The new vineyard at Old Hall Farm Woodton
1:00 p.m. June 19, 2022
The growth at Old Hall Farm (near the Suffolk/Norfolk border at Woodton) over the past few years has been remarkable.
What began as a hobby project of raising calf-to-calf Jersey cows, selling raw milk, butter and milkshakes, alongside suckling pigs, has grown exponentially.
Today, as well as attending farmers markets and events across Suffolk and Norfolk, Old Hall has a purpose-built cafe, deli and butcher.
And now… a vineyard.
Owners Stuart and Rebecca Mayhew have yet to bottle wine with grapes from their own three-year-old vines, but have been busy working with other East Anglian businesses to create Old Hall wine – a company that has attracted the interest of Michelin-starred chefs, who are interested in storing their fledgling fizz.
“It’s like being in the south of France,” thinks Rebecca, referring to the view from the café over the vineyard.
She and Stuart worked with expert Ian Phillips, who helped make their vineyard dreams a reality, advising them on soil, grape varieties, planting and more, to increase their chances of success. Solaris, Bacchus and the “three nobles” of Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) have each found a place on the farm as part of the adventure.
It was while running the Paris Marathon a few years ago that Rebecca caught the winemaking bug (though she says it’s something she and Stuart have been talking about for a while).
“We stayed in Champagne, where there were a lot of vines and it was magnificent. Tremendous. To do this seemed like a really nice complementary business to go with everything we have on the farm.
“We chose grape varieties according to the terroir. It’s quite vigorous, so a little better than you would expect from a vineyard. Normally you would go for poorer land. Our rootstock corresponds to the land and the varieties correspond to our aspirations on the types of wines we want to produce.
Old Hall have (like many other wineries in the region) used fruit from another grower, Humbleyard in Mulbarton, to produce their first releases, now available for purchase.
Still wines were made by Shawsgate in Framlingham and sparkling wines by John Hemmant at Chet Valley Vineyard.
There is a sparkling white (Norfolk Brut), Old Hall Bacchus and Old Hall Sauvignon Blanc.
The sparkling rosé wine, Boudicca, has a special place in Rebecca’s heart. “Ten years ago, I had breast cancer. I was 33 and still breastfeeding at the time. I was very well taken care of by NNUH (Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital) and raised a lot of money for them over the years.
“I thought it would be nice to raise money for their Boudicca appeal while we build the wine brand – to pay something back.
“So the idea is that £10 from each bottle will go towards the appeal. Our aim is to sell 1,000 bottles and raise £10,000 for charity.
Rebecca says Boudicca is “really refreshing” and “a bit too drinkable”.
“We look forward to trying the wines when they are made with our own grapes. If they are as good as they are now, that will be fantastic.
“We take it [growing the vines] fairly stable, aiming to remove the grapes after five years,” Rebecca reveals, adding that they want the Old Hall vineyard to be as natural as possible. There is talk of introducing Southdown sheep and possibly geese to help keep pests away from the vines. “We don’t want to use sprays, fertilizers or other chemicals. It is a system “beyond organic” because organic farms can use sulfur and copper which are not good for the soil.
“It’s really a French laissez-faire approach here. And it’s fantastic to see the vines grow in such a natural way.
Rebecca says she and Stuart have been criticized a bit for “doing the wrong thing”.
“But I’ve never let that stop me from doing anything else over the years. The vines look really healthy. I’m sure they won’t be as “effective” as defined by someone else’s measurements, but we’ll have real earthiness, rather than something hit by chemicals.
“The vineyard is surrounded by fields of legumes and clover, which smells divine, and the vines will be fertilized by the clover. It’s like everything we do here – as little intervention as possible.
Wine tours and tastings will take place in July and August (watch social media and the farm’s website), and there will be a farm walk and tour on June 28 in association with Mind.
All Old Hall wines and a selection of other local wines are available from the Wroxham Barns farm and grocery store.
If you fancy tasting your own wine, you also have the option of buying vines at Old Hall, which will be cared for, pressed and bottled for you.
Find out more at oldhallfarm.co.uk