Jen writes about the recent BN wine tasting trip to Hanwell Vineyard, near Melton Mowbray

When you’re thinking about buying wine, what’s your go to region/country? France? New Zealand? I have to admit, I’m partial to a glass or two and there are certain things I look out for on a bottle. At Uni my friend and I would buy wine based on the story on the label but I like to think that over the past twenty years I’ve moved on from there.

So anyway, when my sister spotted a wine tasting event on the BN website I was all set to go before she finished reading the details out. Then she told me it was near Melton Mowbray, England. Yes I’m aware I was probably not going to get a trip to Australia out of it but the Midlands, England?

First impressions were pretty good. An attractive location and the courtyard and facilities were well presented and obviously well cared for. We chose where to sit and were asked to return to the same seats after the vineyard tour for Covid safety. The lady leading the experience then introduced herself and told us a bit about their history. Her father became interested in wine production when they moved into a new house with some old grape vines which he started experimenting with. From there he embarked on a lifelong passion for viticulture, starting with taking over the front garden with a multitude of vines where he tested and tested and tested and experimented and tested, to find the optimum soil and growing treatment for growing grapes in the Midlands. Afterwards, they moved to a new home where they were able to plant an actual vineyard. Helenka was brought up running through these vines and when she later grew up, married and had children of her own, she knew that she wanted that same outdoor lifestyle for them. After a long period of research, using her father’s ever growing knowledge and understanding of what was required for wine making, she and her husband found a suitable site and after several issues (buying a repossessed home throws up even more rules and regulations than a standard property and there was an ongoing problem with theft with it being rural), they finally moved in and planted their own vineyard. Interestingly they tested the soil at this point and found that out of all the requirements they were looking for, all the nutrients were spot on apart from phosphate which was slightly low but which could be correctly easily with (organic) fertilizer!

Helenka and her husband named the site ‘Hanwell’ after their two children, Hannah and William (three letters each!) and as we moved from the courtyard to the vineyard the sun came out, enabling me to shed the wrap I had been grateful for during the previous twenty minutes. Sitting with the sun beating down listening to how the three grape varieties (pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay) were planted in different areas for different reasons and about the cycle of work during the year ,and how they deal with issues such as frost was interesting.

Helenka was extremely knowledgeable and also extremely personable – as a tour guide, I’d say you’d have to look a long way to find as engaging a speaker. Even as someone with a short attention span who is easily distracted, I couldn’t stop listening. We were then invited to walk around the vineyard and look at the wildlife areas including the rickety bridge over the pond which we were advised against, but not told not to, walk on. Advised is different to told so we got some good pics on there. Along with our new friends we met en route, Jamie and Caroline (lovely people we got chatting to that we’re looking forward to meeting up with again), we then looked for the fan which blows the frost away and we found a hole with a pipe that we think was it. I suggested crawling up the pipe to check but nobody was very keen on that so we decided to accept it without proof.

We then headed back to the courtyard for the tasting. Each person had a tray with a paper pinwheel split into 6 numbered sections and a glass with something in it at the edge of each section. Number 1 was a sparkling wine which myself and my table mates including sister Nic, really enjoyed. Number 2 was another sparkling wine, sweeter and in my opinion, not dissimilar to elderflower wine. I enjoyed it though others were less keen. Number 3 was a rose which Nics really enjoyed (she bought a bottle afterwards) but was less of a favourite with me as to me it tasted like a cider which I’m less keen on. Number 4 was a white which I enjoyed but number 1 was still top at that point. Then came number 5 – the one I was looking forward to and the one that blew the rest out of the water – mead. Mead is honey wine and although it’s mega sweet and generally speaking I prefer dry wine, mead is the exception. It was beautiful. I bought two bottles afterwards and I wish I could have bought a dozen. Number 6 was a cherry wine which I also enjoyed although I think I would have had more time for if I wasn’t still waxing lyrical about the mead.

All in all. You actually can get really good wine from the Midlands, England. Who’d ‘ave thought?!