Fairmile Vineyard aims to produce great English wines – sustainably and with respect for the environment. The vineyard nestles in the foothills of the Chilterns within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the owners are keen to enhance the land for the enjoyment of future generations.
To this end we made the decision to retain all the existing mature trees, including a couple of beautiful cedars even though it would mean that some vines would be shaded for part of the day. Some of the trees have been used to house small bird, owl and bat boxes to attract further wildlife. A windbreak of 350 Italian Alder trees, grown and sourced from a UK nursery, were planted along the western boundary.
We started the vineyard by bringing 3 hectares (7½ acres) of previously fallow land into productive use. The first job was to plough the land, then plant a crop of winter mustard to fix nitrogen naturally from the atmosphere. The soil was further improved by compost from green wheelie bin council waste collections (main picture).
Whilst some vineyards remove grass from between the rows, as this can reflect accumulated heat back onto the vines, at Fairmile Vineyard we leave as many natural grasses and wildflowers as possible to create wildlife corridors and encourage biodiversity. It is, however, important to keep the area immediately beneath the vines free from weeds and grass that could otherwise harbour diseases or compete for nutrients. We therefore use a novel type of mower (with cutters on hydraulic arms) which mows right up to the edges of, and even in between, the individual vines. This reduces the need for herbicide spraying. The mower is also unusually mounted in front of the tractor, which cuts the grass before it is trampled by the tractor wheels, so reducing the amount of mowing required and hence consumption of tractor fuel.