For most of my adult life I have lived near to vineyards. Some people have made rude remarks about that, linking it with my appreciation of a decent wine, but I’m sure it is entirely coincidental. I spent a year in Provence, then 5 years in the Palatinate on the Rhine, and have now been in Switzerland for more years than I can count on my fingers and toes. In the Swiss lowlands you are never far from vineyards, a fact that may come as a surprise to those who imagine we all live in snow-covered chalets all year round. The only period of my adult life where my home was not within easy reach of a vineyard was the five years I spent in the industrial West Midlands, known at that time for an enormous range of products but certainly not wine.
Imagine my surprise, then, when friends suggested we drop in at a vineyard near Dudley. Dudley and vineyards? I associate Dudley with its ruined castle and zoo, the Black Country Museum, childhood visits to the pantomime at Dudley Hippodrome and teenage excursions with climbing friends involving abseiling down chalk cliffs full of fossils at Wren’s Nest. Aha, perhaps that holds a clue: chalky soil and wine do often go together. So perhaps Dudley has the terroir after all. But the climate? I think of the last two winters and the chaos caused by the snow and ice throughout the country, and then remember that I, too, live in a wine-producing ski resort in Switzerland.
We drive out through the industrial towns of the Black Country towards Bridgnorth and just beyond Sedgley, Gospel End and Wombourne (look at the map – lovely place names around here!) there it is: a sign pointing the way to “The Vineyard” at Halfpenny Green. The name is familiar to me as a small airfield that used to be known as Wolverhampton Business Airport. That is still there, and still operating a flying school.
We are now out in the open country on the border between south Staffordshire and Shropshire, a pretty part of the country though few people outside the Midlands know about it. This is no longer the chalk-rich soil of Dudley, but red sandstone, much like the Palatinate.
Suddenly, there are the neat rows of vines, covering the hillside. It is indeed a proper vineyard. Real vines, with real grapes, and inside the building housing the restaurant, café and shop they sell real wine made on the premises. We are offered a wine tasting, but have just had a meal in another very pleasant place, and can still taste the garlic mingling with cherry cheesecake and coffee so there’s no point.
Halfpenny Green Vineyard was started in 1983, which was after we had moved away from the West Midlands, so I still can’t claim to have lived near vineyards all my adult life. In good British tradition, the vineyard shop also sells a wide selection of wines made from all kinds of other fruits and vegetables: parsnip, dandelion etc. I wonder if they might be interested in my oak leaves wine recipe? I shall have to come back here for further investigation. With a clean palate next time!
http://www.halfpenny-green-vineyards.co.uk – worth a look!