There are approximately 400 English vineyards producing around two million bottles of wine per year. The South West is a hotspot for wine production and Devon is home to many successful vineyards. Old Walls Vineyard in Bishopsteignton is one such place that has excelled at wine making. Run by the Dawe family, who have farmed the surrounding land for over 90 years, the vineyard is very much a family affair. “Farming at Ash Hill for the Dawe family started in 1917 when my Grandfather moved from south Dartmoor to Bishopsteignton,” says Ken Dawe. “After leaving school I joined the farm in 1960 and farmed with the family until March 1994 when we split from the farm. We diversified into the vine growing business in 2002 on the same land we had farmed all our lives.”
Father and son team Ken and Paul look after the eight acre vineyard, which is planted with 1,000 vines. They do all the spraying, trimming, tucking in and grass cutting and have friends who kindly help out during pruning and picking times. The winery is also run by Ken and Paul, while Ken’s wife Lesley manages and caters for the Tea Rooms and shop and daughter Lisa assists in the office and runs the Tea Rooms and shop at weekends.
The vineyard produces four types of wine: white, red, rosé and sparkling. These are produced from a mixture of grape varieties: the whites are Reichensteiner, Bacchus and Auxerrios, the reds are Regent, Rondo and Dunkelfelder and there is also a Pinot Noir ‘Early’ grape. Since investing in a range of modern technology for the winery, including ten 2,200 litre stainless steel tanks used for fermenting the wine, Old Walls Winery now has the facility to harvest and process 20,000 litres of wine per season producing around 27,000 bottles.
There are distinct differences between Ken’s wines and those from the more traditional wine producing regions. “English wines tend to be lighter and more fruity than wines from other parts of the world, with a marked regional taste within any one variety,” he explains.
“Generally speaking, South Devon offers a good opportunity to grow grapes with its warm sunny climate. The advantage is that there are many south-facing sheltered slopes to choose from,” says Ken. “The disadvantage is that the South West tends to suffer from wet south westerly winds, which can severely reduce the crop if the south westerly comes at the end of June or early July when the vines are flowering.”
The past three summers may have been pretty dire weather-wise but Old Walls still managed to pick up a number of awards for its 2006 wine at the 2009 South West Vineyards Association Competition. The 2006 Priory white wine received the accolade of highly commended, as did the 2006 Bacchus white wine. The 2006 Palace red wine was also highly commended and the Vineyard’s 2005 Sparkling Brut received a bronze award.
The wines produced at Old Walls are sold locally to several farm shops, hotels, restaurants and of course direct from the vineyard’s own shop and tea rooms. “Darts Farm shop in Topsham and Naz Indian Restuarants in Teignmouth and Newton Abbot are two of our largest clients,” says Ken.
The popularity of the wine is growing and to keep up with demand Ken is already planning to expand the business. “The future for us is to extend the vineyard by planting more vines and we still have six acres of unplanted land left. We plan to extend the winery to cope with the extra demand for our wines and we also want to increase the seating area in our tea rooms to cater for local people and the tourists who support us,” says Ken.
To find out more about the vineyard, winery and wine making process and equipment at Old Walls, tours and sampling of the wines can be arranged.