Winemaking in the county dates back to Roman times but today Northamptonshire is more renowned for its beer and gin production. However, in a field in the village of Blisworth, wine producers have started the fightback.
A small family vineyard is marking its tenth anniversary in the best way possible after winning the Best Sparkling Blend award from Wine GB, the UK body for grape growers and winemakers.
Stonyfield Wine also received the Dudley Quirk Trophy for its wine, made from grapes grown in a single field on a south-facing slope of spoil left behind after the building of the Grand Union canal and nearby Blisworth Tunnel in the late 18th century.
The first vines were planted in 2011 and Stoneyfield Wine partner John Vaughan is delighted that the wine has been recognised at national level alongside wines from larger vineyards in the south of England.
“We are flattered and frankly amazed to be both the first small and only Midlands-based vineyard to receive this national trophy and all the more so when you appreciate that the land on which the vines now flourish was once simply an old, stony field with no obvious use,” said Mr Vaughan.
The award celebrates the Best Sparkling Blend, a category for wines made using the traditional champagne method but not restricted to classic champagne grapes. Stonyfield grows both Pinot Noir, a traditional champagne grape, and Seyval Blanc, a variety which thrives in England. When blended, they produce a wine with complexity, depth and quality.
Mr Vaughan and his wife Prue manage the vineyard with Belinda Brown. The vineyard was created in 2011 as a memorial for Belinda’s husband Mick, who died in 2010 and who had for many years been encouraging them to plant a vineyard on the site. The first harvest was made in 2013.
“The field has been in our family for generations,” said Mr Vaughan. “It has been a steep learning curve but we love what we do and are always delighted by the positive feedback we regularly receive for our wines. We have won awards every year since we started, but winning this trophy is the pinnacle.”
The annual harvest is small, as low as 500-600 bottles but there are 2,000 bottles of the Stoneyfield Sparkling White 2017 that won the vineyard the trophy. It will sit alongside the gold in the Artisan Local Drink of the Year category in the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2020-21.
“The vines flourish on this terroir and our grapes are consistently of a very high quality,” said Mr Vaughan. The wine is made in partnership with wine-maker Halfpenny Green, based at Bobbington in Staffordshire.
“We work very closely with them to design the wine we want each year,” said Mr Vaughan. “They have over 40 years of experience growing vines and have developed a very professional winery, producing many award-winning wines.
“We are hugely grateful to them for all the advice and support they have given us since we started.”
Jonathan Lewis right, of category sponsor Boxes and Packaging (Oxford) presents the award to John Vaughan, his wife Prue left and Belinda Brown.
The WineGB Awards is one of the most respected industry competitions, judged by a panel headed by wine expert Oz Clarke and Master of Wine Susie Barrie.
She said: “2021 has been a great year for the WineGB Awards and undoubtedly our best yet. These awards shine a light on the very best still and sparkling wines the UK has to offer and it is wonderful to bear witness to an industry that is now consistently producing wines that really are world-class.
“Not only that, the range and variety of wines just keeps on getting better.”
Mr Clarke added: “We are all really excited about the potential that Britain is rapidly developing, and we saw it this year. You can only be at the birth of a new wine region once – and that is where we are now.”
Jonathan Lewis, managing director of category sponsor Boxes and Packaging (Oxford) visited Stoneyfield Wine to present the trophy.
“While Northamptonshire may be better known these days for beer and gin, we are thrilled to think that, even with our humble one acre, we are helping to put the county firmly back on the winemaking map,” said Mr Vaughan.