vineyard was “like a desert underneath the vines.”
Since then, Art has become passionate about soil health and completely turned his vineyard around – it’s a key part of his philosophy of thinking long-term. He encourages wildflower growth between rows and deliberately plants a variety of deep-rooting plants underneath the vines.
“You can see the insects and wildlife within it and that helps the vines,” Art says. “There are bees now and they thrive on the plant biodiversity. We make our own honey. Worms and the bacterial health of the soil are now so much greater, and this in turn makes the vines healthier. They’ll produce better fruit and have a longer life.”
“That they can come and visit, meet the owners, walk the vines. We like to have fun, have a glass of wine and be relaxed. We don’t take ourselves massively seriously, but we want to offer the best product we can. It’s a Kiwi ethos that we want to represent in the UK.
“You’re not going to see us in branded clothing and name badges like a Champagne house – our staff are much more relaxed – but we like to think that what we offer is just as good.”
That works for us.
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