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The Sunday Times June 11, 2006

Glamorgan uncorked

Dream of becoming a winemaker, asks Sian Griffiths. Here’s your chance: a vineyard for sale — in Wales



Winemakers Peter and Diana Andrews with their children and grandchildren; The estate currently produces up to 20,000 bottles of wine each year; Llanerch Vineyard estate in the Vale of Glamorgan, with 20 acres and a six-bed house, is for sale at £2.1m (Adrian Sherratt)
From Peter and Diana Andrews’ bedroom window you can see poker-straight rows of vines stretching out in the heat, shaded by poplars, against a backdrop of hills.

It could be a Continental landscape, where British expats are fleshing out their lifestyle dream: refurbishing the tumbledown house and making a living from mastering viticulture.

But then a blackbird starts its insistent trilling. We’re not, in fact, in France, or Italy, or any other sun-kissed place where grapes flourish. We are — and this is tough for me to believe as I grew up in Wales, wearing wellies more often than not — 10 miles by road from Cardiff.

Llanerch is a six-acre vineyard in the Vale of Glamorgan, one of the poshest, priciest parts of the principality, where millionaire escapees from the capital city have their homes. It’s part of a 20-acre estate that includes a six-bedroom, 19th-century farmhouse, two cottages, eight studio apartments, a swimming pool and woods surrounding iris-fringed ponds stuffed with monster carp.

“We stocked each pond with just 50 fish, now there are hundreds,” says Peter, kneeling on the wooden bridge to tickle the water. “Hercules is the biggest.” A flurry of fat fish swirl around his hand and Hercules, the size of a miniature shark, looms up a few feet away.

It’s an apt image for how Peter and his Cardiff-born wife, married for 45 years, have, from unpromising beginnings, created an estate that this week will go on the market at £2.1m. It produces up to 20,000 bottles of a wine annually, called (a marketing brainwave, this) by one of the Welsh language’s most ubiquitous words, “Cariad”, which roughly translates as “Darling”.

The estate — and its extraordinary story — has grabbed the attention of celebrities. A few years ago, the couple had a visit from an agent for Hollywood star Catherine Zeta-Jones, tentatively scouting around in search of a holiday home. At the time, the Andrews didn’t want to sell, and the actress bought further west, in Swansea.

Since then, a host of famous names have stayed with the family, who also run a B&B/self catering business. Hannah Gordon, Amanda Holden and Lesley Garrett have booked in during stints on tour in Cardiff’s theatres and arts centres. Peter especially likes the comment Richard Briers scribbled in the guest book: “Hard work has produced the Good Life”.

It’s an astute observation: hard work it has certainly been. The tale of Llanerch Vineyard started 30-odd years ago when the Andrews, who at that point had three horse-mad teenage daughters, bought a “ramshackle” farmhouse, adjoining stables and a field near the village of Hensol for £39,000. Later, they bought 10 more acres of woodland for another £20,000.

The stables, now incorporated into the house in a whitewashed seating area, were spattered with animal excrement, and the lavatory was outside, in what the Welsh call a ty bach, literally “little house”. Water came from a well. The couple spent their free time dragging the buildings into the 20th century: creating a light-filled main house with beams and original flagstones.

Then, on holiday one year, they read an article in The Sunday Times describing a resurgence of viticulture in Britain. “We thought, we could do that,” recalls Peter.

“It was a lifestyle choice. We had bought the house and land and were doing up the buildings in the evenings. I enjoyed it so much, we wanted to find a way of making it our life.” And, unlikely as it may seem, making wine was the answer they hit on.

After Peter, a co-partner in a string of pharmacies across South Wales, sold his shops, the profits were invested in the family venture. They imported 1,000 vines from Germany and planted them on a south-facing slope. Diana assumed the mantle of winemaker, and was soon winning awards in international competitions.

After all, I discover, in the 19th century, the Marquess of Bute planted 63,000 vines a few miles from Llanerch on the slopes of his Welsh folly, Castell Coch. Of Bute’s wines, a Punch cartoon stated it took four people to drink it: the victim, two men to hold him down and one to tip the alcohol down his gullet. That vineyard closed down in the 1920s.

At Llanerch, the couple are retiring, victims of their own success. Peter says they could sell three times more wine than they make (the annual turnover from the wine is about £100,000), but he and his wife want a more private life and more time with their grandchildren. “We’ve enjoyed it hugely,” he says, “but it’s time to move on to the next phase of our lives.”

He thinks the estate will sell as a home, with new owners less reliant than they have been on making it pay its way. Agents Cooke & Arkwright agree: “Llanerch could be used as a wonderful private family home, incorporating as much or as little of the business as required.”

Back in London, a toast seems appropriate. The bubbles of Cariad Blush, a pink fizz, ping in the glass. Can you really produce a Welsh vino to savour? The answer is — a surprise.

www.llanerch-vineyard.co.uk; the estate is for sale with Cooke & Arkwright (02920 346 346, www.rightmove.co.uk), and Colliers Robert Barry (01285 852 852, www.colliersrobertbarry.co.uk)

 
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