By Tim Coghlan
IT has taken over 200 years for the ironstone rubble - excavated from the Blisworth Tunnel, during the construction of the then Grand Junction Canal, and spread up to ten feet deep over 14 acres of farmland beside the northern entrance - to be put to good use. Or an acre of it, at least. Stonyfield, as it came to be known, has a new future as a vineyard, thanks to a recent family enterprise which has successfully planted grape varieties that are well suited to its stony ironstone soil. The harvested grapes are now making fine award-winning English sparkling wine known as Stoneyfield Wine.
The land on which the spoil was dumped in the early 19th century passed through various
hands until after the Second World War when some of the farmland was acquired by the grandparents of the current owners former City merchant banker John Folliott-Vaughan (60) and his sister Belinda Brown, who inherited it jointly in recent times.
One acre of Stonyfield particularly attracted John's attention, and he had the idea of having a go at developing it as a vineyard. He explained: "We took expert advice from Simon Day of Haygrove Evolution, who advises a number of small start-up vineyards, and he has been with us through the project. With the field's well-drained shingle soil and its south-facing slope, he confirmed our view that the field was ideal for growing grapes to make English sparkling wine.
About 1,000 vines, sourced in Germany, were planted in 2011, with the first harvest for wine making in 2013. Now that the vines have matured further, in a good year, they can yield over four tons of fruit, enough to make more than 4,000 bottles. In a bad year it can be as little as an eighth of that. 2017 was a year of mixed fortunes, with a late Spring frost, but then a good growing season, resulting in a harvest of some two and a half tons in all.
John added: "We have learnt an awful lot about making good sparkling wine in the few years we have been at it. It's quite a learning curve.' And the results show, with a Gold Medal, MVA Wine Challenge in 2015, improving further in 2017 to MVA Wine Challenge, Wine of the Year, and several other awards, not least a Highly Commended from a Decanter magazine tasting.
The Stonyfield Brut retails at £25 a bottle. Purchases can be made by emailing email@example.com or ringing John on 07970 199963. Purchases can be parcel delivered or collected at Braunston Marina NN11 7JH