The UK's most northerly vineyard is up for sale in Bolton-le-Sands
PUBLISHED: 01:16 08 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:49 20 February 2013
A rare vintage is up for sale in Bolton-le-Sands – the UK's most northerly vineyard. Holly Blackwell reports Photography by John Cocks
The print version of this article appeared in the August 2011 issue of Lancashire Life
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Those who dream of owning their own vineyard can be forgiven for picturing a move to the sun soaked slopes of California or the lush inclines of the Loire Valley. But look no further than Bolton-le-Sands.
Retired livestock adviser and farmer Michael Graham has been making wine at Englands most northerly vineyard, Mount Pleasant, for the last 15 years and is adamant good quality wine can be made in Lancashire.
It started off as a challenge, said Michael. People said we you were wasting our time growing vines north of The Wash and that it couldnt be done, but I thought why not have a go?
And theres no doubt that, contrary to popular belief, good wine can be made in this part of the world.
Michael has recently put his 18th century grade two listed country residence and vineyard on the market, providing people across the region with the rare opportunity to buy their very own English vineyard.
The five-bedroomed detached property, just four miles from Lancaster and Morecambe down a secluded mile-long track, includes a barn building, where Michael stores his wine, along with four stables and a beautifully restored Victorian Belvedere with magnificent views over the bay.
Its been a privilege to live here, said Michael. Its not only been creating the vineyard, but also producing good wine and the sense of achievement it brings. Growing the grapes isnt difficult. Its making the wine where all the skill comes in. Theres so much to learn.
Mount Pleasants hill-top location overlooking Morecambe Bay provides the ideal conditions for growing certain types of vines, with its proximity to the Gulf Stream, good drainage and high soil PH. Over the years, Michael has planted more than 600 vines across a five acre site, although he now keeps a more modest 240.
At first it was very much trial and error, said Michael. I planted a dozen vines of different varieties and ended up with two which I feel are the most successful.
The important thing with vines is that they will produce grapes that will ripen and make a good wine. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay will produce grapes but they just wont ripen this far north so its a question of finding which vine is suitable for Bolton-le-Sands.
Michael now grows a white grape called Madeleine Angevine and the red grape Rondo, a German hybrid based on a vine from the Russian-Manchurian border.
Every harvest in late summer, Michael picks the grapes with his wife Penny, helped by volunteers from the University of the Third Age.
The white grapes are de-stemmed and crushed and the juice, along with yeast, is put into containers where it is stored for around a year.
A similar process happens with the red grapes, although they are crushed and stored with their skins on for ten days before being pressed.
The wine is then bottled by Michael in his 19th century stone barn where he oversees each part of the wine-making process.
The white wine will be ready to drink the following summer, said Michael. But the red wine requires at least 12 months and another 12 months to two years in the bottle before it is ready.
A typical year sees Michael produce around 300 bottles of wine which he gives to family and friends. Last year we produced 120 white and 150 red, said Michael.
And like any vineyard, Michael has good and bad harvests. Not every year is a good year, he said. We got down to 100 bottles in 2008 that was a hopeless year. It just depends on the weather.
For those who have already tasted the delights of the Mount Pleasant Vineyard, Michaels hard work has gone down rather well.
A man from the village took the wine to a wine buyer and they had a blind taste test and they couldnt believe where it was made. They said it was as good as anything theyd had.
The white is a really light, crisp, flowery wine and the Rondo is more like a Cabernet-Sauvignon taste. Its got quite a good body to it.
The vineyard has been a labour of love for Michael, who at 77 has made the difficult decision with his wife Penny to downscale from the 13 acre site in search of something more modest.
I will be very sad to go but its a matter of down-sizing, said Michael, who has lived at Mount Pleasant for the last 44 years. All our four children have left home and next harvest I will be 78 and you cant go on forever.
Michael realises that owning a vineyard isnt for everyone and has made it known to potential buyers that the vines could easily be removed.
But he secretly hopes the vineyard, recently visited by Oz Clarke and Hugh Dennis, may attract a commercial investor interested in putting Lancashire on the wine making map.
You could increase the numbers of vines into the thousands, said Michael. From the top of the vineyard you can see the Lake District which would provide the ideal outlet for the wine so I think it could be a great commercial venture.
If I was 20 years younger I would do it commercially, but because Im retired I just do it for pleasure and to prove that it can be done. Thats where the ultimate reward comes from. When people try the wine, the look on their faces is worth every penny because good wine can be made in Lancashire.
Mount Pleasant is on the market at a guide price of 895,000 through the Lancaster office of Fine and Country. For more information telephone 01524 380560 or visit www.fineandcountry.com