The Scottish vineyard making its own wine
Pioneering Scottish viticulturist Christopher Trotter on course for grape harvest
Scotland as a wine producer? The implications of climate change may not make it such a fanciful idea, and Fife chef Christopher Trotter isn't hanging around waiting for proof. Lynda Hamilton talked to him of grape expectations.
In the spring of 2011, Christopher Trotter planted a 2.4-hectare vineyard on his Upper Largo estate on the southern coast of Fife. Facing his first winter as a pioneering Scottish viticulturist, Trotter, who's Fife’s official ‘Food Ambassador’, isn’t at all worried about the threat of frost and snow. He’s quietly confident that his Rondo, Solaris and Siegerrebe vines can – as they do in Germany – survive near sub-zero temperatures.
'The challenges are not the frost and the snow, but other variables,' says former chef Trotter, who has penned a number of cook books championing local produce and works as a consultant as well as a food campaigner.
'Germany produces excellent wine in freezing conditions and when much of France is covered in snow, it’s not usually a problem. In fact, it’s thanks to the UK’s cooler climes that England is now producing sparkling wine to rival champagne. The Champagne region of France is becoming too hot to grow quality vines so everything is moving northwards.
'Nobody knows exactly what will happen over the next decade but climate change is definitely a reality. We don’t know whether it’ll get hotter or just wetter but the Sahara moving into parts of Spain is a good example of how things are shifting globally.'
He draws inspiration from the Nyetimber brand, which sparked a new winemaking era for England when its vineyards were planted in West Sussex in 1998. The award-winning winery has set the benchmark for UK viticulture – and also for Trotter after launching its first rose in October 2010.
'I’m hoping to produce a very dry and fruity white alternative to Bordeaux,' he says. 'But the grape skins are red so we’ll end up with rose.
'The vines, which were initially propagated in Luxembourg, are already producing some excellent results from this Semignon-type variety down in Yorkshire so I’m very hopeful.
'There’s no reason why we can’t produce fine wine in Scotland. Of course, there will be major challenges ahead, but not necessarily in the winter. The lack of sunshine and strong winds are a concern, but the main problem are the deer.'
Trotter, who planted 100 vines in May and hopes to produce his own ‘Chateau Largo’ rosé by 2014, regards roe deer as the ultimate horticultural predator. To protect against them, his vines were pruned right back below the plastic tubing in which they were planted.
'The deer will eat anything. I planted a rose bush at the beginning of every row and the deer have nibbled the lot. The roses are there to act as an early warning system when it comes to rot and disease. Whatever challenges come along hit them first which means we can act quickly on the vines.'
As well as roses, he has turned to dead rabbits to give his vines an extra boost. 'It’s an old French winemaking custom,' he says, smiling. 'It’s a bit superstitious, really, but I’ve buried a dead rabbit for luck.
'The most anxious time for me will probably be in March 2014 when the grapes are starting to ripen. And, of course, the high winds will be a constant worry from around the end of September. There are so many things I don’t know, like whether they’ll be ripe enough to cut back before they’re affected by the gales, or whether they’d remain unaffected anyway.
'But I’ve picked grapes which are early-ripening varieties and I’ve done everything I can to make sure the vines have the best soil, plenty of sunshine and are in a south-facing, sloping position.
'I don’t know of anyone who’s tried this and failed – other than at Loch Tay’s Ardeonaig Hotel, which went into administration. But I think those vines were north-facing so I’m not sure it would have worked anyway. I don’t expect to make millions from it, but I’d quite like to be up there with the innovators. My worst case scenario would be not producing any grapes but I’m pretty confident that won’t happen and that we should be able to harvest them by autumn 2014.
'I’m certain I’ll make wine. Whether it’ll be for anyone else’s consumption is another matter!'
Christopher Trotter was speaking at a 6 Degrees Networking lunch in Leith in November 2011.
Christopher Trotter’s latest book, *The Whole Hog*, is out now.