Halfpenny Green Wine
Philip Day reviews Halfpenny Green Wine.
This article about Halfpenny Green Wine includes the history, viticulture and product portfolio.
Halfpenny Green Wine Estate (formerly Halfpenny Green Vineyards), is a small, family-run vineyard located at Upper Whittimere, Bobbinton in the rolling hillsides of Southern Staffordshire. At some 30 acres, it holds the reputation for being one of the largest vineyards in the UK and has been winning more and more awards for its wine over the last 20 years or so and is one of the most acknowledged English vineyards. Although established in the heart of the countryside, its location is only a short drive from the urban areas of Wolverhampton, Dudley and Stourbridge.
Only recently, this thriving business has astonished the English domestic wine industry by successfully producing a well-balanced red as full-bodied as any Shiraz hailing from the Rhône valley in France, California, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. The Rondo, is made from the hardy, disease resistant Rondo grape, grown on the gentle, south-facing slopes of the Halfpenny Green Vineyard. Boasting a heady 15 per cent ABV, Rondo achieved the accolade as the “boldest” English red wine released thus far.
England remains, a cool, northern, marginal grape-growing area in spite of the effects of global warming, so in 2011, when the father and son wine-making team of Clive and Martin Vickers succeeded in registering a potential 17.4% alcohol content in their harvested rondo grapes, they were astounded, as were the other English rondo grape growers attempting to achieve similar results in locations situated much further south than the English Midlands.
The reason for their success was put down to a combination of factors: Halfpenny Green’s south facing but sheltered, sloping, vineyards with their light sandy soil; the harvest of the rondo crop achieved only half the usual yield, at 1.5 to 2 tonnes per acre (3.7 – 4.94 t/ha): the fact that the yeasts the Vickers employed did not convert all of the sugar in the grapes into alcohol, thus the actual alcohol level achieved for the wine was nearer 15% ABV; not forgetting the significant role played by the South Staffordshire weather, thanks to a period of sustained dry and mild conditions in the previous August, September and October, that continued to ripen the grapes late into the season, bestowing them with an intensity of flavours and a higher sugar content.
Farmer Martin Vickers had a vision from about 30 years ago to one day plant a vineyard that would yield grapes to make wines able to match those produced on the European mainland, a bold vision that was shared by his son Clive.
Martin Vickers with his partner, Tina.
Their first foray to make their shared vision a reality began in earnest in 1983, when Martin and Clive planted half an acre of land (0.2 hectares) with 400 vines as a trial to check whether the conditions were suitable for growing grapes. The site they chose for their pilot: south-facing, on free-draining slopes that are well-sheltered and relatively frost free being situated some 250ft (76.2m) above sea level, turned out to be ideal, much to their delight.
Speaking earlier this year Clive Vickers explained that he and his father had been “lucky that we already had a suitable site because a lot of people wanting to start wine-making have to spend a long time looking for a suitable site and getting in expert analysts to test the land.”
By 1991 a further 22 acres (8.9 hectares) were added, which has now expanded to over 45,000 vines, across 30 acres (12.14 hectares) – making it one of the biggest vineyards in the UK.
Martin and Clive are proud of how far the business has come since the first vines were planted, more so because the venture did raise a few eyebrows when they first started out on their journey from grape to bottle.
Clive Vickers in the Tank Room.
“It was definitely considered a risk and people thought we were mad. Back then most English wine was being produced in Kent and Sussex and we were considered one of the most northerly vineyards in the country.
But now there are vineyards in places like Yorkshire and even one or two in Scotland. English wine is more established now and in the public eye more.”
Today, 30 acres of vines (12.14 hectares) are managed by Martin and consistently produce award-winning wines crafted by his son Clive. It has become very much a family business, with Clive’s wife Lisa running the acclaimed shop, restaurant, and deli, which additionally offer a great day-out experience for visitors to the vineyard.
This year, which has witnessed an expansion to its restaurant business has also seen the company being re-branded, changing its name from Halfpenny Green Vineyards to Halfpenny Green Wine Estate. It also now hosts regular gin tasting experiences in addition to wine-tasting events.
The Estate has further diversified to include an on-site craft centre, home to over 15 independent businesses, and the WILD Zoological Park providing additional educational and entertaining experiences for the whole family.
Halfpenny Green Wine Estate (The Vickers family)
Total: 12.14 hectares (30 acres)
Bacchus, Chardonnay, Dornfelder, Faber, Huxelrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Ortega, Pinot Noir, Regner, Regent, Reichensteiner, Rondo, Schönburger, Seyval Blanc, Siegerrebe and Triomphe d’Alsace.
The areas sandstone and mudstone geologic profile produces light, well-drained sandy soils with some shale inclusions.
Around 50-60 000 bottles annually.
Top Vintages Produced
Typically the hard work begins shortly after the grape harvest in October, when each of their 45,000 vines need to be pruned in readiness for the growing season which begins in the following spring.
