Alan Chubb - Quoins Vineyard
Quoins Organic Vineyard is a small, traditional vineyard near the city of Bath and the historic town of Bradford on Avon.
In 2002, Alan Chubb bought a three acre corner of a large field, which has since been transformed into a bustling organic vineyard. With red wine as a staple of the festive season, we caught up with Alan to find out about life amongst the grapevines, and what it takes to produce nature-friendly organic wine in the UK.
Do you have a vineyard mantra at Quoins?
"Every day should be a holiday!"
Tell us, why organic wine? What inspired you to convert to organic?
I had been involved in converting a cattle farm to a large citrus estate in Costa Rica and we were going to be producing 80,000 tonnes of fruit for juicing in the first harvest.
The issue came up - ‘what do we do with the peel?’ So we set up a composting unit for it and applied it to 1000ha of citrus crop. It worked well as a fertiliser/mulch and along with other basic management practices we converted this area to producing certified organic orange juice.
On my return to the UK I wanted to take up some form of small-scale farming and so offered to help a nearby vineyard owner in running his vineyard. After taking good advice and working up a business plan I took the plunge and bought 1 ha of land and planted the vines.
Tell us more about your work around the world working with crops like coffee and oranges.... What did you learn from this experience that you've brought to running a vineyard in the UK?
I spent a lot of my time overseas observing how small-scale farmers can be very adaptive to the environment, such as planting a range of crops so that something can be harvested despite adverse weather (diversification).
A good crop can be achieved without importing expensive chemicals. Back in the 1970’s, some Nigerian villagers came out and stopped me from spraying their sorghum crops to control locusts. Instead, they went and beat the crops and scared the locusts away instead. We did enjoy the roasted locusts as a snack!
What are the challenges of farming organically, and how do you overcome them?
Managing vineyards in the UK is less challenging than trying to grow them conventionally. It is cheaper and as marginally profitable! The disease is an issue but that can be resolved by choosing the right varieties, and managing the canopy properly, as well as the correct use of organic sprays, like comfrey tea.
Could you tell us a bit about how you take care of soils on your organic farm?
I maintain a clover and herb grass sward that includes deep rooting plants to reduce the effects of compaction. The clovers to maintain nitrogen levels and the herbs to encourage a range of insects. The low growing plants then ensure that there is always a ground cover to prevent any soil erosion. The application of biodynamic sprays and comfrey tea maintains the balance of soil microflora too.
How would you describe the atmosphere on the vineyard over Christmas? What works needs doing over the winter season?
No work in the vineyard until after Christmas when the pruning starts. At the moment it’s just removing wine from the cellar, labelling the bottles and selling!
Have there been any benefits for wildlife that you’ve noticed since converting to organic?
Yes very much so. We invited an ornithologist to visit one April and over 1 hour she identified 23 different species. We have 2 resident spotted woodpeckers and a green woodpecker or two plus the inquisitive robin. There are deer passing through to the pond at the end of the vineyard.
There have been more and more vineyards cropping up in the UK in recent years – what would you say to people who are surprised or sceptical that you can grow wine in England?
Vines have been grown in the UK since the Romans and we now have some good cool climate and disease tolerant varieties. The chalk soils of the southeast UK are similar to the Champagne areas in northern France and not too much further north which is resulting in distinctive world class UK sparkling wines.
What’s your go to wine to choose at Christmas time?
At Quoins vineyard we have a well matured white Madeleine Angevine and a new vintage Orion white wine plus a 7 year old Rondo red wine.
Quoins Vineyard deliver locally free of charge, for a case of 6 or more. This Christmas time, they'll be involved in a pop-up shop in Bath selling local products there, instead of their usual spot at Christmas market.
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