It could be described as ‘Chateau Dudley’ but the wine from an unlikely Midland vineyard is proving to be a smash hit with international experts.
Corks were popping after it was revealed that the West Midlands-produced tipple had won a silver medal in a prestigious contest.
The Rondo, made at Halfpenny Green Vineyards, near Dudley, gained the accolade in the renowned Decanter Wine awards 2013.
This year, 219 wine experts from 27 countries, including 75 Masters of Wine and 13 Master Sommeliers, tasted 14,362 wine entries from 52 countries for the competition, organised by the industry’s top trade magazine.
The Halfpenny Green 2011 robust red – with an alcohol level of 15 per cent – achieved a four-star rating.
Late summer sunshine during 2011 helped to increase natural sugars in the Rondo grape variety used to make the wine.
The red, named after the grape variety used in production, had a staggering 15 per cent volume – the highest alcohol percentage for a regular UK red wine. Alcohol levels of that strength are only normally found in wines from places like California, Australia and Italy, so it was surprising to discover that the Midlands’ variety possessed such muscle.
Vineyard boss Martin Vickers said 2011 was an amazing year for production.
He said: “It was a dry summer that was crowned by a fantastically hot September which helped increase the intensity of the sugar levels in the grapes,” explained Mr Vickers.
“We were very excited about the wine when we first tried it – we were blown away. We knew it was special from the first sip.
“People thought that you could not produce an English red with that sort of alcohol level, but it just shows what can be done if conditions are right,” he said. “The riper the grapes are, the better the sugar levels and the better the quality of wine,” said Mr Vickers. Experts have claimed that the 2011 vintage is a once-in-a-lifetime wine experience.
Only 7,000 bottles have been produced and they are on sale at the vineyard, but there are already plans afoot to encourage the grape crop to produce a similar sugar-level for future vintages.
Mr Vickers added: “There are things we can do to reduce the yield such as have a green harvest in August – which is pruning the vines – before they are harvested.
“This gives the vines less work to do so it will produce a similar variety to the 2011 fruit,” he said.
“Last summer was disastrous for us weather-wise and all our reds are much lighter and lower in alcohol than the 2011 variety. There are still very acceptable but they no not have the same intensity as the Rondo.
“England is renowned for its sparkling wines. This country can produce some of the best on the market, so many people were amazed that we were able to make something like the 2011 Rondo.
“It was great to gain the silver award from Decanter and we are absolutely delighted,” he said.
The Rondo, a hybrid grape, was specially developed in 1964 by a Czech scientist by crossing the varieties Zarya Severa and St Laurent.
It was specially-created to withstand winter frosts and damp conditions and normally produces rich, substantial wines.
Vines were first planted at Halfpenny Green in 1983. The Vickers family have traditionally farmed the site for three generations and it was their dream to create one of Europe’s most northerly vineyards.
What began as a hobby soon developed into a full-blown business operation and the first bottles were made for sale in 1985. Grapes are grown on 38 acres of gently sloping, south-facing, sandstone soil. Sandstone, which warms very quickly in the spring and summer, creates the ideal environment to ripen grapes.
“We were one of the country’s most northern vineyards when we first started. But the popularity of English wine has risen and there are now producers in Cheshire, Yorkshire and North Wales,” he said.
Mr Vickers’ son Clive is now the winemaker and the vineyard produces six white wines, ranging from an intense, late harvested sweet to a crisp, refreshing dry.
Sparkling wines are also produced in white, an English wine gold award-winning pink and an unusual Shiraz-style red variety. Originally, the vines were imported from France and Germany but these have matured and cuttings are now grafted together to expand the numbers of plants.
Like most English winemakers, continuing to make quality products is an uphill struggle with battles against bureaucracy and the cut-price strategies of High Street supermarket chains.
Producers on the continent receive massive subsidies from their governments and the EU, but it is the other way around here because British producers contribute so much through duty. Cut-price wines are also offered by the supermarkets and it is difficult for independent vineyards to compete.