Posts Tagged ‘Romans’

When I knew I was coming to England, I thoight it would be interesting to visit one of the local vineyards of Hampshire.  The one I chose is situated on the rolling Southdowns of Hampshire  just behind Portsmouth and not far from the place where Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery laid their plans for D Day.  Tucked away down a typical English leafy lane, small and crammed to the gunwales with their wines but very busy getting their orders out.

As I arrived after the harvest, the machinery; de-stalker, press, conveyor belt etc.,  had been cleaned and was now waiting to be put away for another year.  But I was able to see into the small building where the vats stood. It was a bit like being let loose in a grown ups world but without one being there.   Opposite was the bottling room with its racks of bottles waiting to be labeled then racked plus boxes of their wines being prepared for delivery to customers.  In a steel cage were some of the pink sparkling wine waiting their turn in the process. The staff here were very helpful and informative.

So here is a short history and story of English wine both normal and Sparkling, born out of the Romans love for it.

The history of wine making in England began when the Romans arrived.  They found they could grow grapes in this strange country, and as we know from history how fond of wine they were, the logical step was to make it so they did.  The proof that wine was being made here by the Romans, was found during the early 1980’s, when some Roman wine containers were discovered on the site of the vineyard. It was one of the reasons why the Wickham Vineyard was created, so when in 1984 after further investigations into the suitability of the area were carried out, 6 acres of vines were planted. This has since increased to 18 acres and as there are 40 acres in a total I understand that further planting is in the planning stage.

You can almost imagine the Romans making their way towards London from Portsmouth stopping off to sample some of the excellent local wine before continuing their journey.

English history was as perverse as anything so when, as history informs us, Henry the 8th decided the monasteries had too much wealth and power he destroyed them, unfortunately in doing so the art of English wine making declined as well. But it is thanks to one or two of the aristocracy the vineyards did not completely die out. Plus King Charles the 2nd was hiding in this area on his flight to France, who knows he might have tasted the wine whilst waiting for his boat and escape.

In 1984 Wickham vineyard was planted by John and Caroline Charnley, and thus began a small but busy vineyard making sparkling wine alongside reds, whites and beer.

The vineyard is planted on gentle south-facing slopes, a necessity in the northern hemisphere. There is a large English oak tree in the centre, standing like a natural guardian over the vines.  These are encouraged to grow upwards before they extend their shoots like arms which drape gracefully downwards allowing the grapes to hang like earrings from elegant ladies. This system is called the Geneva Double Curtain, which is perfect for growing vines that are of low yield,  because it can increase the yield by around 50%.   Having visited this vineyard when we lived in England I have memories of the grapes ripening on the vines.

As you can see from these pictures the bottling and shed is packed to capacity.  The bottles waiting in the metal rack have had yeast added then a bottle cap is used to seal them whilst the process continues. They are then tipped so that the bubble can be drawn after which they are topped up, corked, labeled ready for storage and sale as sparkling wine.

Opposite this area is another building which contains the vats and other equipment for the processing of the wine, whilst outside we found boxes of wine on their pallets ready for despatch.

There is as with all vineyards and Cellers a shop which sells their products and a wide range there is too.  The red wines are just as I like them not to dry, but perfectly balanced for sipping, although I think they would complement a meal nicely.  As you can see from these awards the wines are doing very well and helping to promote English wine.

I have to say that these are not handed out willy nilly, so the fact that there are 5 on the shop wall dictates that here is some fine English wine, worthy of investigation.  I will add though, that since I live in a wine growing region the pleasure I get is from sipping wine.  I look at it like this; if I can sit and sip a wine that is to my pallet’s liking it is good.  If it is a little drier than I personally like, then drunk with a meal it will be fine.  And yes, I think that Wickhams Sparkling Wine can give Champagne a run for its Euro’s.

This vinyard grows 10 different varieties of grape including Pinot Noir, Triomphe, Dornfelder, and Rondo, are used for the reds, whilst the white is made from Reischensteiner, Wurtzer, Kerner,  Bacchus, Faber, and Schoenburger.  The soil here is a mixture of chalk, gravel and clay, ideal for growing vines because of the excellent drainage plus mineral content, and is the same soil as the Champagne region, hence it’s perfect for their sparkling wine.

