Local heroes – Warden Abbey Vineyard
A couple of weeks ago, at a loose end on a blustery Saturday afternoon during this somewhat elusive summer of ours, we enlisted our Spanish friend Carlos (from the renowned wine producing region of Valladolid) to accompany us on one of the Vineyard’s guided tours and here’s what happened…
We were met by our knowledgeable guides at the entrance to the vineyard by a pictorial history board. The guides led us through the history of the vineyard on the former site of the Warden Abbey, from the first Cistercian monks, through to its much more recent history when the vineyard was replanted by Lady Jane Whitbread in 1986, to its current status, as a community vineyard, managed by Beds Rural Communities Charity (since 2010).
BRCC now runs the vineyard as a not for profit scheme, providing social and educational benefits to school groups. It also provides team building events, activities for back to work groups and volunteer opportunities.
The grapes grown are primarily German varieties (all white) suited to the local weather and conditions. Currently growing are Muller Thurgau, Reichtensteiner, Regner and Bacchus. Whilst strolling leisurely among the vines we learnt about the planting techniques, the maintenance and harvesting. We also learnt of the destructive blight that can affect the vines and how this is now combatted by using only grafted vines from the US.
The vineyard is run by a dedicated team of volunteers and there are many ways for people to get involved; from helping plant vines through to assisting with the harvest. Regular maintenance of the vines is also required. As such, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities… You may also donate a vine, buy a vine for a loved one, or become a friend of the vineyard. Or, like us, you can also help out by attending a tour and buying the fabulous wine!!
Which brings me to the final part of our 2 hour tour, the tasting!
We were shown to a marquee in the middle of the vineyard and were offered a sample of either the Non Conformist 2016 or 2017, plus a tasting of the sparkling variety. (Local history fans will note the bottle label – the famous picture of John Bunyan having his “dream”, but this time, cheekily dreaming of the vineyard!)
As our group comprised of 3 people, we were fortunate enough to try all 3 varieties. We particularly enjoyed the bright and fresh citrus aromas of the 2016. Being lovers of bone-dry wines (such as Manzanilla from the sherry region of Spain – more to follow on this!), it was not surprising this was our favourite, as it has less than 0.1g residual sugars. Our friend Carlos preferred the 2017, which although still citrusy, has notes of peachy sweetness. All three of us, however, were united in our praise of the fresh and fragrant sparkling variety. It’s easy to see why this is becoming such a hit as a wedding wine.
The vineyard’s annual yield can vary wildly, for example, only 650 bottles of Non Conformist were produced in 2017. Happily, the yield from 2018 is looking like 3500 bottles and reports from recent tastings are predicting a hit!!
To sum up, I can think of fewer more pleasant ways to spend a couple of hours of an afternoon and all for the princely sum of £10 per person. You get to be outdoors, learn about local history, support a local charity, sample fine wines (and buy them at a discounted rate). What’s not to love?
You can purchase the wine at local fairs and markets or from The Barn in Cardington, or The Blue Glass, St Peters Street, Bedford.