During late 2015 and through the winter, the land was drained, and the soil was ploughed, conditioned and harrowed in preparation for planting. The weather was kind enough to finish just in time for the arrival of the planting team from Germany at end of April.
Some 27 hectares were planted, with 120,000 vines. Supplied from nurseries in France and Germany, the dormant vines were machine planted in five days at the end of April, with some further top up planting done by hand in May.
We selected six grape varieties: Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Bacchus (for still wine making) and Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir (for sparkling wine production), along with rootstocks which should respond best to the local climate and soil.
Establishing the vines is a process which requires patience, though after two seasons we are closer to producing a crop. We continue to discover how the vines respond to the inevitable variation in conditions across the vineyard. When fully mature we expect the vines to produce well in excess of 200 tonnes of grapes a year, all destined for local winemakers.
The vineyard slopes gently south and south east, with the highest point less than 100 metres above sea level and the lowest 60m, giving the land a valuable aspect and exposure to sunlight and soil warming.
Most importantly, the traditional Sussex High Weald landscape of fields bounded by woodland, copses and hedgerows provides plenty of natural shelter for the vines.
The soil is a silty clay which is more sandy in the upper areas, where the underlying sandstone rock is nearer the surface, and has a more dense clay composition in the lower slopes.
Pookchurch occupies 40 hectares in all, of which 30% is typical Wealden woodland. It's home to many species and has a special value for biodiversity.
Though Fallow deer are prevalent in Sussex, around Pookchurch, the Roe deer which are very common (hence the need for all that fencing).
The first two summers delivered many colourful wildflowers in the field margins and amongst the vines, including scarlet pimpernel, wild teasel, birds foot trefoil, tufted vetch, scabious, ragwort, and all manner of thistles, including prize winning milk thistles.
It was a great year for growing weeds too, and we saw many thriving, including chickweed, clevers, speedwell, groundsell, nettles, plantain, and many more.