‘Perfect’ weather produces award-winning wine in Sheffield vineyard
With the rows and rows of ripening grapes, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in one of famous wine-growing regions of France.
But this is not Champagne - this is a well-known country pile just outside Sheffield.
Renishaw Hall Vineyard is growing grapes for wine in the same conditions as Champagne in France and Marlborough in New Zealand thanks to the rising temperatures caused by climate change.
Kieron Atkinson is the vineyard tenant and Winemaker at Renishaw Hall.
He said: “Over the last ten to 20 years the weather has changed hugely in this part of the world.
“Twenty years ago our weather was not perfect for growing fruit.
“We’ve seen temperatures be akin to what Champagne was twenty years ago, which means the weather is now perfect for growing Champagne grapes and sparkling wine varieties right here in the UK.”
Kieron’s wines now include Decanter World Wine award-winners and grapes grown to produce the still and sparkling wines include Madeleine Angevine, Seyval Blanc, Rondo, and Muscat.
“In regards to climate change and what that really means to us is by measuring growing degree days,” continued Kieron.
A ‘growing degree day’ is a measurement used in horticulture, representing a weather-based indicator used for assessing crop growth.
“It allows us to know how our region compares to more famous wine growing regions in the world,” Kieron explained.
“Where we were 25 years ago, at 650 growing degree days, to where we are now at around 900 is a big difference.
“We’re actually now the same as Champagne was 20 years ago and the same as Marlborough New Zealand today. Both places produce really fantastic sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.
“And we know because of the current weather we can produce the same here.”
On the hectare of land on which the vineyard sits makes a still white wine, a rosé and a red as well as sparkling white and rosé.
“We do have slightly different conditions, we won’t necessarily get lots of big fruit flavours but we get lovely soft balanced flavours,” said Kieron.
“More elderflower and citrus opposed to lychee and tropical.
“But it’s those citrus flavours that you really want in sparkling wine because that’s where you get the really lovely structure when you combine with age and yeast degradation.
“You then get cream, biscuit, honey and toast flavours.”
Kieron believes anyone could have the same success if they were to grow vines in the north of England.
He said: “We are winning so many awards here but that’s not to say that if someone put a vineyard down the road they wouldn’t win awards too because they would.
“It’s just about growing good-quality fruit which we know that we can do in this part of the world which is exciting.”
Even though the vineyard is small and tucked away down a farm lane, the scale of production is massive.
Kieron said: “We’ve got approximately 2,500 vines this year. In a good year we will get about five kilos per vine.”
His wines are sold in many local outlets - in Sheffield, they are stocked in Mitchells, Waitrose and will soon be on offer in the Co-op. They can also be bought directly at Renishaw.
He continued: “It’s all about quality, it’s the gentlest press and the finest juice to really make the best possible wine we can.”
Ex-army captain Kieron, 41, shifted his career from leading troops in Afghanistan to winemaking in 2010.
He said: “After nine fulfilling years in the army and tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, I had reached a point when I realised how lucky most of us are, that we can do pretty much anything we put our minds to.
“I wanted to do something new and different and knew I wanted to produce something myself, so I went to college to learn about winemaking and vineyard management.
“Years later and many thousand bottles of wine under my belt, it’s been a career shift I have found both challenging and extremely rewarding.”
Kieron attended Brighton University and got a degree in horticulture and winemaking while also volunteering at Renishaw Hall, pruning vines.
He has now been at the vineyard for nine years.
Kieron continued: “It’s a really exciting time it’s going to be a new industry for England and even though there are not many vineyards around the UK at the moment there will be many more coming.
“So it’s great to be at the start of something.
“Everything is about timing, picking perfectly ripe fruit with perfect sugars and acid then taking that fruit back to the winery pressing it as gently as possible and fermenting it in the best possible way.”
They ferment the wine at 14 to 15 degrees Celsius which provides a smooth character to the drink.
The vineyard was planted in 1972 by the late Sir Reresby Sitwell, father of the present-day owner of Renishaw Hall, Alexandra Sitwell. It has produced grapes for almost 50 years, making it one of the longest-established growing sites in the U.K.
For many years Renishaw Hall held the title of the ‘most northerly vineyard in the world’.
The vineyard is hosting wine tours this Sunday, July 21, and September 15. See www.englishwineproject.co.uk for details. Private tours also available.