Wine growing in the Blackmore Vale is a tasteful and expanding business!
Recently, whilst leading a tour group in the Shaftesbury area, we came across a welcoming hidden gem – the Melbury Vale Vineyard and Winery. The Vineyard is located just off the A350, on Foots Hill, about 1.5 miles south of Shaftesbury at Cann Bridge.
The small, family owned, rural business, is situated on 28 acres of south-facing, rolling hillside in the beautiful Stirkel Valley, renowned for its milling history. The Winery specializes in making artisan wines, liqueurs, brandy, aromatised wines and cider.
My group were enthusiastically greeted by the owner, Clare Pestell who, together with her brother, bought Melbury Vale Farm in December 2003. By 2006 they had planted the vineyard and built the winery (now also a craft distillery) in 2013.
Having followed the appropriate Covid entry procedures, we were lead into a pleasantly airy dining and tasting area, with socially distanced tables. The locally produced ploughman’s lunch using bread from The Vale Bakery, local salad, meat and selection of Dorset cheese products was delicious – the home-made rhubarb chutney being particularly tasty. Of course, a selection of wine, and non-alcoholic drinks were available to accompany the meal.
Before the group became too engrossed in sampling different wines, Clare took us into the vineyard, a visit into the winery so we could see where and how the grapes grow, how they are produced and sample the finished product all in one place.
The setting for the vineyard is surprising as normal wine-growing wisdom would suggest well drained, ideally chalky soil, are best. Given the vineyards relatively high altitude combined with heavy clay and greensand soil, plus climate conditions such as late spring frosts, early autumn frosts, mildew due to humidity in the summer; and pests – deer, badgers, pheasants, starlings and wasps, the venture was definitely experimental but obviously worth the risk!
The site has the advantage of being a sunny, south facing hillside that drains down to a river with reasonably Ph neutral soil, all of which help with vine growing. It is also well placed to the A350 which gives the winery good access to get to the other Dorset vineyards that we now work with; and is easy for visitors to find us!
Like many small enterprises, the pandemic adversely effected business. Relying on tourism and wholesale business to restaurants, hotels and pubs during a period when all have been closed has reduced trade the Vineyard has been forced to sell online and rely on sales from passing trade.
As to the future, Clare said “English wines growing reputation for high quality and excellence mean that both the wholesale and retail market is growing. We also provide glamping accommodation and soon to have self contained holiday lodges. We believe from the great feedback that we receive that the tourism and staycation market will flourish. It is a beautiful place to visit and guests really enjoy the whole experience.”
One can only agree. The vineyard is well hidden, but well worth a visit this summer. My group left happy and came away with boxes of delicious local wine. Find out more at https://mvwinery.co.uk..
By: Paul Birbeck Sherborne Walks & Blue Badge Tour Guide