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, but in our third season - 2018 - we produced our first crop - a modest but welcome 29 tonnes of grapes which were delivered to our neighbours, award winning wine makers Bolney Wine Estate. The summer of 2018 was exceptionally good, though our juvenile vines had to tolerate over eight weeks without rain in June and July. Thankfully, August was much wetter, and allowed the vines to find new energy and the fruit to swell and then ripen. The 2018 vintage will prove to be an outstanding one for the English wine industry, and we were fortunate to be part of it.
The autumn was long, and the weather will have helped the vines store energy, which ought to mean that they get off to a great start in Spring 2019!
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.