White Castle Vineyard

On a blazing hot day in June, myself and some friends headed to White Castle Vineyard in Abergavenny, Wales and, to our surprise, not only found some glorious sunshine but some incredibly wonderful wines!  If you have any preconceptions about Welsh wine, please put them to one side and read on…..

I had been at the WineGB event in London a few weeks earlier when I met Robb Merchant, owner of White Castle.  I mentioned that I had plans to be in Newport visiting some friends and he told me to pop on over as they’re only 30 minutes away.  Pop on over we did, and we were not disappointed!

White Castle is a small 5-acre vineyard nestled into a bowl shape with the vines planted on a gentle south facing slope.  With the area protected by the mountains to the west, White Castle manages to stay pretty rain free and, as we found on our visit, it captures the sun beautifully.  We whiled away a blissful hour on the porch with a bottle of the sparkling Phoenix and a cheese platter whilst waiting for our tour to start.

The tour is taken by Robb and leads you through the vineyard and the rows of grape varieties: Siegerrebe and Seyval Blanc (still white), Phoenix (used for sparkling) and the reds; Rondo, Regent and Pinot Noir Précose. Robb has spent a long time analysing the soils, the root stock and the weather so he knows his vineyard literally upside down and inside out and he’s not afraid to share his findings with you. I have a feeling that if the tour wasn’t only meant to last 40 minutes, we could have been talking in that vineyard for hours! His knowledge and enthusiasm know no bounds.

Robb and his wife Nicola are wonderful hosts and they are incredibly passionate about the vineyard and about Welsh Wines. They bought their land back in 1995 and, after attending Plumpton to learn about viticulture, they realised their life long dream and planted vines in 2008. They live onsite, have beautifully restored a Grade II listed barn which was on the property when they bought it and they have continued to buy adjacent land to extend the vineyard. Proudly Welsh, they serve local cheeses and pickles with their wines and openly and enthusiastically recommend places to eat, visit and stay in the surrounding areas. Robb is so committed to the Welsh Wine industry that he is also Head of the Welsh Vineyards Association where he is working with other vineyards in Wales and striving to grow the Welsh Wine industry as a whole.

With the rise of English Wine at the moment you would be forgiven for lumping Welsh Wine into the same category, but it would be wrong to do so.  With many of England’s well-known brands being in the South East and South West, English Wines are starting to build a reputation on the back of Chardonnay, Bacchus and Pinot Noir as a rosé.  Not so in Wales.  The soil is different, the climate different and the wines are decidedly set apart. 

The whites and sparkling are what I would have expected:  refreshing and aromatic with notes of elderflower, peach, orange blossom across them all – all too easy to drink, especially on a summers’ day.  The reds on the other hand are truly something to behold and, unlike anything else I have tasted from these shores.  

The Regent has something of the Gamay/Beaujolais about it:  high acid, low tannin, lovely cherry notes – again, chilled, on a summer day, all too easy to drink and enjoy.  

The Rondo is a shock of power – lovely noticeable tannin, big punchy red and black fruits with some spice coming through from a little barrel ageing.  This was a little out of place for us on a sunny day, but I bought some anyway to bring home and enjoy when we’ve got a blazing fire going in a few months’ time!

The Pinot Noir Précose is one of my favourites:  Good acidity, red and black fruits on the palate:  it’s juicy, its complex, it’s got just enough oak to make it incredibly interesting and it was a joy to drink.  I was expecting something thin and dusty along the lines of the keener priced Burgundian Pinot Noir but what I got was way more superior in terms of taste, flavour profile and texture – it was lovely.  A couple of those went into my shopping bag too! 

Finally, though, the defining wine for me, was the 1581 fortified wine.  Named after the year the Grade II listed barn on the property was built, this is a glorious port style wine with a depth and intensity that I just did not think would be possible on this island.  Wonderfully deep in colour, intense bramble notes and silky tannins, this is an exceptional wine which, for me, highlights the possibilities for wine in the UK which go way beyond Germanic styles and sparkling.  If this sounds like your thing, you’ll have to be quick.  There are only a few bottles left and you’ve got to go to the cellar door to buy them.  If you find you’re too late, just ask Robb which restaurants it’s listed in as he’s getting hounded for bottles of it!

​White Castle is a wonderful place and really shows what building a vineyard in this country is about – it needs some patience, enthusiasm and pioneering spirit.  Robb himself has a very interesting past and you could easily while away the hours with a few bottles of White Castle’s finest and listen to stories of his professional football, professional rugby and farming days as well as his 30-year career in the post office.  Nicola was working hard in the kitchen preparing food for the guests still out on the patio at 5pm yet she found time to come and say hello and tell us how happy they are in fulfilling their dream.  We had a lovely afternoon spent with great friends, drinking wine, eating cheese and meeting lovely, genuine people who have worked hard to make their dreams a reality – I highly recommend a visit!

No Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *