You wouldn’t think Ryedale Vineyards, run by Stuart and Elizabeth Smith, was the most northerly commercial winery in the UK as they began gathering in the harvest this week.
Early morning mist, blue skies and, later, 25C temperatures made it feel like a little bit of Burgundy – set in beautiful rolling countryside north east of York.
I joined an eclectic band of volunteers on the busiest day of the year. Briefed by owner Stuart, we were handed secateurs, allocated a row and set to work with minimum fuss. In the morning the priority was a white grape, Ortega, which has suffered from the drought this year but still has enough fruit and residual sugar to make Ryedale’s crisp white.
On our knees in the damp grass with a partner the other side of the row, we snipped and swapped stories. Amongst my fellow pickers were a retired surveyor who was given a row by his daughter who then served the wine at her wedding, a 68 year old retired factory foreman who loves his fruit ( a two allotment, two greenhouse man this, planning to get back into the gooseberry showing game at Egton Bridge, but that’s another story) who volunteers year round and helps with the pruning as well, a man who mistook the white wine from here as an Alsace in a blind tasting and wanted to see how it was made, two civil servants who “love a drop” and were formally Stuart’s neighbours, and a 20 something banker with very expensive shades. All were here to be part of the romance of making wine.
After coffee and Elizabeth’s Mum’s excellent ginger cake, we were onto red grapes, a variety called Rondo which is used for rose, but which will make their first ever red wine this year. In the winery – well barn – consultant winemaker Simon Day, up from Herefordshire, was checking sugars and pressing.
Two hours later and a hot, hearty, home made lunch made by Elizabeth served round the huge kitchen table – best sausages bought from Rillington (as a Cumbrian, Elizabeth is fussy about sausage and is prepared to drive to get what she considers the best). They were wrapped with bacon, roasted and served with crispy topped boulangere potatoes, steamed cabbage and carrots, leek sauce. Followed by plum crumble and custard. At lunchtime, reader, I ate the lot. It’s hungry work picking grapes.
In the afternoon we moved vineyard to the wonderfully named Paradise, another parcel of land a mile away, laid to vines by the Smiths.
Here the vines suffered from the late frosts, but what survived was fruiting well but many were not quite ready.
Quality control meant we were asked only to pick the grapes if they looked blue black – no red ones allowed.
The Smiths moved here four years ago to fulfil a lifetime’s dream inspired by The Good Life. At a time when many would be looking for an easier life, Elizabeth describes their passion as fanatical. The wine has won awards, production is doubling this year to nearly 5,000 bottles and new styles, including a classic champagne method wine using pinot meunier and chardonnay are on their way. A pink fizz is on the way in time for Christmas.
I’d love to tell you what these wines taste like, but Stuart has sold all last year’s production. He says you may still find it in Castle Howard Farm Shop or Gluggles offie in Goodramgate in York.
But, if an ounce of the passion of the pickers, the expertise of the winemaker and the love the Smiths lavish on their vines and wines ends up in the bottles, they’ll be stonking.
Any chance of sampling a bottle of pink fizz for Christmas Stuart?