Posted 30th May 2013
We're now in the middle of English and Welsh Wine Week and LandLove's Kate Smith had a chat with Jane Mohan, co-owner of the West Street Vineyard in the village of Coggeshall, North Essex
What experience started your love of working with wine?
I worked in France on a vineyard at the age of 17 and have always had a love of the way in which the French live their lives and their attitude to food and wine.
You dramatically changed both you and husband Stephen's careers to open a vineyard - why Coggeshall?
We had a passion for something we believed in, as ordinary people, dreaming to do something with our lives and with a mutual love of wine, English viticulture and hobby farming. Some English wines are now world-class in their standard. We believed in our home country and didn't want to live a life of regret so we followed our dream.
We wanted to create a business which provides employment for local people which is a state of the art facility with no compromises. A place where ordinary people could try the best wines that an English vineyard can produce. Coggeshall has a long history as a vineyard. The soils are good and uniquely the vineyard is in the centre of the village, a little bit like the villages in Burgundy. Access links by road, bus and rail to London and the A12 are excellent. Coggeshall is already on the tourist map so it seemed the ideal place to open a vineyard with a state of the art visitor centre where visitors can learn about and appreciate or just relax over a glass of English wine.
What is the history behind the vineyard at Coggeshall?
Four families from Coggeshall, some of whom still live in the village, decided to plant a small vineyard on the site which had been owned by a seed producing company. This original vineyard is still going and producing. There was probably a vineyard on the site of a local Cistercian monastery and the earliest evidence of vines in England dates back to the pre-glacian age and is 5 miles away in Marks Tey. There is a long tradition of wine growing in both East Anglia and Coggeshall.
What type of struggles did you come up against whilst putting the project together?
You name it and we faced it but we managed to overcome it. Anyone setting up a business in England needs a lot of determination and just a belief in themselves and steadfast resolve not to take no for an answer.
What type of grapes do you cultivate at the vineyard and what types of wine result from these varieties?
We grow Faber - a Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc cross. This gives steely flinty dry white wines which locals seem to love.
Also new vines are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on Burgundian clones to produce English quality sparkling wine which will be available from 2015 onwards.
You now have a fantastic new visitor's building, the English Barn - what is the ethos behind it?
To create the wine tourism experience which is very common in the New World and bring it to Essex. To offer an easy approach to wine which takes the stuffiness out of it. The only true assessment of a wine is whether individuals like the wines and the only true character of a wine drinker is that they are prepared to experiment. By complementing regional wines with fresh locally produced food within a contemporary and informal setting we hope to appeal and educate adults. Bring families and friends for lunch with a local wine, or a sparkling wine with full afternoon tea overlooking the vines and the River Blackwater on our south facing terrace.
English Wine Week begins on 25th May. What does this mean for you and how does it tie in with the ethos of your business?
It is a fantastic opportunity to really highlight the success of English wines. At West Street vineyard we do English wine week 52 weeks of the year.
How do you see the state of the English wine industry at the moment and what do you think is the way forward?
We have come a long way over the last 20 years with English wines as we are now one of the best producers of sparkling wine in the world. I see a great future for both still and sparkling wine producers. The wines are getting better and better. My guests are trying English wines and are really enjoying them - and at the end of the day that is all that matters.
The West Street Vineyard and Visitor Centre, West Street Wine Barn, West Street, Coggeshall, Essex CO6 1NS www.weststreetvineyard.co.uk