Wraxall Vineyard, Somerset, owned by David Bailey and Lexa Hunt
A beautiful boutique vineyard focussing on high quality wines for the tourism and foodscape scene of Somerset
Wraxall Vineyard was established in 1974 and is believed to be Somerset’s oldest vineyard – and second largest, even though it is currently only six acres. Rumour has it that there may have been vines on the site in Roman times. The vineyard has successfully produced wine for many years – but is now entering a new era. The vineyard was bought by David Bailey and Lexa Hunt in February 2021 as a long-term family investment with a view to developing and maximising the assets and they have exciting plans for new planting to enhance the wine, and developments to facilitate wine tourism – to ensure that the economics of the vineyard is on a firm footing. The new plantings in 2022 will increase the area to eight acres.
Getting expert advice
“Once we started to contemplate the purchase of the vineyard, we needed help and guidance,” commented David. “Firstly, to decide whether it was a good site in terms of location and climate, and secondly to assess the state of the vines and their suitability for the modern wine industry – as most had been planted over 15 years ago – and some even longer. Thirdly, we needed a view on the opportunities, or otherwise, to grow and develop the vineyard and the enhance the quality of the wines that it produces over the next 20-25 years. In effect we were looking for the sort of advice and due diligence you would receive from a surveyor when you purchase a house or a consultant when you buy a business!”
“Our research led us to Alistair Nesbitt and the Vinescapes team,” added Lexa. “Alistair and the team visited the site and did some detailed analysis, covering not only the vines and the micro-climate but also the financial aspects of the vineyard, producing a detailed report and giving us the confidence to proceed with the purchase. Subsequently we have worked with Vinescapes on the development of the wine strategy and future plantings,” Lexa added.
With their strengths in business and financial services, rather than viticulture, David and Lexa used the vineyard management services from Vinescapes s to guide them through their first season. “This has helped us to avoid some of the problems that I believe have beset others during 2021, with us ultimately producing a high-quality crop in 2021,” commented David.
Wine and tourism
David and Lexa identified the importance of ‘paying’ visitors and the overall vineyard experience in their early plans. “Working with our local architects, Orme, we are building ‘The View@Wraxall’ with a planned opening in May 2022.
The new visitor centre and tasting room, with views of 25 miles across the Somerset levels to Dorset, is designed to meld into its environment and be as unobtrusive as possible. “The building is dug into the hillside – you can walk onto the grass roof from the back of the building – but still providing the amazing views through glass ‘walls’ on the south and west side of the building. The wine store is ‘buried in’ the hillside at the back – taking advantage of natural cooling and minimising energy requirements. Similarly, the ‘canopy’ over the terraces will be made up of solar panels providing much of the energy requirements for the building, with any supplementary heating being provided by an air source heat pump,” enthused David.
David and Lexa want Wraxall Vineyard to be known throughout Somerset and further afield for producing some of the best English wines and as a place for having the most fabulous experience. “Wraxall isn’t just about growing grapes – it cannot be. We have only 6 acres planted today and given the opportunity to expand, probably only to a maximum of 15 acres. So, we need to focus on producing the best quality grapes, producing the best quality wine, and giving our visitors, the best possible experience,” explained David.
The six acre vineyard is currently a mix of Pinot noir, Pinot Précoce, Bacchus and Seyval. “We were pleased with 13 tonnes of good quality fruit in 2021,” commented David. “Unlike other vineyards we were lucky enough not to be frosted – and this site has a reputation for being frost free. With the good advice received from Joel at Vinescapes we didn’t suffer from botrytis, downy mildew, or SWD.”
“We worked with Vinescapes in early 2021 to develop a new planting and wine strategy for the vineyard going forward. As a result, will be removing the Seyval, and planting more Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay in May 2022 – to give the vineyard a new mix for the next 25 years,” commented David.
“Successful viticulture is all about timing together we ensure each operation is tweaked towards the common goal of a balanced yield with perfect quality,” commented Joel.
The low compaction and focus on soil health at Wraxall have resulted in a lively population of earthworms. “This indicates a health soil with a naturally aerated and permeable soil structure. There is virtually no bare soil on site and the diverse cover crop sequesters carbon and feeds the soil food web, and the vines,” commented Joel.
This case study, written by Jo Cowderoy, was first published in Vineyard magazine in December 2021.