The Learning In a Glass of Wine

My “soon to be published” book Its Not About The Wine telling of our wine adventures over the past 50 years has a chapter simply entitled England! It highlights the rise of English wines in recent years, especially sparkling wines that are rivalling the best champagnes for the top awards in many international wine challenges. Some of our English vineyards are huge such as Chapeldown and Nyetimber with vines across 600+acres of land, as well as the tiny vineyards such as Kerry Vale and Tickerage having just 5 acres. But if ever there was a shining commercial example of “size doesn’t matter” it’s the rising English wine industry with quality and sustainability at the forefront of EVERY vineyard I have encountered.

My new book will be released on November 30th and you can view the Amazon page now by clicking the link “It’s Not About The Wine”.

In the next few days I intend to reveal a few chapter highlights prior to publication and here’s the first from the chapter entitled England! describing a vineyard near to our home, Bothy Vineyard in Oxfordshire, close to “those dreaming spires”. They make a brilliant sparkling wine labelled as Halcyon Days and at less than the price of those cheap acidic supermarket champagnes and proseccos! But as you read about it I hope you will enjoy some of the connections between a wine, the vineyard, some history, and some literature that encapsulates the book title …… It’s Not About The Wine! These connections emphasise the learning I have gained by widening a few personal horizons towards history, art, philosophy, and culture while sitting in wine bars or engaging with winemakers. What directions do YOUR thoughts and conversations take as you sip your favourite wine …. is it like a Plato Symposium, where the wine was made, or to buy another bottle on your next supermarket order? Here were my own random and wandering thoughts sipping a Halcyon Days fizz from Bothy Vineyard on a warm summer afternoon:

Those Dreaming Spires

Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire and famous worldwide for its prestigious university, the oldest in the English-speaking world. In his poem ‘Thyrsis’ the Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford ‘the city of dreaming spires’ after the stunning architecture of these university buildings. Arnold wrote his poem to commemorate the life of his late friend, Arthur Hugh Clough whose most famous work was The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich.

I hope you’re following this and starting to connect Oxford, with Dreaming Spires, Matthew Arnold, Arthur Hugh Clough, The Bothie ….?? Not yet? Then here’s a bit more ….

Two rivers run through Oxford, the Cherwell and the Thames (Isis), and it is from this riverside situation that Oxford got its name in Saxon times, ‘Oxenaforda’ or ‘Ford of the Oxen’. In the 10th century Oxford became an important frontier town between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex and was also strategically important to the Normans who in 1071 built a castle there, first in timber then later in the 11th century, in stone. Oxford Castle played an important part in The Anarchy in 1142 when Matilda was imprisoned there, and later, like many other castles, was mostly destroyed during the English Civil War.

What has all this got to do with winemaking you must be asking! Here we go then …….

Bothy Logo 1

Bothy Vineyard 1

Sian & Richard Liwicki, owners of Bothy Vineyard

Bothy Vineyard is the oldest vineyard (40+ years) in Oxfordshire and is situated in the parish of Frilford which has two significant archaeological sites: a Roman villa and a cemetery on Frilford Heath that appears to include both Roman and Saxon burials. So, we have an old vineyard in a very old parish of Oxfordshire, England, owned and run by Dr Richard Liwicki, who also works at Oxford University, and his wife Sian who we met a few days back.

Enough tenuous and tortuous history then, let’s get on with the wine!

The grapes grown here are Ortega, Bacchus, Findling, Perle of Alzey, Alba Longa, Huxelrebe (the whites), and Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder (the reds). See a description of them here Our Varieties

Their wines are mostly blends of these grapes though The Doctor’s Bacchus is clearly a single varietal wine as is Renaissance made from Ortega. The blended wines are Oxford Dry (Huxelrebe, Findling, Perle) and Oxford Pink (Rondo, Regent, Dornfelder). In addition they have the stunning sparkler, Halcyon Days, A pink fizz made from “lots of grapes blended together” said Sian! See a description of them all here Our Wines

English Sparkling Wine, Bothy Vineyard, Oxfordshire

English Sparkling Wine from Bothy Vineyard

What really stands out about this vineyard however is its sustainable environment conscious approach. Richard and Sian are both scientists and unsurprisingly run their vineyard in a very scientific manner, but with a major focus on sustainability. Even within the short hour we spent with Sian it was very obvious how important it was for them that their winemaking integrated totally with the land and the environment overall. In their own words:

“Our philosophy at Bothy Vineyard is to produce the highest quality wines from grapes cultivated in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. We continue an ancient tradition of wine making in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire. The local micro-climate, warm sandy soils, long ripening season and mature vines produce wines of consistent depth and quality which have won many awards.”

Some examples from their website:

  • Bringing soils “back to life” with interplanting of grass and the use of council created composts
  • Using native sweet chestnut for trellis posts
  • Biodiversity areas – grassy areas are planted with a mixture of native species. Over 600 native trees have also been planted and old wood is left in the periphery for invertebrates. In Nov 2011, sowed 1 acre of wildflower grass mix in the vineyard, which is designed to assist butterflies, bumblebees and the solitary bees which nest on site. In 2014, another 2 acres were added.
  • Electricity used is 100% from renewable sources – some of which is generated on site. Bothy is an affiliate of Good Energy
  • No longer use neck capsules, unnecessary packaging
  • All packaging is recycled such as reused cartons
  • A cork collection and recycling project
  • Involving the local community and volunteers across the year
The list is very long and you can read more here Sustainability
Wine Tasting at Bothy Vineyard

Wine Tasting at Bothy Vineyard with Sian

We are mightily impressed with Bothy Vineyard, their whole approach resonates with us and as a couple of scientists ourselves we can see how Richard and Sian are making good use of their specific knowledge and education as scientists. Their wines are high quality, and …… exceptional value which is very difficult with English wines produced in low volume at high cost; we walked away with a mixed case of Halcyon and Oxford Dry for a family tasting and undoubtedly will be back, especially when the Cote Bothy Red is released late summer ……. please keep us some!
Bothy Vineyard, Oxford Dry

Bothy Vineyard, Oxford Dry


Categories: England, Visits, Wine

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. I’m dreaming of a day trip visiting Oxford and tasting wines at this winery. 🤗 I imagine they are quite interesting people to talk to, and even better over a glass of wine. My boyfriend would especially love discussing sustainable agriculture. He’s completely transformed the plant defence strategy at the farm he works for from the use of chemicals to the use of insects and fully supports biodiversity.

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: