Vineyards to visit on the Isles of Scilly
PUBLISHED: 11:32 16 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:36 16 September 2020
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Established in 1996 by Val and Graham Thomas, St Martin’s Vineyard and Winery – one of the smallest and south-westerly of the UK – sits on the southern slopes of a tenancy farm, originally used to produce bulbs and cut-flowers by Val’s father.
The vineyard has recently been taken over by Holly and James Faulconbridge, who first met Val and Graham when they visited the islands in 2018. During a chance conversation they were asked if they knew anyone who wanted to run a vineyard. “We thought they were joking, but they were looking to retire after 24 years on the vineyard which they planted from scratch, and so 18 months later, we found ourselves leaving our old world behind and moving to St Martin’s,” says James.
The wine-loving duo spent a week working with Val and Graham. “Each time we set foot off The Scillonian, we knew it was for us,” James recalls.
There are several grape varieties on site, chosen to suit the soil types and climate of the islands, including Orion, their single largest planting, followed by Seyval blanc and Reichensteiner. Rondo and Regent are used to produce red or rose wines, and there are smaller plantings of Madeleine angevine, Siegerrebe, Chardonnay, Schonburger and Pinot Meunier.
With its south-facing slopes, it’s the ideal site for quality ripening of the grapes, with the pair often able to make a red from the Pinot or the Rondo varieties. “Our varieties allow us to make delicious yet unusual wines that you won’t find on a supermarket shelf – with around 2,000 vines, producing no more than 3,000 bottles of wine annually, our wines are sold exclusively on the islands or through our online shop.”
Tours and tastings are offered during the summer months, and James and Holly are currently building two shepherds huts in the wildflower meadows, providing the ultimate vineyard stay. The guided tour weaves through the vines on the lower slopes and up the hillside to the top, where you can look out across the sea towards the Eastern Isles.
“The vineyard is brimming with wildlife; we are working towards full organic production, with the wildflowers and pollinators abundant between the vines. We’ve cut short paths through the long grass to create space for wildlife and you’re likely to be accompanied by butterflies such as Meadow Brown as you wander through the vines,” says James.
The self-guided tours include information on viticulture, the vineyard year and the winemaking process, along with the history of the grape varieties and wildlife – including the rare arable-wildflowers, butterflies, bees and songbirds – before ending with a tasting.
“Alongside making improvements to the visitor centre, and creating new landscaping and planting throughout the site, we’re also experimenting with new products including sparkling-cider and country wines such as honeysuckle and blackberry, for those who fancy trying something a little special – watch this space!”
The perfect pairing
St Martins Vineyard Rose wine – Best enjoyed with a crab sandwich from ‘Island Fish’ on Bryher; generational Pender family fishermen have been supplying much of the fresh fish and shellfish on the islands
This article first appeared in Cornwall Life. For our latest subscription offers, click here