Sunday, July 6, 2014
It is proof that wine produced from grapes grown in the Broads has well and truly arrived.
Father and son producers Stephen and Lee Dyer are toasting a vintage year with wines from their Winbirri Vineyards in Surlingham receiving an impressive array of awards.
In the UK Wine of the Year awards - a competition covering 600 vineyards - Winbirri clinched two silver and three bronze medals.
In the East Anglian Wine of the Year awards, competed for by the region’s 60 producers, the Dyers came away with seven medals, one gold, three silver and three bronze, and trophies for the most outstanding red and rose wines.
Lee, 36, said: “My father only began planting his first vines seven years ago.
“We have often done well at the awards with one of two wines. The big difference this year is that we have produced a whole range of excellent wines. For a vineyard as new as us it is unusual to win this many awards as you might guess.”
The family business has evidently come a long way from the time Lee came back to Norfolk from living overseas and found his father had planted 200 vines on their land off the Bramerton Road.
He confessed that his initial reaction - “much like many of the villagers” - was one of incredulity.
“The idea of a vineyard in Surlingham seemed more than a bit strange,” he said.
However, in no time at all they have succeeded in turning the heads of producers in the English wine heartlands of Kent and Sussex.
The family runs a fruit and vegetable wholesale distribution company, Mr Fruity, in nearby Norwich and Lee said his father, who has a passion for wine-making, began his experiment with vines as a way of relaxing outside work.
He said: “I shadowed him for two years and began to see the possibilities, realising the quality we could achieve in Norfolk at this location and on these soils.”
His father’s “tinkering hobby” rapidly became a serious business venture and Winbirri Vineyards was born - “We researched names and came up with it because it means vine orchard in Anglo-Saxon”.
Cultivation has since expanded on to three sites, 200 vines growing into 40,000.
The most recent 13-acre vineyard, planted two years ago, is ready to yield its first crop of grapes this season.
Surveying the 18,500 vines with satisfaction - “the growth is well ahead this year because of the weather we have had” - Lee points out that there is a persuasive case for saying the Broads is a better area for growing grapes than the Weald of Kent and Sussex.
“We get more sun and less rain than the south coast,” he said.
“With new grape varieties being developed for cooler climates - a lot of work is being carried out by university experts in Stuttgart - it is possible that vineyards will become an increasingly common sight in our countryside.”
Their wines include a range of whites, including Bacchus - “off-dry, very aromatic, summer in a glass” - and Solaris - “off-dry, aromatic with more citrus” - as well as reds and a rose too.
“We can’t make big, heavy reds like Australian shiraz, but we can do a lighter, different style English red very well,” he said.
The family’s other interests helped support the growth of the enterprise, but Lee believes Winbirri is now well on the way to becoming a sustainable business.
A significant landmark was passed two years ago when a £200,000 investment saw their initially modest on-site winery replaced by a fully commercial operation.
Lee said: “That is just stage one. In August we have got a line of new tanks arriving taking the winery’s capacity to 73,000 litres.”
The family celebrated another achievement last November when they struck a deal to supply Waitrose stores in the county.
This year, the focus of Lee’s marketing efforts is on the region’s restaurants and gastro-pubs.
He is proud to have already established Winbirri’s reputation across north Norfolk, supplying such notable eateries as The Ship, in Brancaster, The Crown, in Wells and Titchwell Manor Hotel, in Titchwell.
This year, the Dyers are aiming to produce 50,000 bottles of wine but within three years that is likely to be 80,000.
Lee is eying further expansion and is keen to find another 10 acres with suitably light soil - “vine roots need land that drains well with not much surface water”.
The business already employs staff seasonally and harvest time - from September to mid-November - sees an influx of volunteer labour.
Lee said: “It would actually be cheaper to hire people because we lay on food and the chance to try the wine.
“However, it is an important time for us as these people become our wine ambassadors.”
The family has started vineyard tours which Lee sees becoming a more important part of the business in future years.
For more information about the vineyard and contact details visit www.winbirri.com