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On The Way To Exhibition Halls

Yesterday was Sunday, warm, sunny and inviting, so what to do on such a day?  join your friends at a Honey and Olive Oil fair, so we did just that. This is a fair that happens every year to celebrate and promote the local honey and olive oil. Here you can buy oil and oil products such as olive pate and a very nice relish. With the honey you can buy everything from honey already in jars ready to sell or jars filled from large tubs according to your taste.  There was makeup, a rather nice honey based lip balm (so the ladies informed me) creams, lotions candles as well as honey beer.  It is possible to taste your way round the main hall and believe me it is well worth it.  There are different flavours of honey and oil just as there are flavours in wine.  Also on display were two stands which are part of the El Perello structure.

The Freesia Group

The Freesia Group a charity set up to raise money in the against fight cancer.  They are based in El Perello where the lady in this picture has lived for the last 19 years.  Very important people.

El Traginer Magazine

This is the El Traginer stand, staffed by two happy, cheerful people.  El Traginer is a local free Catalan  magazine, containing information besides advertising services and items and property for sale. It also advises you, in detail, of what is on and when with a  programme of activities plus their times.   This then is the  Mel i Oli Fira 2011.

Olive Oil

A Selection of Olive Oil

El Perello  is known for its Olive Oil and there were several producers displaying their oils.  These ranged from a pale green colour to an almost golden green.  One producer Joan Pinol produces their oil using the traditional stone crushed method. The olives are crushed by cone shaped stones then pressed through straw mats.  

 MEL (Honey)  

A Honey Shop - Cosmetics, Candles & Mel

I am under the impression that Honey or Mel as we call it here, is as important if not more so than the Olive Oil, possibly because El Perello is the main village producer in Catalunia. I also think that as it is a continuing, active, occupation which, unlike olive oil, where after the crop is harvested during November/December and the pruning time in March, the trees are basically left to themselves; bees on the other hand, cannot be left as keepers will tell you. It is an all year round occupation and the Bee Keeping Society is very active here.

A Display of Bees

One of the things they do is to get the children interested. In this way they not only see the bees at work, but how they live in the hives, the workers doing their bit, how the pollen is passed to them after collection and of course, the end results. Bees need attention to ensure they are healthy, and content, (angry bees are a bad scenario). An unhealthy bee can spell doom to the hive, so constant health checks are required, keepers are on constant lookout for mites that attack the  bees thus the children are made aware of the pit falls of not looking after the hives properly. This is also when the keeper can discover a new queen and, if caught in time, take her and start a new hive.  The queen is usually marked with either Tipex or nail varnish (I have it on good authority that neither harm her) so she is easily identified when checking the health of the hive and  production of honey. Afterall no queen = no honey. As nothing in this country goes to waste everything is used, from pollen through to honey, the people are very health conscious and know what is good and what is bad. They have been eco-friendly before the rest of the world even thought of the phrase.




One of the Wine Stands


As with all things country there is alway wine, lots of it and very very good.  Each region has its own distinctive taste to the wines produced, so it was nice to see a stand for wine distributor, disbegrup@terra.es  here you can purchase wines from around the region including the Cava’s and Mont Ferrant Brut Rose Cava. The other stand was Celler Batea from the Terra Alta region they had a fine selection of wines on display. No I could not taste any, for the one reason only, I could not get near enough!!!  When I finally caught the vinters eye, I managed to get information so a visit is in hand.

Herbs and Deli

Honey Candles

El Perello is a very interesting village, with Roman history, cave paintings as well as local history, with a Don Quotx windmill, so these deserve a really good investigation. Therefore I will at sometime be poking my nose in for a good look round.





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When you think of a forest  you picture tall trees, sun dappled glades, leafy paths, bramble patches, carpets of bluebells, swaths of primroses dotted with wood anemones. Flat tracks wending their way through the forest, perhaps a house here and there nestling in the arms of the trees, birds, deer, rabbits, foxes, badgers and other wild animals.

