2018. What a year that was!
It’s amazing to think that our family are just 19 months into the story here at the vineyard. With that comes a great deal of news and progress, so to cover all of the various achievements and plans thus far, each of our family have written a summary of the year.
Today, Bev summarises her 2018.
2018 was a year of new challenges, new experiences... if a single phrase was to accurately sum up my life over those twelve months it was stepping outside my comfort zone, again and again and again. What I have realised is that to run Astley Vineyard means being an extreme multi-tasker - we run a farm, a tourist destination, an events business. We are wine makers, wine retailers and more. Every day is different and friends say I look very well - not surprising as I am always busy, working in the great outdoors. I have never slept so deeply.
There is much to reflect upon - 2018 was a busy year
The vineyard & harvest
We have been lucky, so so lucky. Spring came late but then the clouds parted and the 2018 harvest was exceptional, with our grapevines basking under the intense sun for weeks on end. Whilst neighbouring fields of potatoes and cabbages wilted, the vines flourished and canes sagged with the weight of ripening fruit. The intense heat meant early morning starts in the vineyard to manage the plants that seem to grow inches daily. And when harvest time came, our lovely friends and neighbours appeared to help bring the fruit in, tons and tons of fruit. As we sat around after each pick, enjoying a simple lunch of local cheese and bread, it felt like I had stepped into some idyllic scene from a movie.
Winery & wine making
When we decided to buy the vineyard in December 2016 I didn't anticipate that that decision would lead to us becoming wine makers. It's amazing how one thing can lead to another. It is one thing to tend the vines through the dark days of winter, to nurture the plants over the sunny days of summer, and to harvest the grapes on a beautiful Autumn morning - it is another altogether to try to turn those precious grapes into wine. Of course, much of the process is science - chemical analysis, stainless steel, controlled fermentation. But I prefer the idea that it is an art, a natural alchemy that links us to the Greeks and Romans, the Bible, monks in medieval monasteries...
I am the winemaker's assistant and my job in the winery is to support my son Chris. I watch him taste the juice in the tanks, make decisions about skin contact times and monitor the wine's health. I am so proud of how he has risen to the challenge. Most of my contribution has been cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. I dream of water - washing round my feet, filling my boots, soaking my clothes.
We are excited - tasting the wine directly from the tanks I can track the subtle changes and development that suggest there will be some lovely bottles for our customers to try soon. Of course, the wine has to get into the bottle and that is a new task yet to be tackled.
Events & Tours
One of the loveliest parts of the work at the vineyard is welcoming visitors, whether on a tour or at one of our special events. Sharing our story, walking around the vineyard and pouring guests a glass of our wine is a privilege. Many of our visitors in 2018 were locals, curious about the little vineyard on their doorstep. But others came from far-flung countries such as Canada, Australia and Kenya, popping in with their English family, to find out if wine can really be made in the UK. It's also been wonderful to hear people's memories about our estate and wine, how it was drunk at weddings, christenings and anniversaries. And we've hosted some fun evenings in our lovely new Tasting Room. It is a gorgeous space for small intimate events, and it is heaven to sit on the terrace on a warm evening, sipping our own wine, and watching the sun slowly set over the rolling Worcestershire hills
The vision & business development
It says on my business card that I am Astley Vineyard's Business Development Manager - that's not quite right, for it's not just me that is responsible for this task - all the family play their part in building the business. But I do love to think about the business, and explore the potential of our beautiful little estate in the Severn valley. We have a vision for the business. Sustainability, quality, and passion are key parts of the strategy.
More often than not, I do not need to go out looking for opportunities. We are lucky to be approached regularly by other small businesses who are as passionate about their product as we are - from beer makers to holiday home owners, cheese makers to Michelin Starred restaurateurs. Central to everything is the wine and our love of Worcestershire, and partnering with people who think the way we do is fantastic.
We have lots of ideas - time is the challenge.