Only three years after her first proper grape harvest, part-time Midwifery lecturer at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) and vineyard owner Liz Robson has celebrated double podium success at an international wine competition.
The former principal lecturer in the Faculty of Health & Life Sciences and Director of Rothley Wine Ltd raised a glass with her partner Matthew at the national UK Vineyards Association competition, earlier this summer, when two of their wines won silver and bronze medals. Their King Richard dry white claimed silver while the bronze went to Spirit of Freedom, the Rothley couple’s first pink sparkling wine.
Spirit of Freedom (priced £25) is named in honour of William Wilberforce and Thomas Babington who worked together in the grounds of the former Manor of Rothley, now the site of Liz’s vineyard, on the first drafts of the Act of Parliament that lead to the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807.
The King Richard full bodied white (£9.99 a bottle) pays tribute to Richard III and the fact he likely crossed Rothley Brook, now adjacent to the vineyard, on his fateful way from Nottingham to Leicester, before moving on to the Battle of Bosworth.
Liz and Matthew’s Kingfishers’ Pool, two-acre vineyard lies on a gentle south facing slope over-looking the brook, a tributary of the River Soar. Liz took on her parents’ property there just over 20 years ago, including an ancient monastic outbuilding which dates back to before the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1541).
She only inherited one vine, however. Yet with the help of a Boots wine making kit, though no instructions, Liz decided to have a crack at putting the vine to good use, later placing the grapes in a microwave to help get the juice out. Liz swears it was ‘the most delicious wine’, yet by the time she proudly poured it for some dinner party guests, she remembers, it had gone off.
It wasn’t until the couple returned to a favourite B&B set in a Suffolk vineyard that they decided to come back with four of their hosts’ Orion vines. Marrying Liz’s DMU research experimental principles, not to mention her knowledge of procurement and community liaison skills, with Matthew’s engineering expertise – he’s a Technical Tutor at Loughborough University - the couple set about growing some serious grapes.
“We grew our first row of vines in 2008 but it wasn’t until 2012 that we had our first proper harvest, producing 300 vines,” said Liz.
“We’re now growing 950 vines and rising, converting them into 1,100 bottles of sparkling wine and 600 bottles of still – next year we hope to plant nearer 1,600 vines and sell 3,000 bottles.”
Liz is quick to acknowledge the mentoring help they’ve had from the Halfpenny Green Vineyard in Staffordshire, which finishes Liz and Matthew’s sparkling wines and nearby vineyards at Costock, near Loughborough and at Market Harborough.
Yet it’s a circle of present and former DMU colleagues that has lent crucial vine picking and grape crushing support.
“Thanks to the culinary talents of Dominic North, a friend of ours who runs a nearby delicatessen, plus plenty of bribery on our part, people like Rosemary Garratt, DMU’s Principal Lecturer in Midwifery, Jane Schooner, retired Principal Lecturer in Nursing at DMU, Angela North-Rose, retired Head of School for Nursing and Midwifery and Mary Larkin, a former DMU Principal Lecturer in Sociology are regularly persuaded to come over to Kingfishers to lend a hand in the vineyard… and enjoy some excellent food and wine, not to mention some agreeable company,” said Liz.
Two wines have been named in honour of this generous support and talent for grape crushing – Academic Feet, an East Midlands trophy winner and Medical Feet, a reviving red.
“I know our husbandry skills are good and that we can grow grapes that produce award-winning wines, but my DMU background tells me I have to be continually learning in order to improve and master all aspects of running a business, which is something I still need to work on,” said Liz.
But is English wine really that good?
“We make superb quality wine in this country and blind tasting often shows it to be as good, if not better than wine from France, Germany and the New World. Yet we need people to champion it, more effort needs to go into promoting English wine.”
Liz, Matthew and their DMU grape-crushing, food-loving, wine-tasting set are certainly doing their bit.
Posted on Monday 24th August 2015