Video: Proposing a full-bodied toast to the vineyard’s Tooleys and Frithsden reborn

The entrance to the vineyard lies off a steep, narrow road – blink twice and you’ll miss it.

Thursday, 25th July 2013, 11:00 am
Frithsden Vineyard
Frithsden Vineyard

Three fields of south-facing vines slope upwards for maximum sun exposure. From the top the view of the surrounding countryside is uninterrupted.

The dusty fields of Provence, perhaps? No, this is Frithsden Vineyard, nestled in the foothills of the Chilterns.

Husband and wife duo Simon and Natalie Tooley live and work on the idyllic site, not only growing and harvesting their crop, but producing and bottling the resulting wine.

Frithsden Vineyard

They look after between 5,000 and 6,000 vines spread over five acres, mainly consisting of the white grape Solaris.

It is a labour of love and not always an easy one; the past two years have seen a drastically reduced crop due to frost and temperamental weather.

As proof, 52-year-old Simon holds up before and after photographs of a vine laid to waste in the course of a single night. But now things look set to change.

“We’re frost free and the weather is beautiful, so we hope to be fully back in business by next year,” says Simon. “At the moment we are only selling wine on demand because of the failed crop, but we have expanded in other areas and that has been successful.”

Visitors can enjoy both guided and unguided tours of the vineyard and there are events throughout the year including food and drink festivals and curry evenings.

Fashion designer Natalie also sells women’s clothing and vintage style items in her shop next to the winery.

Simon, a former BBC cameraman, speaks confidently about his venture, despite having been a relative novice when he bought Frithsden.

“I have always been passionate about growing vines. When my wife and I first moved from London to Berkhamsted, I grew vines in my allotment,” he says.

“Then we had the opportunity to buy this place and my dream of growing vines and then making and selling wine came true.”

That chance came up eight years ago in 2005, when Simon and Natalie came across the vineyard on a map and went to visit it.

They were four years too late – the previous owners Peter and Ann Latchford had pulled up all the vines because they could no longer maintain them.

Simon and Natalie purchased the property on the condition that they would return it to its former state and the vineyard was replanted a year later.

“The vines were delivered from Luxembourg and special machinery was used to plant all 5,000 in one afternoon,” says Simon.

As well as the Solaris, other varieties include the white grape Phoenix and the red grape Rondo, which is used to make rose wine. Simon looks after the vineyard himself - “it’s a daily job, all year round” - and has gained his expertise through thorough research and tips gleaned from experts.

Late September marks the vendange, or grape harvest, when the fruits of the couple’s labour will quite literally be enjoyed.

Volunteers are drafted in to collect the grapes, which are then put through a crusher destemmer.

The resulting mash of seeds and flesh is pressed to leave only the juice, which is then fermented before being bottled.

In the heat of the July sunshine, a tour group enjoys a ploughman’s lunch as they sample Frithsden’s wines.

The Phoenix goes down particularly well, but there is a general consensus that all of the wines pass the taste test.

A woman enquires the price of a bottle – it’s £17, but prices will come down after a more successful harvest.

“I never thought it would turn out like this, sitting here with people enjoying my wine behind me,” says Simon.

“I have had some down times when I have witnessed the place desolate, but today I am a very happy man, seeing the vineyard flourish.”

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