Award-winning vineyard that's flying the flag for Welsh wine; Judith and Colin Dudley have turned an overgrown piece of land in the Wye Valley intoanaward-WINNINGVINEYARDATTHEFOREFRONTOFWALEs'growingwineindustry, writes Chris Kelsey.
Judith and Colin Dudley were looking for some land to buy in 1996 and settled on Parva Farm, with its 60 acres clinging to the steep slopes of the Wye Valley above Tintern.
Their plan was to keep sheep and cattle, but there was also a vineyard planted there by a previous owner, although it wasn't in the best of shape.
"When we came the whole place was a complete mess," said Judith.
"The first thing was to make the farm suitable for animals. But the vineyard was also a mess and I wanted to take it out."
But it was the height of the BSE epidemic in cattle and the industry was at a low ebb with much talk about the need to diversify, so the couple decided they would give the vineyard a few years.
This was easier said than done. Like the fences around the other parts of the farm, the vineyard was in a poor state of repair and needed a lot of work to get it back in order.
The vines were also overgrown with bracken and nettles. As soon as the Dudleys had cleared one plot and moved on to another, they had to keep coming back to the first to stop the nettles and bracken returning.
"To do the whole thing took six years," Judith said. "We got our first good crop in 2001. The older vines produce better quality grapes which is good because we have plenty of old vines."
She admits that the Dudleys knew nothing about vineyards when they took over Parva Farm.
"So those first few years gave us time to learn as we went along," she said. "We weren't expecting a lot from it so we were not disappointed when at first we didn't get good crops."
Colin had studied horticulture at Usk College after leaving school so he had a little bit of background knowledge about looking after plants, although he hadn't learnt anything specifically about vines.
Apart from that, they acquired their knowledge from reading books and speaking to the owners of other vineyards, particularly the one at Newent in Gloucestershire.
Nevertheless, it was, as Judith describes, a "steep learning cvurve."
Once they had started producing wine, the next step was selling it. With the first crop we just put out a sign saying, 'wine for sale'," said Judith. "Because we're on the edge of Tintern we had a lot of tourists coming by to see the abbey.
"Twenty years ago seeing a sign for a Welsh vineyard was something surprising. We've never had a problem getting people to come and see the vineyard."
The Dudleys still sell a lot of wine from their own farm shop, as well as through other local farm and community shops and hotels in the area. Two years ago they were approached by Marks and Spencer who wanted to sell Welsh wine in their Welsh stores.
"We'd had two good crops and so we had a good stock, and we supplied them in 2013 and 2014."
Because of the uncertainty of the crop and the fact that the Dudleys want to keep their relationships with their local outlets, they don't have a regular supply deal with Marks and Spencer.
"The arrangement is if we've got it, they can come and have it," said Judith.
So how do the Dudleys manage running a vineyard as well as a sheep and cattle farm? "There always seems to be something that needs doing [with the vineyard], but it fits in well with the other farming," Judith adds.
"The main thing is the pruning in the winter. There are 4,500 vines to prune, so I start around Christmas and finish in March, just as the lambing is starting.
"The vines don't start growing until the end of April, by which time we've finished lambing.
"Then in June and July they start growing a lot and we both have to work out there to keep them under control. Last year we were out there all the time.
"We've just finished the harvest in October. It wasn't a particularly big harvest this year because we had a frost at the end of April which affected the flowering."
The unpredictability of the climate is just something you have to accept, Judith says.
"On this side of Britain it tends to be wet at times, but you do need some rain. If you have a dry summer the grapes are small.
"It's very difficult to get it absolutely right. If you have a large crop you have to keep some by to sell in other years."
Just how the climate can play tricks is revealed by the fact that the Dudley's biggest crop, in 2006, was followed just a year later by their smallest. That was in 2007 when there was heavy rain all summer and the pollen was washed away.
"But because the previous year had been so good we had plenty of wine to carry us through," Judith said.
When the Dudleys took over Parva Farm there were 16 varieties of grape in the vineyard, including some obscure German varieties doubtfully suitable for the climate.
They still grow many varieties but concentrate on just a handful. Of these the most important by far is Bacchus, a Riesling hybrid that grows better than pure Riesling in this country because it ripens earlier.
It produces an aromatic white wine a little like a Sauvignon Blanc.
Another major variety is Seyval Blanc, a French hybrid which is good to grow because it doesn't get mildew and so doesn't need spraying, and makes good sparkling and dessert wines.
Then there's Regent, another German hybrid that ripens early and is fairly disease resistant, and which the Dudleys use to make their red wine.
Finally there's Pinot Noir, a familiar grape around the world but difficult to ripen in Wales and used here mostly for rose wines.
Their wines have won them awards, including Best Welsh Wine in the English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition 2016 for their Dathliad Sparkling 2013.
But the Dudleys also have their sheep and cattle, although the steep slopes at Parva Farm are more suited to the former.
The small herd of pedigree Hereford cattle are her husband's "pride and joy," says Judith, and with their 80-strong flock of Welsh Charollais cross ewes combine with the vineyard to allow the Dudleys to make a living from their 60 acres.
When they acquired Parva Farm it was one of just a handful of vineyards in Wales but now there are 18 dotted around the country, mostly in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan but with a few elsewhere where the climate is sufficiently benign.
"You need a nice micro-climate, nicely sheltered from the prevailing winds and a south-facing slope that gets the most of the sun in the autumn when you're trying to ripen the grapes," Judith said.
"Being on a slope also helps because you don't normally suffer from frost."
And if you decide you fancy having a shot at grapes, there's a wider choice of disease resistant and early ripening varieties than there were 20 years ago.
So what should people expect if they buy a Parva Farm wine? "They should expect a really lovely, fresh tasting, light wine," said Judith.
"The freshness and the fruitiness, people say you can really taste the grape in the comments we get."
But don't expect a powerful, New World-style wine strong in alcohol.
"Wine styles are changing all the time. When we first started people used to say, 'only 10%, that's a bit weak', now people want lower strength wines and they say, '10%, that's good'."
<B Wine produced with grapes from the Parva Farm Vineyard are displayed in the farm shop in Tintern, near Chepstow
<B Judith Dudley collects by hand the since 2001, is one of a growing number Regent grape harvest at the Parva Farm Vineyard in Tintern, near Chepstow. The farm which has been owned by Colin and Judith Dudley since 1996 and has been producing award winning wine of Welsh and English vineyards which according to the industry body English Wine Producers has more than doubled in size since 2010 Matt Cardy
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Oct 25, 2016|
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