When the weather closes in on a Devon day, what better way to bring back the sunshine than to recall our visit to Mike Huskins at Dalwood Vineyards. So now for Part 2. The aperitif has been sampled ...
For us, travel becomes a proper adventure when we have memories to recall of real tales delivered by real people. Enthusiasm is uplifting but recollections often need the frisson of sorry tales, too, as a backdrop to the brightness. Happily, this tale is all about enthusiasm.
So, on this Blog Day Afternoon, I’ll take a leaf out out of Prince Hal’s book, if only to justify fulfilling Shan’s lack of confidence in my ability to negotiate Campy through the narrow lanes of the West Country;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly, and attract more eyes,
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I will therefore sneak my confession of additional Campy damage under the radar of Hal’s “loose behaviour” before returning to Mike’s “bright metal”. I am using this metaphor in honour of the Dalwood bard’s love of the metaphor, especially those involving English Rugby.
OK, so a couple of days after Mike steered us up a more tolerable return route to the A35, and my brain slowing down in the balmy glow above Lyme Regis, I judged it possible to execute what was effectively a u-turn in a 7.2M motor home in a 5M wide lane. In mitigation, there were a few misaligned field openings that might have provided some refuge had my driving been 100% accurate but in the end probably only 85% was achieved. As is always the case in situations like these, a small crowd of experts gathered, our campsite owner, James, included.
He was quick to point out that I had been attempting the impossible and apologised to Shan for surreptitiously glancing to see if there’d been any damage to his gatepost. Happily, another member of the small crowd was more sympathetic to my predicament and exhibited the knowledge, probably gained from having been a similar seemingly deadly embrace before. He calmly guided me to a safer position. The only damage in rugby metaphor parlance was a few grass burns to Campy’s nearside rear flank.
Yesterday was taken up getting from there to here and scandalising Niamh only a tiny bit and the patrons of Waitrose a little more by having the temerity to shop there in a battle scarred motorhome. The last part of the day was taken up with a very short bike ride from here on a beautiful evening and attacking some challenging gradients on my wife’s e-bike after being warned by the locals that the route “were a bit lumpy”.
And so the state of the weather today declared that it was to be a Blog Day Afternoon to let me return to my Dalwood #Roaminations.
By the time Mike had conveyed us up to the top of the Dalwood vineyard, showed due care and attention with liberal use of gin-based disinfectant and given us each a glass untouched by Covid-19, my dearly beloved was into the swing of things. Our host proffered a tasting sample of his award-winning bubbly - the appropriate amount for me to spit out and a bit more for Shan to calm her nerves - and late afternoon Nirvana commenced. Surrounded by the scenery one would expect in Devon and bathed in softening sunlight Mike demonstrated the deep knowledge of viticulture that is borne from a life on the land and an enthusiasm for the project in hand.
The closest winemaker to showing us similar love for his vines had been Richard Kershaw MW, at his home in the Western Cape of South Africa. Richard’s wine has attracted many accolades and was described by John Platter, founder of the annual bible of SA wines, Platter’s Wine Guide, as “boffin juice”. Nothing is left to chance. Given the emerging status of English wine, Mike follows a similar pattern of matching grape varieties to the terroir.
Dalwood is every armchair winelover’s dream. Six mates having a pint in the local confess to a yen for making their own wine. Enough of a yen to chuck in enough £000s each to allocate 3 acres of farmland and plant 3,000 vines. Enough of a yen to take a vine growing course at Plumpton College. Enough of a yen to work their way up the ladder of Decanter awards to silver medals for both their offerings within 10 years of planting their first vines. Enough of a yen to plant 3 out of 4 varieties most people have never heard of, i.e. seyval blanc, solaris, madeleine angevine and clearly sufficiently risk-seeking to plant the pinot noir that graces the Dalwood fizz. Mike and Jo (Huskins) aim to repeat something similar IN AN ORGANIC VINEYARD.
But the Huskins’ family collie is named Pinot, isn’t she. She has even more energy than Mike.
The rugby metaphors came thick and fast. Growing quality wines took the dedication of a Jonny Wilkinson. Bucking the trend took the belligerence of a Martin Johnson.
“And pulling brilliance out of the hat, Ben Stokes,” I ventured.
“Probably, but he’s a bit of a maverick,” Mike conceded. “I don’t follow cricket to the same extent.”
These are early days for Dalwood. I was encouraged to contact him by Lee Isaacs, a guitar playing punster who adds a dimension of daring fun to the wine scene. Mike’s zeal includes extending this work to others who are hankering after the same thing. I followed Lee’s suggestion with a message to Mike. He responded By phoning me just before lockdown, with evangelistic zeal.
“Edge of the Costwolds, don’t see why not,” he enthused. “First you should get a soil sample, I’ll give you the contact details of John Buchan.”
John Buchan is an agronomist. I haven’t contacted him yet because lockdown has stalled my efforts to build a co-op.
I believe it will take a force majeure to prevent Dalwood from exponentiating. The yen and the spirit of enterprise is all there and the proof of results is emerging.
This year’s harvest began on Saturday and the smiles on the faces of the pickers are the evidence ...
“You’re going to BinTwo in Pastow?” Mike exclaimed when Shan and I were taking our leave. “I’ll give you a bottle of our white blend to share with THAT Mike.”
I thought this was a lovely idea and a perfect introduction to MikeBinTwo (MBT), with whom I’d corresponded but never met.
I mentioned this in a thank you to Mike (Dalwood) out of courtesy, copying in Lee and MBT, as well as Lisa, a fan of of all of theirs. Lee immediately started stirring and suggested a bottle each. It all escalated from there. All players feigned offence at not being invited to the “party”.
MBT was even moved to exclaim: “Just gimme my wine basically.”
The offending bottle is in MY possession (see below, MBT) consider my half the corkage/delivery charge.
During the interregnum between that conversation and Blog Day Afternoon, the clown who should be obeyed has declared a Covid-19 Curfew of 10PM with the threat of a £10K fine for loiterers who exceed that limit. MBT reckons this effectively means half an hour before that, given the time it takes to clear up and bugger off. Mike and his partner, Mary, have spent a fortune in time and money to transform BinTwo to comply with previous lockdown guidelines so THEY ARE DEFINITELY RESPONSIBLE vendors!
So it looks like we’ll have to start drinking early given what we understand to be a 9:30PM curfew ....
Coming some time later next week: feud over bottle of Devon white wine curtailed by Cummings curfew ...