“They said it couldn’t be done, so we did it”.
Donald Hope, a resident of the village of South Dell, on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides group off the north-west coast of mainland Scotland, first planted grapes in Scotland in 1997, selling them at the Sunday Farmers’ Market in Stornoway, a town on the Isle of about 3000 inhabitants. Mr. Hope produced his first vintage in 2006 from 20 black hamburgh vines grown with polytunnel protection. Vintages followed in 2007, 2008 and 2009, with production ranging from 30 to 50 bottles.
Challenges have been many – pests, vine weevil, botrytis. But getting the grapes to ripen has not been a problem, as the pictures show.
The vintages have all been produced by adding sugar in the production process 500grams to 2kg, depending on the sugar content of the grapes. The sugar content in turn has been dependent on the climate during the ripening period, as would be expected. The 2010 vintage has produced small, very sweet grapes. (Note from Robert: I can attest to that! Delicious!)
The colour of the vintages ranges from deep straw colour to the colour of rosé. These are light, crisp wines. I tasted two vintages, the 2007 and 2008. Both were eminently drinkable and enjoyable. The 2008 vintage was aged in wood. Mr. Hope considered the experiment of ageing this wine in wood to have been a failure. I personally felt that the vintage aged without wood was superior.
At 58 degrees 28 minutes North, this vineyard is, I believe, the second most northerly vineyard known to be producing wine (a small vineyard north of Helsinki, Finland is at a higher latitude).
Now unable to sell his wine due to bureaucracy by courtesy of the Scottish Vineyard Inspector (yes, Scotland has a Vineyard Inspector, a very stressful position, no doubt), the production from Mr. Hope’s vineyard is consumed by community members and at community events.
Vines have been planted in Scotland possibly since Roman times (about 1200). Most recently, a South African, Pete Gottgens, planted some 48 vines comprising phoenix, orion, seyval and bacchus at his Argeonaig Hotel on the shores of Loch Tay in central Scotland. He then replaced them with solaris. The vines are still there, never having produced wine to our knowledge. Unfortunately, the hotel business went bankrupt, and Mr. Gottgens has left Scotland.
Other known vine plantings have been by Foster Ross at Ecclefechan, and Alan Smith at Dalrossach in the Grampians, in the valley of the Upper Don, near Huntley (the vineyard 57 degrees 13 minutes North). The latter vineyard, experimental and totalling 50 vines, is on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. There are also many plantings of individual vines on the Isle of Lewis. In fact, Mr. Hope tells me that the demand for grape vines on the Isle of Lewis is even higher than the demand for grapes!
Donald Hope and his lovely wife Jean are the most hospitable people you could ever hope to meet. They are also pioneers, and probably catalysts for a viable wine industry in Scotland.
Donald and Jean Hope: www.the-poly-croft.co.uk
Mercian Vineyards Association: www.ukvines.co.uk/mercia
Robert would appreciate any information on wine production in countries and autonomous regions not listed. You may contact Robert here.