Grape varieties grown at Halfpenny Green Wine include the well-known Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but they are many lesser-known ones that have been carefully selected given their suitability for growing in cooler climate conditions. These include Bacchus, Dornfelder, Faber, Huxelrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Ortega, Regner, Regent, Reichensteiner, Rondo, Schönburger, Seyval Blanc, Siegerrebe and Triomphe d’Alsace, names which wine connoisseurs will have heard off but are unfamiliar enough not to be seen on supermarket shelves.
Picking the right grape varieties for their site was key to their success. Despite the vineyards being located on south-facing, free-draining slopes that are generally well-sheltered and relatively frost free, the biggest risk to the crop is the possibility of a late frost after bud burst which usually occurs around mid to late April.
Similarly, a wet summer can be tricky because a warm spell is needed to ripen the fruit before it’s harvested.
Secondary to matching the right grape varieties to the site is having sufficient know-how to look after them. Coming from an arable farming background, the Vickers have excellent crop management knowledge and skills.
In 2005 a large on-site winery was erected where all their wines are bottled. Additionally they have the capacity and skill to carry out contract wine making and bottling for many smaller UK vineyards. Typically they produce between 150,000 – 200,000 bottles a year.
The wines to be bottled in 2018 are the 2017 wines. After the grapes have been harvested, they are crushed to release the juice. Yeast is then added to convert the sugars from the grapes into alcohol. The whole fermentation process takes around six to eight weeks. Halfpenny Green also produce a number of
sparkling wines, which undergo a secondary fermentation process after the wine has been bottled. Additional yeast and sugar is added to create carbon dioxide which gives the wines their fizz. Prior to adding a cork to the bottle, the yeast residue is removed by using the traditional méthode Champenoise.
The Halfpenny Green Wine Estate Wine Portfolio:
The company offers a range of different dry, medium dry, medium and sweet white wines; red and rosé wines, as well as sparkling white, pink and red wines.
Tom Hill (2016) A dry, vintage, still white wine made from the Huxelrebe grape variety,described as having ‘a lightly honeyed flavour balanced with fresh acidity to give a zestful dry wine.’
Mercia (2017) A dry, vintage, still white wine made from the Madeleine Angevine and Ortega grape varieties, described as ‘An exciting dry blend combining zingy acidity with complex fruit character leaving refreshing citrus undertones on the tongue.’
Long Acre A dry, vintage, still white wine made from the Schönburger (2016) and Siegerrebe grape varieties, described as being ‘Just off dry, light crisp raisiny nose, smooth luscious citrus flavours with a long clean finish.’ This was the first of their wines to be stocked by a number of Marks & Spencer stores in the west Midlands.
Penny Black A medium dry, vintage, still white wine made from the (2016) Madeleine Angevine and Huxelrebe grape varieties, described as having ‘Aromatic, refined, elegant flavours with long finish.’
Black Country A medium-sweet, non-vintage, still white wine made from a Gold blend including the Huxelrebe, Faber and Regner grape varieties, described as being ‘Full-bodied and rounded, luscious fruit leaping from the glass.’
Late Harvest A sweet, vintage, still white dessert wine made from the (2014) Huxelrebe and Bacchus grape varieties, left late on the vine, described as having ‘ripe apricot and honey flavours.’
English Rose A medium-dry, non-vintage, still rosé wine, made from a blend including the Rondo and Dornfelder grape varieties, described as ‘Summer berry fruits on the nose, excitingly refreshing balance of light fruit and sweetness with good length.’
Rondo (2014) A full-bodied, vintage red wine, made from 100% Rondo grapes. It is described as ‘A full bodied, full fruit, well structured red wine with a natural alcohol of 15%.’
Penny Red A medium dry, non-vintage red wine made from a blend of the Pinot Noir, Rondo and Regent grape varieties. It is described as being ‘Medium bodied with ripe fruits and a long lingering after-taste.’
Brut Sparkling A dry (Brut), vintage sparkling white wine made from a blend (2014) of Seyval Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varieties. It is described as being ‘made in the traditional or Champagne method, with elegant refined nutty flavours and a persistent length.’
Rosé Sparkling A dry (Brut), vintage sparkling rosé wine made in the (2016) traditional or Champagne method, from a blend of Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc grape varieties. It is described as being a ‘light, fresh zingy fizz. Just off dry, perfect for that very special occasion.’
Red Sparkling A dry (Brut), vintage sparkling red wine made from a blend (2016) of Rondo and Pinot Noir grape varieties. It is described as having a ‘Fruity, soft fizz, with a seductive, smoky finish, made in the traditional, or Champagne method.’
Classic Cuvée A dry (Brut), vintage sparkling wine made from a blend of (2011) Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varieties, which have spent four years ageing in the bottle. It is described as ‘delivering nutty, biscuity characteristics in abundance .’
The wines the Vickers produce have received international, national and regional recognition. They have won numerous awards from the Mercian Vineyard Association and the United Kingdom Vineyard Association (UKVA) in addition to achieving success in two international wine competitions – the International Wine Challenge, and the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Their latest award being for the Long Acre 2016 which gained a Silver Award at the 2018 IWC.
Address: Halfpenny Green Wine Estate
Telephone: +44 (0)1384 221122
Web site: http://www.halfpennygreen.co.uk/