Cornwall’s Camel Valley sets Sparkling pace in the UK

Name: Bob Lindo

By John Kennedy

'We spent five years with our hoes planting grapevines to the amusement of our neighbours who thought we were ruining a good sheep field,' Bob Lindo founder of Camel Valley Vineyards in Cornwall in the UK reports.

Now 20 years on Camel Valley rates about fourth by volume of production in the UK's expanding grape and wine industry which is mainly focussed on Sparkling wine production.

Camel Valley's Sparkling wines are arguably at the top of the tree winning amongst a multiplicity of recent awards, the UK's 2007 Wine of the Year Competition plus a swag of others.

Back in 2005, the Camel Valley Brut outpointed 250 Champagnes to win the International Wine Competition and was the only Sparkling from outside the Champagne region to gain a gold medal.

Bob Lindo was also recently awarded a gold medal for Outstanding Services to Tourism in Cornwall's own Tourism Champions Awards, the third time he has been so acknowledged. He is held in similar high regard to his fellow Cornishman Rick Stein, both being considered as regional icons of food and wine.

As his website at notes 'we are proud to be pushing the boundaries in English winemaking. Our methods combine time-honoured practices to produce the best possible grapes with state-of-the art equipment and a forward thinking approach.'

The leading international wine writers reward Camel Valley's Sparkling and white wines, receiving regular acclamation from UK's leading wine reviewers of the ilk of Jancis Robinson, Matthew Jukes and Jane McQuitty.

Lindo, 59, is an ex-RAF pilot who admits he went into grapegrowing 25 years ago without any experience and even worse, only limited resources, so the venture had to be successful financially. But he now heads up a family owned wine project which is both vital and successful and has really been self-financing as it has grown in size and complexity.

And now his son Sam has been inducted into the business as winemaker in waiting after taking out the title of UK Winemaker of the Year for 2007.

So where is Camel Valley? Well it's an idyllic patch of rural England near Bodmin and about 10kms inland from the northern coast of Cornwall or about midway across the Cornish peninsula. The Camel River and its valley leads down to the sea so there is a maritime effect and the site has good air circulation although Lindo admits to two frost experiences in the past 20 years, including one vintage wipe out.

The vineyard now has about seven hectares under vine on its exposed southern slope with another block planned to be planted in the near future which will bring it up to its likely full scale at about 10 hectares.

The Sparkling wines and Rose are made from Pinot Noir while a still white wine comes from the Reichensteiner and Schoenburger varietals. The Camel Valley red is produced from selected handpicked Triomphe, Dornfelder and Pinot Noir grapes.

While Camel Valley started out with a fairly obscure collection of mainly German wine grape varieties Lindo has now settled on Pinot Noir as its preferred varietal. He said that in the 2006 vintage it was a perfect year climatically and his home vineyard produced about 50 tonnes of grapes off four hectares while he would regard about 'a tonne to the acre' as the more normal experience.

Camel Valley has comprehensive winery infrastructure and aims to handle about 200 tonnes of grape crush each vintage. This includes fruit processed for a small number of growers with about 70 tonnes for the Camel Valley wine labels.

'I also have a small number of select growers in the UK who I buy fruit from. It's all done on a handshake and I typically pay in the region of 1500 pounds but in 2007 when grapes were in short supply we broke the record and paid 3000 pounds a tonne for quality Pinot grapes,' Lindo says.

From a marketing aspect Lindo says he relies on booming visitor numbers. 'Our cellar door has an expansive outdoor area, plus the vineyard adjoins a popular walking trail. We get about 25,000 visitors over the summer and we ensure they all have a good experience and go home with at least a couple of bottles.

'Every Wednesday evening Camel Valley offers a wine tutorial class which regularly attracts another 100 or so visitors to the cellar door and we are currently selling everything we produce.'

Lindo adds that he doesn't really have a retail marketing program except that his cellar door purchasers are increasingly asking their local retailers to supply Camel Valley wines and this has led to a small but growing retail availability including through some of the UK's leading retail chains.

Thinking that he might be ready to retire, his family recently gave him a tour of Australia and New Zealand where he took a special interest in cellar door operations as well as the wines.

'Australasia is making wines of outstanding style and value of the sort we should be aspiring to produce in the UK,' he says while confirming that any likelihood of him actually retiring is a remote prospect! 'I also saw some pretty good cellar door operations on my tour and I've gained a few ideas I can introduce here at home,' he added.

This article was first published in the July issue of the Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine. To get your copy or to subscribe to the Grapegrower & Winemaker contact Winetitles on +61 8 8292 0888 or [email protected]

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