You can’t have enough East Anglian Bacchus, according to Lee Dyer, owner of Winbirri Vineyard in Norfolk. That’s why he is planning to plant more vines to add to the 25 acres he already cares for in Surlingham, a small village on the edge of the Broads National Park near Norwich.
I met Lee when visiting Winbirri on the way home from a family camping trip to North Norfolk. After driving through the ranch-style metal gates adorned with giant letter ‘W’s, we found him in the winery, preparing for a tour group later that day. Before they arrived Lee was able to spare some time to show us around and talk about his vineyard and his wines.
Winbirri Vineyard was established in 2007 when Lee’s father Stephen planted the first 2.5 acres with 200 vines in 2007. Lee took over from his father in 2010 and further plantings followed that year and in 2012, bringing the total area under vines to 26 acres. Lee is now on the hunt for more suitable land to accommodate his growing business – and ambitions.
As well as expanding the vineyard area, a new winery building is going up next to the current one to expand production and storage capacity, clearly needed when some 2014 wines are still in tank because there just isn’t room to store the bottled wines. When space is available it shouldn’t take too long to bottle more though, with a state of the art GIA bottling machine from Italy in place handling 2,000 bottles per hour.
Making wines on site is a prerequisite of producing good wine according to Lee, who says you can’t make great wine if you’re not in control of each step of the process. That’s why he is also investing in the necessary equipment to disgorge his sparkling wines on site from next year. He explains this and the other stages of the wine making process on the regular vineyard and winery group tours he runs throughout the growing season. Tours tail off in the autumn as attention begins to focus solely on the harvest and visitors are replaced by around 60 volunteers who are vital to bringing in the grapes.
The vineyard produces an average of 50,000 bottles a year from a number of different grape varieties. England’s new favourites Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grow alongside Bacchus, Seyval Blanc, Solaris, Madeleine Angevine, Dornfelder, Regent and Rondo. There is even some Sauvignon Blanc, still a rare find in UK vineyards. These go into the red, white, rosé and sparkling wines on display in the smart tasting room on the winery’s upper level, where the windows look out over the rows of stacked stainless steel tanks.
Cellar door sales are important (during the time we were there someone knocked on the door to enquire whether they could buy a few bottles) as are those to local restaurants, but much of Winbirri’s production is sold via local Waitrose stores. Sales will no doubt be helped by the plaudits piling up at Winbirri’s door. At this year’s UK Vineyard Association national awards the 2013 Bacchus Reserve (aged in bottle for 18 months before release) won a Gold medal and the Bacchus 2014 Silver. At the East Anglian Vineyards Association (EAVA) awards, the Bacchus 2014 took Wine of the Year and Winbirri wines took a whole host of trophies. These are all on display in the tasting room.
There is only one style of wine for which Lee hasn’t won a trophy, and that’s sparkling. After recent successes, Lee has got his eye on that too. With the expansion already underway, I don’t think it’s just more vineyard, production and storage capacity he’s after – it’s space for a bigger trophy cabinet.