What you do not think of is war. Death, fighting, guns with bullets flying around, men fighting and dying on the terraces amongst the trees. A bloody time in Spanish history, when men fought their own people, even their own families, fighting for freedom and their rights – Civil War. This is the story of such a forest the one I live in and love.

The Bombed Church at Garcia

From 1936 to 1938  the Spanish Civil War  centered around this area, the river, train line, and mountains.  The village of Garcia was bombed by the Germans who used the civil war to practice their skills for when they took on England and the rest of Europe.  There the church was badly damaged, it has been left untouched, a memorial, and a new one was built in the village.

The rail bridge that crossed the Ebro was also bombed and destroyed  in an attempt to cut off supplies to the Republicans. It was later re-built in its present form providing a service to Barcelona one way and Llieda the other. Although passenger trains still run it is mostly freight that uses it now.

Memorial at Mora de Ebre

Every year the town of  Mora de Ebro re-enacts the crossing of the river and street fighting between the Republicans and Franco’s troops.  The town has erected a steel boat in commemoration of the event and planted a shrub at each corner.  On Catalan Day, the various organisations the Petanca Club included, lay flowers there.

The Republicans fought Franco and forced him back as far as Corbera de Ebro. The Russians, who had been supplying the Republicans with arms, stopped the supply, and the last battle in this area was fought at Corbera de Ebro. The village being raised, has been left as it was, their memorial to those who died both soldiers and civilians. A new village has grown up around the ruins and a thriving wine industry has developed. Amongst the fighting men of the International Brigade was George Orwell whilst Ernest Hemingway wrote for the North America papers, keeping people informed of the struggle

Since we have lived here I have dug up bullets and machine gun ammunition, some of it still live. We took a batch to the  History museum at Gandessa, here they have a pictorial history of the war as well as artifacts. Here we found out the just what the fighting had meant and saw a photograph of the railway bridge at Garcia destroyed by the Germans.

At peace

But that was then.  Today the forest is a place of quiet, with a sense of peace and safety. The only disturbance is the odd vehicle or bicycle going up or down the valley.  The track that wanders towards our farm, twists and turns its way through it, crossing the baranca then upwards and onwards. It is rough and stony, kept as natural as possible allowing nature to repair and heal its scars.

Parts are in dappled shade others in full sunlight, tall pine trees line the way whilst the natural oak trees, more like bushes than trees, dotted here and there, fight for their place in the ecological way of things. Today that is the only type of battle here, takeing a walk along the track reveals birds and flowers of  various types, some already known others new and interesting.


At this time of year the forest comes alive. Grape hyacinths, minature daff0dils, asters, poppies and much more flora than I can name. These are followed by wild Jasmin and Honeysuckle their perfume filling the evening air. The one flower we look forward to seeing is the little Orchid that grows under one of the olive trees. It’s small but perfect blooms are the highlight of the season, small purple slippers on green stems.

On a logging trip

I forage for fallen trees to stock up the winter log pile, noting where the squirrel drays and the misletoe balls are.  There are all sorts of shrubs and trees to be seen if you look between the pines. We have the odd Carib tree, Witch Hazel its stems corkscrewing skywards. There is one bush which spreads and covers a wide area, green with a reddish tinge in winter, which in spring is covered with red berries a birds delight.

To one side of the house is a terraced hill from where the views are spectacular, the local hunters  hunt there during the season on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes they shoot a wild boar but more often than not they leave as they arrived empty-handed.

A Squirrels Dray

The squirrels here are dark red almost black in colour. Thin furry sticks of mischief with pointed ears and a thick bushy tail, they dart along the branches of the firs playing games of run and jump.  It is later in the year we notice them more, when they are hunting for their winter stores. There is a Dray near the small house which is refurbished from time to time.

I have tried not to disturb my surroundings in the years I have been here.  Because I do not use chemicals on the land, the birds and insects have gradually returned to their habitat.   The olive trees, some hundreds of years old are doing well and with selective pruning, provide enough oil for the year.

Considering what has happened here over the years we feel safe. It is as if the forest envelops us in a healing of souls, just us and nature. This then is my forest valley, my home.

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