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Students’ vineyard celebrates record harvest

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A university’s Cotswolds vineyard is celebrating a record harvest this year, following the summer heatwave.

The Royal Agricultural University’s (RAU) vineyard at Down Ampney, near Cirencester, has seen a record year with the largest amount of grapes picked since it was planted in 2010. The exceptional spring and summer weather was perfect for the vines and the vineyard is set to produce 15,000 bottles.

The 2.6 hectare plot is used to teach students from food production, business and agriculture courses and they also take part in the cultivation and picking. The 40 rows of vines contain mainly Ortega grapes, with a small amount of Seyval Blanc, Bacchus and Chardonnay.

Described as a ‘fruity, dry white wine with aromas of peach and country hedgerows’ the RAU’s wine holds a Bronze award from the International Wines and Spirits Competition and is nominated for this year’s Rural Business Awards.

The grapes are handpicked by students and transported to the winery near Shepton Mallet, where they are crushed and vinified by RAU alumnus Steve Brooksbank. Over the winter the wine is clarified, fined and filtered, before being bottled.

The bumper crop means the wine which is sold on campus, through selected outlets and distributor Craft Drinks Co, could now be sold on a wider scale through major retailers.

Master of Wine Susan McCraith, a former RAU wine lecturer, who oversees the project with RAU farmers Tom Overbury and Tony Norris explained: “Conditions for viticulture have been ideal this year. The lack of a late spring frost with warm dry weather for the flowering helped to set a large number of grapes which then basked in the summer weather until perfectly ripe. I’m excited to see the quality of the wine once it has finished fermenting – it should be very good indeed.”

The vineyard which was taken over by the university in 2016 gives students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the wine production process, from grape to bottle. They learn about vineyard management, grape varieties, and wine production, marketing and finances before helping with the grape harvest. In addition, 50p from every bottle sold goes into the RAU’s First Steps Fund which provides small grants to students wanting to start their own businesses.

Image caption – Alex Crawley, a former soldier who developed his career with the RAU’s Graduate Diploma in Agriculture and is an entrepreneur

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