Vineyard Has Brought the Grape and the Good to Family Life at The Old Rectory. | Lodestone Property

The Old Rectory at Whatley near the sought-after town of Frome is a rare find. A wonderful Georgian house which is truly unspoilt, with its exquisite Georgian interior architecture still intact.

The land extends to ten acres, consisting of pasture and woodland, an apple orchard and productive vineyards of Madeleine Angevin and Seyval Blanc grapes (providing 300-500 bottles annually).

The vineyard has been a great conduit for bringing friends and family together to prune and harvest and enjoy a good lunch afterwards, it has also provided the current owners with highly drinkable white wine to give as presents and enjoy with others, as well as offering a therapeutic, de-stressing environment and a satisfying and productive activity.  It has been a source of great enjoyment in nature and potent season marker.

Francoise Jackson, our Branch Manager in Bruton, caught up with Jane Thorne to find out more about this delightful property, a place Jane and her family have called home for the last 18 years:

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Having made the trek west from London to Somerset my husband, Stephen and I and our three young children moved into the Old Rectory in Whatley, a village near Frome in November 2003.  I think we’d assumed that we’d grub up the vineyard – running one not being on our to-do list at the time, but it felt wrong to destroy six hundred healthy 25-year old Madeleine Angevine vines, the last remaining acre of what had been a commercial vineyard originally covering 7 or 8 acres.  Besides, as my mother pointed out, it was on the Ordnance Survey map.

 

Over-wintering – vineyard space at The Old Rectory, Whatley – 2021.

 

By trial and error, lots of reading up and with help from the previous owners we, but particularly  Stephen learnt how to cultivate it through the seasons of pruning, tying-in, topping, spraying, mowing, bird-scaring, leaf-picking, harvesting and back to pruning again.  It was his antidote to long days and back-to-back meetings in the office and on summer evenings he’d trudge out to the vineyard on return from work for an hour or so of communing with the vines.

Fresh grapes from the 25-year-old Madeleine Angevine vines.

 

When Stephen died in May 2017 six months after the diagnosis of brain tumours, it seemed important to keep the vineyard going – he had put so much effort and time into it, and friends and family who had helped and were also emotionally invested encouraged me to do so.  At first it was overwhelming on top of everything else and I didn’t know where to start.  I knew the vines needed spraying through the summer but beyond references to Bordeaux mixture I was clueless,  and I knew that Stephen had got it down to a fine art – filling and re-filling a heavy backpack and walking up and down the 12 rows of 50 vines each in protective gear, spraying all the time – and used to get through it in a single morning.  He had had to calculate whether rain or wind would allow the task, and the fortnightly chore became a constant in our summer diaries.

Feeling desperate I contacted nearby Wraxall Vineyard, who had helped us in the past and explained the situation – the owners, Brian and Jackie sprang into action, sent their agronomist, John to see the vines and one of their workers, Stevie to run a spraying programme.  It was extremely comforting and heart warming to receive help like that at that time and I will always be grateful.  Wraxall do some excellent award-winning wines, by the way…

Pruning is the trickier but arguably more rewarding task – working out which of last year’s shoots should be kept to be trained along the wires (the double Guyot system) in order to cut everything else off, leaving two or three buds for the following year’s growth.  There’s a lot of wrestling with old shoots which become tenaciously bound to the wires and the vine by steely tendrils, and then fiddling around with ties to secure them to the lowest wire once you’ve identified your ‘hero’ shoots.

Family and friends get stuck in to pruning at the end of Season. 

 

There’s also the sick-making moment when you realise – after staring at the vine for minutes on end, working out what goes and what stays – that you have just sliced through the shoot selected to be tied down.  Your error is irremediable, and horribly obvious to anyone inspecting your work – the big gap between one vine and its neighbour, the asymmetry of the arches – is gutting.  But you move on to the next and vow never to repeat such a crass mistake.

Some pruners clearly get lost in a world of their own and you find shoots randomly tied to the middle wire instead of the bottom one, all shoots cut off and a couple of buds left on the vine stump, or several shoots left to sway in the wind – but part of the fun is wandering up and down the rows exclaiming at others’ dodgy handiwork. Then there’s the satisfying sight of the pared back vine, with its arching stems repeated down the row to create a rustic colonnade.  A pruned vineyard is a fulfilling and beautiful sight – the gnarled, twisted, mossy base stems crowned by the knobbly head from which spring double arcs of slim wood, each one slightly different from its neighbour, in neat rows of echoing, calligraphic curves.

Jane feeding the bonfire with vineyard pruning’s at the end of the season. 

 

Harvest is generally easier but if there’s a lot of rot you have to judge whether a bunch is worth picking, or whether to pick it and weed out the rotten ones, a sticky job, but the shared gratification of watching the crates fill with grapes over the course of a few hours on harvest morning is huge, as is the moment of delivering them to the local winemaker, Steve Brooksbank to work his magic.  Once weighed it gets tipped into a steel press and the juice flows into a tank, to be turned into a crisp, fruity dry white wine and bottled ready for collection about six months later.

Meanwhile, back at the house the vineyard toilers are enjoying a glass of Whatley whilst waiting for the others to return so the harvest lunch can begin – always an extremely jolly occasion on the terrace, often in the autumn sun.

So, since Stephen’s death we’ve bumped along on a lower maintenance regime and probably smaller harvests as a result but being hobby vintners that’s not a problem.  Another advantage of being non-commercial is the fun you can have with labels, ours have been designed by friends and family, and latterly I took to drawing a label on the bottles with a marker pen.  The 300-400 bottles per year are for the workers’ wages, for friends and for us – the kids and their mates especially have become keen connoisseurs of Whatley wine.  In lockdown we know we’re never going to run out which is a comfort, and being only 11.5% it’s almost healthy!

 

A label from 2011, stuck to nearly 400 bottles of wine produced at The Old Rectory, Whatley.

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For sale: for more about this spectacular house, click here or contact our Bruton Office.

Words by Jane Thorne.

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