Wine writer Rebecca Pitcairn, host of The English Wine Diaries podcast, takes us on a tour of five vineyards - from the rolling hills overlooking the Chew Valley to an allotment garden in Montpelier, Bristol.

Great British Life: Enjoy the view across Wraxall VineyardEnjoy the view across Wraxall Vineyard

Wraxall – The regenerated vineyard

Celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, Wraxall Vineyard, in Shepton Mallet, was originally planted in 1974, making it one of the oldest vineyards in Somerset, and indeed the UK.

The current owners, Lexa Hunt and David Bailey, bought the vineyard in 2021 and embarked on a programme of rejuvenation, regeneration and modernisation to position this boutique vineyard at the forefront of Somerset’s wine tourism.

The 3.5 hectares of vines include Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, from which they produce a selection of still wines, including their 2022 Bacchus Reserve and Early Pinot Noir Rosé, which both won Silver in the Independent English Wine Awards. A pink sparkling will be released next year, followed by a Classic Cuvée in 2025.

‘Given the size of the vineyard we recognised at an early stage that wine tourism was a critical component of the economics of the vineyard,’ explains David, who plans to plant an additional 1.5 hectares of vines in 2024. ‘During 2021 and 2022 we built our 50-seat tasting space – The View@Wraxall – from which we run a series of private functions and events.’

The move has seen visitor numbers increase from 600 in 2021 to 2,000 last year with circa 5,000 expected by the end of 2023. They’ve also added accommodation to their offering by converting the old winery where Wraxall Wine was made until the 1990s into cottages

‘This enables us to run weekend residential courses, for example, Art on the Vines, which takes place in September, and a residential wine weekend including a food and wine Pairing dinner and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level One course,' David adds.

Great British Life: Limeburn Vineyard. Photo: Kirstie YoungLimeburn Vineyard. Photo: Kirstie Young

Limeburn Hill – The biodynamic vineyard

The offering at Limeburn Hill, near Chew Magna, is unique to any other vineyard in Somerset in that it is the only one to operate biodynamically. This means the vines are managed by hand using natural techniques that promote plant health and disease control through the use of plant-based teas, specially prepared composts with tasks guided by the phases of the moon, which influence growth cycles.

‘What is so appealing about working biodynamically is that it treats the farm, its workers, and its visitors as part of one supportive system,' explains owner Robin who together with partner Georgina Harvey has planted five acres of vines between 2015 and 2020. ‘We have a naturally beautiful site overlooking the Chew Valley where we have allowed nature to thrive, which in turn delights visitors, who help our small business to grow. It is a little ecosystem of its own.’

As part of this ecosystem, Robin and Georgina run tours and tastings, workshops and private events, as well as collaborations with like-minded food producers and restaurants, such as Oak Restaurant and The Pig near Bath. This year they will also be marking the start of the harvest season on September 23 with an Autumn Equinox Feast in partnership with Ubuntu Food, which will include food cooked over outdoor wood fires and grills paired with Limeburn Hill Pet Nat sparkling wines and spirits.

Wayford – The community vineyard

The award-winning Wayford Vineyard, which can be found on the Somerset Dorset border, three miles from Crewkerne, started life in April 2007 after a group of 20 local residents decided to embark on an adventure into the world of viticulture, having listed to a talk at Crewkerne Round Table.

The vineyard has circa 3,300 Pinot Noir vines and produces, on average, 4,000 litres of traditional method sparkling wine a year (rising to 9,000 in good years such as 2018).

“We ship the grapes to Pebblebed Winery, in Exeter, where we have our own fermentation tanks and the wine is made by Alex Mills. After bottling the wine is stored close to Wayford and returned briefly to Pebblebed for disgorging when it is required for sales.'

The sparkling wine has won numerous awards over the years, including Bronze, silver and gold medals at the Wine GB Awards.

While the vineyard does not offer structure tours, members of the group are happy to show visitors round by appointment.

Great British Life: Ingrid Bates amongst the vines at Dunleavy. Photo: Remco Merbis Ingrid Bates amongst the vines at Dunleavy. Photo: Remco Merbis

Dunleavy – The hip vineyard

Located in the heart of the Yeo Valley, just outside Bristol, Dunleavy Vineyards were established by Ingrid Bates in 2008 and released their first wines in 2015.

Ingrid combines her passion with sustainable agricultural practices and the latest viticultural techniques to produce multi-award-winning still rosé, sparkling white and sparkling red wine from Regent and Seyval blanc grapes.

Despite being a relatively small set-up (Ingrid is very much a one-woman band) Dunleavy makes and sells thousands of bottles of wine every year through a host of small independent shops and restaurants across the country.

Renowned for creating innovative wine labels, Dunleavy’s 2021 sparkling white, which won silver at the International English Wine Awards, features iconic artwork by world famous Bristol photographer Martin Parr. Meanwhile, Ingrid recently teamed up with five Bristol musicians – MADLY, Harriet Riley, Stevie Toddler, Alex Garden and Georgie Ward ¬– for its latest rosé label, who have each chosen a piece of music to pair with the wine. Designer Jodie Newman has used portraits taken by photographer Pete Axford to create a double exposure photo label for each artists and web designer Andrew Eberlin created a web page to bring the whole idea together.

‘I had been following the work of each of these talented musicians, singers and composers on social media and through their live work. I was completely in awe of what they did and wanted to celebrate that and to tell others about them,’ explains Ingrid. ‘I had seen people using QR codes in all sorts of interesting ways and thought it would be fun to use them to create an interactive experience when drinking our wine.’

Great British Life:  Nania Bayliss family on the vineyard. Photo: James Bayliss-Smith Nania Bayliss family on the vineyard. Photo: James Bayliss-Smith

Nania’s – The urban vineyard

When documentary maker James Bayliss-Smith and his wife, Shelley, inheriting a 50-year-old grape vine in the garden of their home in the Montpelier neighbourhood of Bristol, they caught the wine bug.

Initially planting just 30 vines in their adjoining allotment back in 2017, they knew they wanted to do something a little different and decided on low-intervention craft wine in a can.

‘We use aluminium cans for our wines because they are the most convenient and sensible option from a sustainability perspective,’ explains James. ‘Our cans have had many past lives and have many more to come. They are also lightweight saving on unnecessary transport emissions and the smaller serving size enables savings on wine wastage as well.’

After making bottles of wine from their own grapes the couple, who named their vineyard Nania’s after because Shelley’s maiden name is Nania, decided to scale up by using grapes from growers elsewhere in the country. The vineyard’s first creation, a rosé spritzer, was made with ‘guest grapes’ from Essex and then, following a crowdfunding campaign, Nania’s made England’s first orange wine in a can, made from Bacchus grapes grown in the Malvern Hills and a red wine made from a field blend of grapes from Mayland Vineyard in Taunton.

James and Shelley have also collaborated with Bristol street artist Alex Lucas, aka Lucas Antics, on the artwork for the cans, which feature animal characters including a badger, fox and squirrel.

Great British Life: Nanioa's current cans. Photo: James Bayliss-SmithNanioa's current cans. Photo: James Bayliss-Smith