Seyval Blanc - "a French hybrid varietal that is famous for its resistance to cold."
When Terry Churchward was looking to plant vines in his half acre Penygarn Lane plot four years ago, he chose the Seyval Blanc grape. When blended with Madeleine Angevine, this produces a dry crisp still white wine with a fruity bouquet, similar to Chenin Blanc.
Terry faced many challenges along the way, not least of which being that vines are rarely successfully grown at a height of above 200 metres in the UK. His plot, at 180 metres, was close to the limit!
Undaunted, he planted 288 vines in April 2009, protected them with rabbit guards and trained them to reach four spurs per vine on the top wires. Three years later, he was ready with his first crop. However, the sodden summer of 2012 gave only a small yield which failed to develop fully and which had to be dumped. Not a good start ...
2013 has been quite different: a warm and sunny summer enabled 340 lb of good grapes to be harvested and 115 bottles of wine have now been produced. He hopes that by 2015, weather and disease permitting, a full crop will produce around 800 bottles.
The grapes are sent to the Three Choirs Winery at Newent for wine making. However, their press capacity is one ton of grapes and this determines the minimum weight they will process at a time. Smaller quantities are thus processed as a communal batch using the same vine grapes, so Terry's wine is not yet unique to Penallt and he looks forward to the time when he can supply the necessary ton!
So, what does it take to create such a vineyard? Terry says "It cost around £2000 to set up my vineyard, including hire of post knocking, vines, wire, canes, posts, spraying chemicals, (classified as organic), a spraying bowser motored by my ride-on mower, and various accessories.
The workload is moderate - intensive at harvesting in October and pruning in March. A few sprays during the summer, keeping the grass down, and constant tying up/training as the vines grow."
Red tape, in the shape of avoidance of duty and VAT for under a quarter of an acre, means that he is not allowed to sell his wine. However the wine is very drinkable and he has a very extensive family and friends who are already clamouring for crates; 800 bottles can soon disappear!
Terry acknowledges the help and support that he's had from his vine suppliers and from other growers, amongst whom there is an aspiration to promote Monmouthshire as the "Winelands of Wales".
Terry with his newly planted vines
Part of the 2013 harvest!