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Amber Valley vineyard tastes success in International Wine Challenge

The owners of the Amber Valley Wines vineyard are celebrating success in the International Wine Challenge.
The owners of the Amber Valley Wines vineyard are celebrating success in the International Wine Challenge.

The owners of an Amber Valley vineyard are celebrating after their 2016 vintage was commended by the judges of the International Wine Challenge.

Duncan Mercer and Barry Lewis, of Amber Valley Wines, were thrilled to hear that their Lindway White had been named among the best in the world, and hope it will help take the business to the next level.

The company is owned by Duncan Mercer, left, and Barry Lewis.

The company is owned by Duncan Mercer, left, and Barry Lewis.

Duncan, 42, said: “This makes all the hard work worthwhile, from planting the vineyard by hand in deep snow to producing international award-winning wine - the dream really has come true.

“The 2016 vintage is our third, and we didn’t think we were up there just yet. It’s a massive achievement. The awards are based on blind tasting, with thousands of entries and expert judges from all over the world. Now we just have to try and stay at that level.”

The dream first arose when Duncan was living in Australia, and developed a nose for the local produce while pursuing his main career in IT.

When he returned to settle in Derbyshire in 2007, he put a speculative request online at Landshare, a social enterprise set up by chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to encourage people to turn unused land into fruit and vegetable plots.

The pair currently work with the Three Choirs winery in Gloucestershire to perfect the product.

The pair currently work with the Three Choirs winery in Gloucestershire to perfect the product.

Barry, better known to many as the leader of Derbyshire County Council, responded to the request and they started making plans.

Duncan said: “The UK wine industry was just starting to look a bit better, and I wondered if it could really be done here. We planted a test site near Swanwick in 2011, to find rootstocks that might work.

“The science of English winemaking has really come on in recent years, finding grape varieties that work here like Phoenix and Solaris, which don’t grow well in some of the more famous wine regions.”

He added: “With climate change, warmer weather is opening up British land, but it’s also wetter and that increases the risk of disease.

Duncan and Barry planted the Wessington vineyard in deep snow and it has proved resilient to the local climate.

Duncan and Barry planted the Wessington vineyard in deep snow and it has proved resilient to the local climate.

“There’s still a hill to climb with consumers, but winning an award like this vouches for it as a quality product.”

The business has since relocated to a larger site near Wessington, which provides perfect growing conditions.

Duncan said: “It’s nicely undulated and southwest facing, with lots of hills to protect the vines from high winds. The biggest challenge is being at the whim of the weather gods. It gets really cold when we’re pruning in January, then we have to avoid late frosts during the flower burst in May.

“The key thing is the Lindway Lakes at the bottom of the yard. They absorb heat during the day and then release it in the evening, which helps to keep the vines warm.”

The 2016 vintage produced around 2,000 bottles, and it is hoped that will at least double as the vines mature.

The 2016 vintage produced around 2,000 bottles, and it is hoped that will at least double as the vines mature.

The vineyard’s yield has been steadily increasing, and in 2016 produced around 2,000 bottles of white and rosé. Once it is fully matured, that could rise to 5,000.

The business has relied on volunteers to help prune and harvest, and Three Choirs winery in Gloucestershire to press, ferment, clarify, blend and bottle over 12 to 18 months. That could change soon though, said Duncan: “We’re learning a lot working with a master winemaker. The best part of the job is the day we get to go down, grab a cup straight from the tank and taste the results, but in future we want to do it all ourselves. We’ve got planning permission to build a winery and tasting room on site, and now need to find finance. We have land to expand on to as well, and the aim is to work on a sparkling wine. We’re already trialling a red Bolero grape.”

He added: “We love hosting tours, and want to open it up to the Peak District tourism industry. People are always surprised to learn we are here, and it’s nice for them to come and see for themselves.”

In the mean time, the wine is on sale at Belper’s monthly farmers’ market, local food festivals, farm shops, delicatessens and online via www.ambervalleywines.co.uk.

The vineyard has already tasted success in local food and drink awards.

The vineyard has already tasted success in local food and drink awards.

Duncan and Barry fit the work in around their day jobs running an IT company and Derbyshire County Council respectively.

Duncan and Barry fit the work in around their day jobs running an IT company and Derbyshire County Council respectively.