For Christmas, we were kindly gifted a tour and tasting of the Yorkshire Heart brewery and vineyard, which lies in a sunny valley between Harrogate and York.
The experience began with lunch in the smart restaurant that overlooks some of the vines - a tasty ploughman's, although there was a choice of other platters, or soup and sandwiches. We were then driven about half a mile to the farm that houses the brewery part of the business. Amongst the aroma of silage and hay that comes with farm life, we were led into one of the converted sheds that is now home to the brewing of craft ales.
The assistant brewer was in charge of giving us the tour and it's always a good sign when a tour starts as it means to go on, with a glass of something alcoholic. Chris poured us a glass of JRT (the initials of the founder's father (grandfather to the head brewer now) - James Rodney Throup, who passed away just prior to the launch of the brewery).
The brewery was founded in 2011 as a stop gap whilst the family waited for the newly planted vines to mature, develop fruit and be commercially productive. This is a long waiting game of several years, so the brewery was able to provide a steadier income in the interim.
Over the next hour we were shown the process of brewing in amongst the tanks and barrels that were busy fermenting the next batches.
We got to rub, sniff and taste different types of barley, malt and hops and had an engaging explanation of the mixology that goes into creating the different tastes and styles of beer.
Along the way we also got to taste a Platinum EPA, Molly's chocolate stout (named after the chocolate labrador dog that still roams the grounds) and the Hearty Blond. Chris was generous with his time and portions.
It was then time to travel back to the vineyard where we listened to owner - also called Chris - describe how his wife's fascination for growing vines in the 1990s, along with some chance meetings, grew into the size of operation the vineyard is today. Spread over 10 acres, the 17,000 vines result in 17 different grape varieties. Whilst we listened, we had a taste of the English sparkling wine, which was delicious.
When they first bought their initial few acres there were just a few vineyards in Yorkshire. Nearly 20 years later, there are eleven commercial vineyards - a testimony to climate change and the terrain of the parts of Yorkshire that are sunny and flat, with protection from the wind and rain that batters the lands further west.
It was then time to go outside into the sunshine amongst the vines where Chris explained more about the planting and cultivating of vines, the year round jobs such as pruning, harvesting, and keeping the vines healthy. Along the way there are engaging stories about school visits and vineyard workers with no common sense.
Viticulture ticked off the list, we then transferred to the other side of the vineyard where Chris has laid out some of the winemaking equipment for us to see. It's so much easier to understand a process when you can see the piece of kit and Chris explained in great detail so that the crowd learnt each step from crushing, pressing, preserving free run juice, maturing, filtering, bottling, labelling...
I was even able to try the corking machine for myself. With a target time to beat of four seconds (the average) my first attempt was complete in seven seconds, but at least I didn't smash or break anything in the process.
It was thirsty work, so we went back into the restaurant where hard working wife Gillian had prepared individual platters for everybody containing cheese, meats and crackers, whilst son Tim poured the wines. Starting with the "Latimer white" made from the little known solaris grape (nice, off dry, plenty of apple fruit flavours), followed by the rosé (a lovely bar-b-que wine for the summer) and finally a Latimer red from the rondo grape. I have yet to find an English red that I've liked enough to buy a bottle of, and this was no exception. Our climate doesn't support the ripeness needed to get quality red wines, but the food and tasting was a first class experience.
All in all, this has been the best vineyard experience I've had to date. It's a hands on and informative experience across all aspects of wine - from growing the vines, harvesting the grapes and turning that precious juice into bottles of commercial wine.
To find out more about the Yorkshire Heart vineyard and brewery, their website can be found at https://www.yorkshireheart.com/tours-tastings/