White Castle Vineyard

Philip Day looks to Wales, reviewing the broad range of wines on offer from White Castle Vineyard.

This detailed review of the White Castle Vineyard includes details of the history, viticulture and product portfolio.

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According to the latest figures (2015) released by the wine standards branch of the UK government’s Food Standards Agency the average annual production of wine in the UK has increased from 3.02m (bottle equivalent) to 5.06m in 2015. A fascinating statistic indicates that wine production by 2020 is predicted to surpass 10m bottles.

Currently there are approximately 502 commercial vineyards, with some 133 wineries.

Generally the hectarage of vines planted in the UK has doubled in the last 8 years and is set to continue growing by a further 50% to around 3000ha (just over 7400 acres) by 2020.

In the wine trade papers and Sunday supplements much has been written about the success of the multi-award winning English sparkling wines produced around Kent, East and West Sussex and Surrey, where the greatest concentration of vineyards is located.

Few people are aware that a recent addition to the number of wine growing areas can be found in the beautiful rolling countryside of Monmouthshire in South Wales.

White Castle Vineyard is owned and run by Robb & Nicola Merchant, situated in the village of Llanvetherine, close to the towns of Abergavenny and Monmouth. It is dedicated to producing a variety of quality welsh wines using first class viticultural practices.

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Their 5 acre (2.02 ha) vineyard is planted on a gentle south facing slope, ideally situated for vine cultivation and ripening grapes for Welsh wine.

The Merchants welcome visitors to experience the beauty and tranquillity of the rural setting of their vineyard. Additionally, their award winning quality Welsh wines are available for purchase from the Cellar Door.

History

Having purchased the 12 acre small holding at Croft Farm, Llanvetherine near the market towns of Abergavenny and Monmouth in 1995, Robb and Nicola Merchant converted the former milking parlour into their home, a year later. It was not until 2008 when their joint dream of owning a vineyard started to become a reality. That year, the 5 acre (2.02 ha) gently sloping, south facing field was purchased, soil tests were performed and following intensive research into vineyard management and selecting the most suitable grape varieties, the proprietors ordered their first vines in November 2008.

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In May 2009, a contractor was hired to plough the site and to aid the planting of some 4000 vines, the varieties of which included: Pinot Noir, Regent, Rondo, Seyval Blanc and Phoenix. The following year, a supplemental planting of 800 vines of the Siegerrebe variety of grapes was added.

The vast majority of the 40 miles of posts and wire to support the vines were erected by members of the family-run business, who also added layers of mulch around each plant to retain moisture in the soil and help keep the weeds down.

To ensure their vision became a reality, Robb & Nicola attended Plumpton College, East Sussex to study viticulture, to equip them with the skills and expertise needed to produce quality Welsh wines.

From the initial planting, it took two and a half years until the first harvest came about in September-October 2011. Their efforts were soon to be rewarded, however, as the first harvest gained the vineyard Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status from Wine Standards, of the Food Standards Agency, allowing the produce to be labelled ‘Welsh Quality Wine’. Additionally all their wines have Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.

The grapes were hand picked and pressed on the same day at the Three Choirs winery in Newent, Gloucestershire, resulting in red, white and rose wines which were sold from the White Castle Vineyard shop.

When the vineyard reaches full production, over the next few years it should have the capacity to produce 12,000 bottles of wine a year, including sparkling wines.

Appellation

Welsh Quality Wine PDO/Welsh Wine PGI

Owner

White Castle Vineyard/Robb & Nicola Merchant

Planted acreage

Total: 2.02 hectares (5 acres)

Grape varieties

Pinot Noir Précoce, Regent, Rondo, Phoenix, Seyval Blanc,  Siegerrebe

Wines produced

Rondo, Regent, Pinot Noir Précoce, Rosé, Sparkling Rosé, Gwin gwyn, White Castle Sparkling White

Terroir

Alluvial deposits, generally comprising clay, silt, sand and gravel

Production

Capacity to eventually produce 12,000 bottles of wine a year

Top Vintages Produced

 

2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016


Viticulture

The Merchants are firm believers in the adage that quality wine making begins in the vineyard. For this reason alone, they carefully selected the varieties that they know would flourish in the vineyard’s soil and would produce grapes of the highest possible quality, given the micro climate of the vineyard.

The grapes are closely monitored all throughout their growing season and as harvest time approaches, the ripening grapes are carefully hand harvested and selected, then immediately transported to the Three Choirs winery for pressing to ensure all the freshness and fruity aromas are retained intact.

Depending on the type of wine being produced, the juice is fermented in stainless steel vats, with some undergoing a period of further ageing in a French Oak barrels to enhance the flavours.

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The following varieties of grapes are grown at the vineyard:

Red Varieties

Pinot Noir Précoce
One of the most ancient and refined of all grape varieties. It is a classic red Burgundy grape for but these days it is also an important element of sparkling wine production.

Regent
One of the new generation red varieties, propagated for quality results. It will produce a medium bodied wine with excellent fruit and tannic balance.

Rondo
Produces wines with very good ruby colour, fruity aromas and dark cherry flavours, producing a delicate, deep coloured red wine, with the style and overtones of quality classic red varieties.  

White Varieties

Phoenix
In character, similar to Sauvignon Blanc, aromatic and acidic.

Seyval Blanc
A successful hybrid variety, well adapted to UK growing conditions. It is well suited to oak ageing and can be used for still or sparkling wines. Single varietal wines offer the drinker crisp acidity, with a characteristic citrus element in its aroma and taste, as well as a minerality that some compare to a white Burgundy.

Siegerrebe
An intensely aromatic and sweet variety producing delicious small berried plum coloured grapes.

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Wines produced:

  • Rondo 2014 (11.5% ABV) (Red) released December, 2015.
  • Regent 2014 (11.5% ABV) (Red) released August 2015. (Bronze Award UK Vineyards Association wine of the year competition 2016)
  • Rosé 2013 (11% ABV) released May 2014 (Pinot Noir, Rondo & Siegerrebe) (Silver Award Welsh Vineyards Association wine of the year competition 2015;

Bronze Award UK Vineyards Assocation wine of the year competition 2015;
Highly Commended South West Vineyard Association 2014.)

  • Gwin gwyn 2014 (10.5% ABV) (White) released May 2014 (Phoenix & Siegerrebe) (Highly Commended Award- South West Vineyard Association 2015; Bronze Award UK Vineyards Association wine of the year competition 2015; Commended Award Welsh Vineyards Association wine of the year competition 2015.)
  • Pinot Noir Précoce 2014 (12.5% ABV) (Red) released March 2016

Silver Award Welsh Vineyards Association wine of the year competition 2016

Silver Award South West  Vineyards Association wine of the year competition 2016

  • White Castle Sparkling White 2012 (11.5% ABV) released December 2014 (Phoenix & Seyval Blanc)

White Castle Vineyard in the news

  • April 2016 saw Robb Merchant elected as chairman of the Welsh Vineyards Association.
  • June 2016 White Castle had the opportunity as part of the PFN (protected food names) to showcase their quality Welsh wines at Fortnum & Mason, London.
  • Autumn 2016 “This year our Siegerrebe variety has bronzed nicely and fingers crossed we can make our first white wine from its intensely aromatic juice .”

Contact details

Address: White Castle Vineyard
Robb & Nicola Merchant
Llanvetherine
Abergavenny
Monmouthshire
NP7 8RA, Wales

Telephone: +44 (0)1873 821443

Email: info@whitecastlevineyard.com
Web site: www.whitecastlevineyard.com

Twitter: @Welshwines

References