Bardingley wines from the past
Bardingley itself dates back to the 13th Century – indeed there is mention of a settlement at Bardingley as long ago as the 9th century! The Domesday Book mentions vineyards in the area – so it’s not exactly a new industry for this part of Kent.
The property lends itself to grape growing – being a mere 16 metres above sea level, with a close proximity to the River Beult meaning the soil is river silt over Wealden clay – ideal growing conditions for grapes.
Bardingley Vineyard was first planted between 1979 and 1982 by Harold and Barbara Turner, the intention being to produce a good English RED wine– sadly Harold didn't live to taste the fruits of his labours and Barbara eventually sold the vineyard in 1986 to Howard and Irene Smith who took over the running and the winemaking and successfully produced reds for some years until 1997 when they moved to Australia. Unfortunately the new owner had no interest in the vineyard and from that time it was totally neglected.
In January 2005, having lost the purchase of a house in Sussex, I found Bardingley on a cold January morning. We were looking for a house that would give us more space for our Border Collies and where we were away from the rat race – Bardingley fitted the bill perfectly. We actually paid little attention to what was described as a vineyard, for all we could see of it was a large area of the land which was totally covered in brambles, dog roses, trees ... and at the edge what looked like a vine or two – way up into the surrounding poplar trees.... and it wasn't until sometime in '06 that we decided we had to sort out this area. Such is my insanity that I suggested perhaps we could try and recover one row – just for fun.
The trouble was it was very hard to FIND that one row! At the edge there were some grapes struggling to survive, as I said earlier we had vines growing half way up tall poplar trees in one corner, others competing for space with luxurious blackberries (another of our fields was at one time used for the commercial production of blackberries and those in the vineyard were certainly descended from these). The total area of the vineyard being about 2 acres, we could actually access less than 10% of that! So it was to prove a challenge.
One day somewhere in the summer of that year John decided to try and take the tractor around the edge – now that was easier said than done but we gradually got about half way round the outside – and then he decided to venture inwards, with loppers, machete and various other weapons of mass bramble destruction! What we found in the centre amazed him and I scrambled through to find a scratched and grazed husband, and right there in the middle of this overgrown mass was a small oasis of open space and growing happily in that space Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner grapes! It's a long story but by the end of 2008 with a lot of help we finally cleared the WHOLE vineyard. My one regret is that we probably didn't take enough photos to tell the whole story – but it did involve a new tractor tyre in the end as well as numerous pairs of gloves and sharpenings of blades....
What is even more amazing is that we actually saved about 50 per cent of the vines, some in better condition than others, and in the process met up with an old friend of the vineyard who had worked for years with the previous winemakers. Rob Pryor is now happily ensconced as part of the team that has brought Bardingley back to life.