The planet’s soaring temperature isn’t welcome news for anyone, though it does make wine production viable in places like the Vale of Glamorgan. Alex Griem and the team from Cardiff independent Chilled & Tannin have taken a punt on an acre of land where they hope Rondo and Cabernet Cortis vines will help reduce their carbon footprint.
Claire Harries finds out why the C&T squad wanted to get their hands dirty
Cardiff indie Chilled & Tannin now has its own vineyard in the Vale of Glamorgan. The one-acre plot in Llanbethery has been planted with 350 vines of Rondo and Cabernet Cortis.
“When we set up Chilled & Tannin we wanted to have a wine business that was as sustainable as possible,” says co-owner Alex Griem.
“We’ve done lots of things, including offsetting carbon on all our deliveries and repurposing packaging where we can, and we try to pick wine from more sustainable producers.
“We already stock quite a few Welsh wines and, apart from being fantastic wine, it cuts down the road miles.
“From the outset we wanted to have the approach of grape-to-glass with as little intervention as possible, so the first part of that was, let’s try to plant some vines and get our own grapes.
“Our next plan is to have some sort of urban winery set-up in Cardiff. That way we feel we could probably have wine with road miles potentially of just eight to 10 miles.
“We’re under no misconception that owning a vineyard isn’t going to involve some sort of carbon footprint, but equally we shouldn’t need to irrigate it too much. We’re going to see how it goes.”
Griem and his team are very much part of the Welsh wine scene and he has been doing some voluntary work with the Welsh Drinks Cluster.
They have established relationships with a number of Welsh producers, as well as winemakers from further-flung parts who supply their shop. “We’ve been looking at how we can set Welsh wine apart from everything that’s happening in England and the rest of the world,” he says.
“One of the key things around that is typicity of the wine and having grapes that are not grown everywhere else, which is why we thought Rondo would be good. Montgomery do really good things with their Rondo.
“Cabernet Cortis is a grape that ripens quite early and is resistant to damp. It’s a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon, which I think you’d have to be off your rocker to plant in south Wales, and Solaris, which is a grape we were quite keen on originally.”
The business has been gifted the land by a loyal and obviously happy customer, someone who Griem says “shares our vision”. The vineyard has also been welcomed by the locals, some of who remember the plot as the old market garden for the village.
The site also happens to be situated between two solar farms.
“Someone else has done an enormous amount of expensive research to find out the sunniest site for the solar farms and we have just lucked out as our vineyard is right in the middle,” says Griem. “It’s on a slope with a fairly southerly aspect. It’s a proper sun-trap with loamy limestone soil.”
How confident is Griem in his viticultural skills? “We’ve not employed a vineyard consultant, so the guys are relying on me and what I learnt at the beginning of my WSET Diploma on wine production,” he admits.
“It’s a real labour of love and the goal for the next three years is to get healthy grapes and to crack growing the vines as sustainably as we can.
“We are not going to try to create a Bordeaux-style fine wine for the first few years,” says Griem.
“We are going to have some fun with it, in the same way that we have our philosophy in the wine business – not to take things too seriously and enjoy it. We might make a pet nat as it’s fairly simple to do and it’s quite a fun wine.”
Griem’s thoughts are never far from the project’s environmental implications.
“The irony is we are creating a wine business that is trying to slow down environmental catastrophe,” he says.
“I suppose in a way we are betting slightly that things will get a bit warmer and taking advantage of that. We’re reliant on global warming while trying to stop it!”