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28 March 2008

Waitrose plants English vineyard

Leckford Farm

Patriotic British supermarket Waitrose recently announced a project to plant vines on the retailer's own 4000 acre (1600 hectares) farm, called Leckford Estate in Hampshire (southern England). The aim is to produce English fizz that should appear in their stores by 2014. "Waitrose has stocked English wine for over twelve years. In 2007, we reported a growth in sales of over 90%," says their press blurb. "There is simply not enough English wine to meet customer demand," they claim, despite stocking at least 28 lines (depending on if and what's made in the local area) in shops and on-line.
It'll take a bit of time to see the results, bearing in mind the vines will need at least three years before they yield the first decent crop of grapes, and then a "two year wine-making and maturation cycle for the production of this high quality sparkling wine." Meaning it's not worth releasing it without at least 15-18 months bottle-ageing on the yeast lees plus a bit more after removing the sediment. Justin Howard-Sneyd MW, chief wine buyer at Waitrose said: "Our customers are really enthusiastic about English wines and we have seen some fantastic quality from Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down, Camel Valley and Denbies. We are all incredibly excited about being involved with the planting and growing of our first vineyard."
I'm told Leckford Estate is located on rolling chalk hills either side of the River Test. "There are several sites with a sheltered southern aspect, where the soils have just the right balance of chalk and clay loam for our grapevines." Basically, should be a good spot - I'll find out which varieties they're going to plant and report back. This huge farm has been part of the John Lewis Partnership (owner of Waitrose) for 80 years and is managed to "high environmental standards." It already churns out a variety of produce for the supermarket including cider, apples, pears, apple juice, mushrooms, flour and Leckford chicken. There's also a substantial dairy producing 5 million litres of milk every year from 600 cows (that's a lot of manure for the new vineyard), as well as organic milk, goats milk and no less than 12,000 hens for free range eggs. More info at waitrose.com/wine.

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