Vines with a view
PUBLISHED: 13:55 10 July 2013 | UPDATED: 13:56 10 July 2013
When Kim Coulson first saw the cottage at Polgoon Farm, she admits it was love at first sight - and now 10 years later the formerly derelict cottage has become a family home surrounded by her and husband John's growing vineyard and new wine shop.
The couple was looking for a new house, moving from nearby Newlyn where they had run a very successful fish merchant business, when they came across the 200-year-old cottage ripe for renovation. But as the sale progressed its former owner died, and his family decided they wanted to sell the house and the farmland and outbuildings it came with.
“We took the plunge and bought the 23 acres,” says Kim. “But we knew we would need to make it pay. We had all sorts of bizarre ideas,” admits Kim. “We thought about a rabbit farm, growing lavender and essential oils.”
Finally they decided to try vines, which they planted in 2004 – and had their first vintage from in 2006 which was named the best still rosé in the country. But this was followed by two yeas of failed harvests.
On one of the hottest days of the year, the setting is idyllic: serried ranks of just flowering vines gently flow down a south-facing slope with a sea view overlooking Penzance and St Michael’s Mount. At the bottom the apple orchard’s trees are beginning to blossom. A new wine shop displays the growing array of produce and Polgoon’s thrice-weekly wine tours are proving incredibly popular with locals and tourists keen to learn the story behind the wine. But their 10-year journey to this point has been far from easy, thanks to the credit crunch, poor harvests and endless rain.
“Vines don’t like wet feet,” says John. Their vineyard is planted with types that grow well in English weather, but exceptionally wet springs and summers remain their greatest challenge, he says.
But as is often the case in Cornwall – it was the entrepreneurial spirit that won through. The couple began to diversify into making cider, using the methode traditionelle employed in champagne making - to create a very special cider indeed; and that first batch was quickly picked up and stocked by top-end outlets in London and beyond.
Today their vineyard produces red, white and rosé, with their 2012 vintage just becoming available. There are also two sparkling wines – a white and rosé - produced, as well as a growing range of artisan ciders and fruit pressé.
The vineyard is named after the place: Polgoon – meaning pond on the downs – was formerly a flower farm and the winery now used originally housed the farm’s bulb packing plant. Now employing 10 people at its height, Polgoon is hoping for a dry summer and a bumper crop – as are their growing legions of fans, as they are down to the final few bottles of the 2011 vintage.
The 2012 harvest will create around 1,500 bottles of each type of wine – and most will be sold by the end of the summer.
“We sell about half the wine direct – we have a good footfall through the cellar and the other half is sold through hotels, restaurants and farmshops or delis,” says Kim. “Even before we had the shop, people would come into the winery where we had a little table set up and whoever was in there would serve them.”
During their journey, the couple has found support from within Cornwall’s burgeoning wine making industry. One if its most successful, Camel Valley, helped John choose the right vines and made that first vintage of award-winning wine from their first harvest in 2006.
“We are still learning – and there’s a huge amount of support,” says Kim. “I think because we are all generally small - from two acres to 20 acres – we don’t have that rivalry.
“We have had to be flexible. We made cider using the same method as our sparkling wine and within a couple of weeks it was in Fortnum and Mason and Selfridges, and that took us by surprise – and it opened up the opportunity.
“We are never going to be producing 10,000 bottles of white wine – but what we do produce has to be very good – and everything we have produced has won awards,” says Kim. “The Cornish are quite rightly very proud of the amazing products being produced here and its only right we should shout about it.”
As well as touring the vineyard to see wine go from the vine to the bottle, visitors can adopt a vineyard, and there are growing opportunities for socialising on the still developing site. Their annual Wassail – a traditional celebration to bless the apple trees for the coming harvest - is incredibly popular, and there are plans for more events over the coming months.
“I would like to really help put Cornwall on the map as a wine producing area,” says John of his future ambitions for Polgoon. “It’s got fantastic potential and we have proved that you can make some world-class wines here. We have got good local support and the quality of the wine speaks for itself.”
Polgoon Vineyard & Orchard
Penzance TR20 8TE