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© John Farren

Meeting 345 - "Vineyard visit and buffet lunch"

Sunday 3rd July 2011 at Bothy Vineyard, Frilford Heath nr Abingdon

A trip down memory lane………to Bothy Vineyard

       In July members of the Berkshire Branch spent a delightful summer's day in the company of Richard and Sian Liwicki, current owners of Bothy Vineyard at Frilford Heath near Abingdon, Oxon. For many members this was an opportunity to re-visit a well-loved place for they had personally helped the original owners plant vines and harvest fruit in the late 1970s and 1980s. Amongst the visitors was a specially invited guest in the person of Dorothy Fisher, who, with her husband Roger, originally selected the site and began developing the vineyard. In 1978 Dorothy and Roger had just stepped down from the role of Secretary of the Berkshire Branch of the IWFS and at the time they were unusual in that they took great care selecting their site. Here the soil comprises 3 feet of sandy loam on top of coralline brash ensuring that the soil drains freely: vines like dry feet! Being dry the soil heats up quickly and is reputedly the warmest soil in Oxfordshire. The low nutrient levels in the soil are good for fruit as too rich a soil promotes only vegetal growth. The site is in the rain shadow of the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, botrytis from damp conditions being the bane of the English vinyeron, and is screened from wind by tall stands of trees.
       On the site are grown several white grape varieties mainly used in blending including Albalonga, Huxelrebe, Perle, Optima, Ortega, Findling, Kerner and more recently Baccus and Solaris. Recent planting of red varieties include Regent, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder, Rondo and latterly Acolon, a crossing between Blaufränkisch and Dornfelder also encountered in the Ahr Valley. Richard gave us a very interesting, if somewhat bleak, resume of the problems encountered by English wine growers which include; botrytis, late frosts, wasps, foxes, badgers and deer, against whom Poppy, the vineyard dog, seems to be the most effective deterrent. Birds are also a problem and Richard has tried kites on poles, helium balloons, gas guns, bird wailers and netting: some of these methods do not endear him to his neighbours!
       In the winery, Richard is very keen to keep out oxygen, even to the extent of pre-filling the bottles with CO2, which he believes can shorten the life of the final product. He inoculates with yeast rather than using the naturally occurring varieties as he feels wild yeast can accentuate characteristics which are not always the most desirable. He also filters with bentonite to take out the protein. He describes their bottling facility as "a 5 person line with 2000 bottles per day capacity". Bothy production has been increasing year on year and although it reached 10,000 bottles in 2010, this is still "boutique" territory.
       Our tasting began with their current silver medal winning wines including The Doctors Bacchus 2010: pale but with a good citrus nose, very refreshing and long in the mouth; Oxford Fumee 2010: this wine was barrel fermented from young Ortega grapes and was again pale, with a light floral nose, high levels of acid but with good fruit; Oxford Dry 2010: a blend of Perle, Solaris, Huxelrebe and Findling this year, it gives a pale wine with really rich round flavours, especially in the middle of the mouth, and good overall balance; Renaissance 2010: made from old Ortega fruit it has a full and fruity nose, more sophisticated flavours, a dry edge but with a very small amount of residual sugar; Halcyon Days, a sparkling wine with a floral nose and slight sweetness and finally the Oxford Pink Rose 2011, made from 50/50 Acolon/Regent, delivering a fine strawberry nosed summer wine.
       All these wines were excellent drinking but we had another surprise in store. Dorothy Fisher and Brian Slark had raided their (obviously deep!) cellars and brought along wines from 1983 - a Perle/Huxelrebe; from 1992 - a Huxelrebe/Findling sur lie; from 1994 - an Oxford Dry; from 1983 - the first vintage of Ortega/Optima; from 1992 - an Ortega; and from 1994 - a Noble Selection which exhibited TBA type aromas! What a fantastic opportunity to taste and compare English wines?
       We rounded off the day with a super picnic spread, supplied by Added Ingredients of Abingdon, eaten in the grounds of the vineyard and washed down with …….Bothy wines! Many thanks to Brian and Dorothy for the additional wines and to Richard and Sian for their hospitality. Bothy Vineyard operates with as much voluntary assistance as they can muster and can be found at

To view a few pics of the Visit go here. (JF)