Photographs: Charles Francis
November 2013: Winemaker Paul Sibley likes to describe St Ewe as the vineyard capital of Cornwall. “We’re the only Cornish parish to have two vineyards — and probably the only parish in the country,” he says with a smile.
When Paul and his wife Liz acquired some land from a derelict chicken farm adjacent to their home 18 years ago, they had no plans to launch a wine business. It was the experience of helping with the harvest at nearby Polmassick Vineyard which inspired them to give it a go. “We saw the whole process, and it did seem like a very good use of the land,” he says. “We started with a couple of hundred vines. We’ve now got about five acres, with about 4,000 vines. That should give us, in a reasonable year, 4-5,000 bottles.”
Some years, are, of course, more reasonable than others. “I don’t think cold weather really affects the vines. As a continental plant, they would expect it to go very cold in the winter months. The risk with a mild winter is that the buds can be hit by frost when they come out in the spring. This site is a frost hollow, and we got clobbered hard in late May last year. But two-thirds of the vines survived, and we got bigger grapes this year.”
Bosue Vineyard has benefited from developments in viticulture in recent years, as Paul explains. “The Germanic varieties planted originally in England, like Muller Thurgau, were good, but prone to disease. We’ve planted newer hybrid varieties — Orion, Phoenix and Solaris for white wine, and Rondo and Regent for red or rose — which are hugely disease-resistant, so we don’t have to keep spraying.”
With the grapes safely gathered in, November is a quiet time of year in a vineyard. “After the crop has come off, we leave everything alone, waiting for the wood to ripen,” says Paul. “The next stage is pruning, which starts at Christmas and goes on for about three months: the growth vines put on in a year is phenomenal, and they would just go on and on if you let them. We get rid of most of the fruiting canes and leave two or three new ones. During the summer, we make sure these canes are protected: if you have a particularly bad summer, it can affect the growth the following year.”
After the harvest, the grapes are brought into the winery to be weighed, de-stemmed, crushed and pressed, then moved into fermentation tanks, where yeast is added. “We looked into the best style of yeast for our particular types of grapes, and we use one which reduces malic acid, as it makes the taste too appley and acidic.”
For the last two years, Bosue’s sparkling wines have won awards in the English and Welsh Wine of the Year Competition. “Sparkling is a big success story as far as English wine is concerned, probably because grapes grown here tend to have a higher acidity than continental grapes, and sparkling wine really brings out the flavour,” Paul says.
“This year, we’re releasing a sparkling rosé. We’ve also made a red which I’m very pleased with. It’s in barrels now, and we’ll be bottling it up to sell next year. I like to put red wine into barrels, as this allows it to breathe. The barrels we use are French oak, previously used in Bordeaux. When they arrive, they smell gorgeous.”
Despite the success of Bosue Vineyard, there are no expansion plans. “They say that if you want to make a small fortune from wine, start with a large fortune!” says Paul. “You need to put a lot of time into it to make it work. At this size, it’s manageable. Liz and I never wanted this to be a large-scale industry, but something which could pay for itself, which we could enjoy as a family: our three children have all been involved.
“The wine making I can usually manage on my own, but bottling involves quite a few people, and quite a lot of time. The peak time for needing help is harvest. We get friends and neighbours and anyone else who’s available to come over and give us a hand.”
If you want to run a vineyard, says Paul, you need three skills. “You have to grow the grapes, make the wine — and the one people often forget: you’ve got to sell it. We sell in farm shops and farmers’ markets, as well as online: it’s one of our selling points that we’re not in every shop or restaurant. We are an artisan boutique producer, making Cornish wines from Cornish vines, so this is a Cornish product right the way through. That’s what people are looking for.”