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Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard, England – Roy Cook

February 16, 2012

In 1979, I inherited ten acres of land near Sedlescombe, East Sussex. I began this new existence in a simple caravan, and set out to grow sufficient organic food to provide a basic diet – and a surplus that could be turned into cash to meet my other needs.


I thought about planting tomatoes, but then I discovered I had all the right conditions for growing vines. I was in the South East where the revival in English wines was beginning, and the land I owned was on a south-facing slope, exposed to the sun. I wasn’t at the bottom of a valley in the frost and wasn’t at the top in the high winds. It was an ideal location.

I started with 2,000 plants on one and a half of the ten acres. Today the vineyard has expanded to 23 acres, which includes the vineyard at Bodiam Castle that was converted to organics in 1994 and the vineyard at Spilstead converted in 2006. Further plantings of two acres of black grape vines of the Regent variety were carried out in spring 2000, with additional acreage planted between 2001 and 2003. The fantastic summer of 2003 saw a bumper harvest of top quality black grapes. After pulp fermentation and maturation in barrique oak, this outstanding full-bodied English Red was released in July, 2004 and gained “highly commended” in the English Wine of the Year competition.

As you probably are aware, one of the main features distinguishing organic vineyards is the green cover crops sown in the alleyways which are a prime example of the way organic techniques enhance wildlife habitats by attracting insect populations which in turn attract birds. When in flower these crops also have amenity value for vineyard visitors due to the colourful visual display. One of the crops which we, and many other organic growers, add to the green manure cover crop mix is crimson clover which looks really stunning when in flower. Below is a photograph taken at flower level in our Triomphe vines, which gives you an impression of these beautiful crops.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s when I first started my vineyard it was common practice in conventional chemical vineyards in UK to have what they called ‘total herbicde kill’, which meant they sprayed powerful herbicides over the entire vineyard area, not just a meter wide strip under the vines which is the more common practice with those type of vineyards today. The result back in those days was that a green moss became prevalent and spread over the whole vineyard area. It looked disgusting! Contrast that with today’s organic green manure cover crop benefits and you’ll see what I mean about improved wild-life habitats!




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