When Barry Tay bought Glenmore Farm 30 years ago as a pig farm few would have suspected that by 2012 it would be the renowned Bluebell Vineyard Estates, producing award-winning sparkling wines that have wowed the industry. This year, for instance, Bluebell's Seyval Blanc 2008 was awarded a gold medal by the United Kingdom Vineyards Association and got two Silvers from the IWC for its Brut Rosé and Blanc de Blancs.
Marketing Director Iain MacLean explains how it came to be and how Bluebell's philosophy is all about how British winemakers can help each other to make this country a leading light in wine production. "Pig farming became problematic and Barry was looking for a new challenge” he says of Tay, who had enjoyed a successful career before buying the farm, 'and he decided in 2004 to turn it into a vineyard.'
The small team planted roughly 10 acres of root stock sourced from Germany and produced the first wine in 2007. By 2008 Bluebell's wine was winning awards, a traditional it has kept going every since. So what makes its wine so good? Iain explains that there are a number of contributory factors. 'You don't need hot weather for sparkling wine because the grapes don't need to be fully ripe,' he says.
That said, the much maligned climate change is good for English sparkling vine producers, while the French face ongoing problems by having to harvest earlier each year as their already warm climate gets warmer still.
'We're not the classically chalky soil that people associate with vineyards, we've got a sandy loam over sandstone bedrock and in fact there is a part of the Champagne region with the same geological conditions,' explains Iain.
This should impress those who believe that making a wine equivalent to champagne is something to aspire to, but Iain is keen to point out that Bluebell is not trying to simply make a British equivalent.
'Part of our philosophy is to develop a unique English style. We are not trying to replicate champagne. We are more fruit driven and our wines are all about freshness and elegance. We produce crisp, fresh, acidic wine, while champagne is more yeasty and biscuity.'
Another part of Bluebell's philosophy is to help develop a co-operative spirit within the wine industry, and proprietor Tay is philanthropic in his dealings, hoping to see an industry where all producers benefit from a shared infrastructure so that they are all given the chance to produce a fantastic English equivalent.