Stage 1 - Summer 2004
Investigate own land (8 acres) South of Perpignan in foothills of the Pyrénées with view of planting wines. Meet Nerida Abbott, Aussie wine consultant on site. Old picture of land shows some vines which still exist but in terrible state. 50 pages of French Solicitors document (as if wasn't bad enough in English) reveal that we don't have any "planting rights". These can be bought and transferred but probably not worth the bother or expense. Questions marks over who would manage project etc. - Living in fantasy land, project abandoned.
Revert to idea of planning permission for houses, which, has marginally better odds than buying lottery ticket!
Stage 2 - Autumn 2004
Visit Nyetimber in Sussex (hugely successful sparkling wine producer) and taste stunning wines. Hear a lot about how good English wine is, talk over lunch is of global warming etc. Should I be looking closer to home?
Talk to Nigel & Tony Carter of Millets Farm and identify potential vineyard site. Prospects look interesting-massive end user customer base. Arrange to see English wine consultant. Encouraged by his enthusiasm and arrange a meeting with large Southern England wine producer to see if worth growing grapes for him and bottling a little ourselves. No money in this so revert to idea of doing it ourselves. Gather all the information we need and cost it - wow! Some investment needed, no return for seven years and a bad year could cause big problems. Large number of bottles to sell - could we get rid of it all? Gut feeling is no, so we all retire to the Blue Boar where we 'chicken out' of this potential joint venture until we have long hot summers i.e. never!
Stage 3 - Summer 2005
Jim Pearce (expert fruit grower at Millets) and lovely wife Sarah up sticks and buy fruit farm in South of France in the Narbonne, Carcassonne, Béziers triangle. So happens that among the peaches he inherits some vineyards. One such plot has very old Carignan vines (planted 1950) - a rare commodity. Knowing all about the failed Millets project he rings me with mad idea. How about renting vineyard and making wine?
Fly out to Perpignan and drive up to Narbonne to meet David Morrison another Aussie winemaker who despite complaining of a hangover proceeds to shove 6 or 7 beers down me before we drink a gorgeous bottle of Corbières. Then joined by Jim & Sarah who have been celebrating wedding anniversary (it's only their second, so we forgave them!). Proprietor of bar (local rugby man) decides we should drink Champagne on the house. Retire to bed and have strange dreams.
Wake up to sound of Jim's new Labrador and find selection of old vine Carignan on table to accompany breakfast. Palate a bit shot but we seem to make some sensible decisions about the style of wine we're looking for. Discuss costing with David and decide to go for top quality only. Wander round vineyard selecting the best patches of vines and decide to cut legal yield of 90 hectolitres per hectare to 45. This would improve quality but of course will cost me twice as much. Also insist on hand picking which will prove three times more expensive than by machine.
We plan to use combination of new and used French oak. Barrels alone cost 500 euros and I will need twelve of them for my first harvest. Gulp! I insist on expensive bottle and acknowledge I am worst label designer on planet so agree to use consultant. It's all adding up but hey - quality always wins through.Putting lots of faith in Dave the Aussie winemaker who's the only Australian I've met recently who shows absolutely no interest in the Ashes series, shame as I could have given him a hard time.
English tax and VAT is a killer but should get wine on shelf for something between £7.99 and £8.99. Give the go ahead- if worst come to worst we'll have huge party at the Warehouse!
Jim's Algerian pruners are issued with powerful secateurs and given their instructions to prune heavily and remove lots of the higher bunches thus enhancing others before the harvest in late September.
We have started and I am committed! Check into local lunatic asylum!