First things first. Did you do a double take when reading the headline? Award winning Welsh wines? Well, let me tell you something, this little part of North Wales is known for many things. Gorgeous coastline, castle towns and views over the outskirts of the Snowdonia National Park. But now there is something else. It’s becoming known as an area that can produce award winning Welsh wines, all thanks to Gwinllan Conwy (translated Conwy Vineyard) which has really put the area on the wine production map. Intrigued by this, I decided to visit and take a vineyard tour and tasting session to see what the fuss is about.
Gwinllan Conwy was first planted in 2012 and is owned by Colin and Charlotte Bennett. They run the vineyard along with Sarah Stewart, the Vineyard Manager. Nestled on a hillside next to the main A55 expressway which runs along the North Wales coast, it’s an unlikely location for a vineyard, but just happens to have the ideal combination of soil structure and climate conditions to grow the hybrid grape varieties that make up the Gwinllan Conwy wines.
The vineyard has grown over the years and now takes up 3 acres of space at the Conwy location, with an additional 3.5 acres at Dwyran in Anglesey. So, what makes this such an ideal spot for growing grapevines? Well, the soil structure is made of shale and slate, providing excellent drainage which makes grapevines thrive. Add to this, something called the Foehn effect – a weather phenomenon which creates a generally drier climate in this area, and you have the perfect storm of conditions. These conditions mean that the vines sprout early in the season, providing a longer growing season than many other areas in the UK.
Now in their fourth year of producing wines, the demand for Gwinllan Conwy wine is becoming greater and greater, thanks to a number of awards and accolades. Welsh wine is here, and it’s doing great.
Gwinllan Conwy offer regular tours and tasting sessions throughout the year. The dates can be found and booked directly through their website, or by visiting the vineyard shop. There are three options of ticket. There are also evening events that take place at the tasting room.
The tours, taken by Colin or Sarah, are relaxed and informal. Weather permitting, the majority of the tour takes place out in the vineyard but in the colder (wetter) months, it’s split between the tasting room and the vineyard. Heading out into the vineyard, the first views are those out onto the Carneddau mountain range on the outskirts of Snowdonia. It’s a stunning setting, and in the sunshine or even snow, quite unexpected to see the vines thriving in this location.
The vineyard is separated out into established vines through to newly planted vines. Did you know that vines take four years from planting to become established? That’s three years of caring and encouraging the vines without yielding any fruit to make wine.
The tour is informative without being too technical, providing lots of information on what makes the area such a great location for growing grapevines. There is also plenty of information about the process of cultivating the vines, through to protecting the grapes through the season. Birds, badgers, rabbits and even wasps can all play a part in destroying a crop given half a chance! Visit in late summer when the vines are heavy with fruit, and you’ll see them wrapped in netting, giving them the best protection from the animals in the run up to harvest.
Given the relatively small size of the vineyard, there is no winery on site. Instead, Gwinllan Conwy work with a contract wine maker locally to produce their wines. There is a huge focus on producing the best wine that they can. Each batch is sent to a UK lab for full analysis and they try to keep sulfites (a preservative used in wine making) to a minimum. Their figures are way lower than the allowable limits for UK wine production.
Whatever the season, there’s always a wine to suit every occasion. A warming red with a nice hearty dinner in the winter, or maybe a crisp white to drink outside during those balmy summer months. Following the tour of the vineyard, it’s time for the main event – the tasting. Gwinllan Conwy have five wine varieties available, with only four currently available on the tasting due to limited stock of their sparking wine. The tasting session takes place in a stylish, light and airy tasting room, with windows looking out across the vineyard and mountain ranges. An outdoor patio area is also available for the summer months. It’s a cosy and comfortable space.
Gwinllan Conwy’s five wines consist of two whites, a rose, a red and a sparkling white.
Pydew – A delicate white wine with hints of citrus and pear. Smooth and easily drinkable.
Solaris – Gwinllan Conwy’s signature white wine, made from the Solaris grape variety. A delicate dry white, it’s reminiscent of a good Sauvignon Blanc and goes well with seafood. Perfect with the famous local Conwy Mussels. This was definitely my favourite wine of the tasting session. Delicious.
Regent – More complex than a standard rosé wine, Regent has the flavours of red summer fruits and berries. Great for a summer’s day and also recommended (by Colin himself) as a perfect wine to compliment Christmas turkey dinner.
Rondo – A medium bodied red wine, aged in oak barrels previously used for burgundy wines, this wine is reminiscent of a Malbec. I’m not a fan of a heavy red wine, but this was smooth and easy drinking.
Pefriog – A sparkling white wine produced from the Solaris grape. With hints of soft white flesh fruit this is a really well balanced fizz, and went down well in the group.
In addition to these five wines, we were also informed that a limited batch of a new wine is due to be launched. Rhosliw Pefriog is Gwinllan Conwy’s sparkling rosé which will be released as a limited batch at the end of November 2019.
For those with a ticket that includes a cheese board or grazing board, all produce is sourced locally with some fantastic cheese and meats from local producers.
So, back to that headline. Award winning Welsh wines. Gwinllan Conwy has 15 national and international medals for their wines, including a silver medal for their 2018 Solaris in the Wine GB Awards 2019. It’s a huge accolade for a small vineyard in North Wales, given that with more than 700 commercial vineyards in England and Wales, only five of these won medals. Something to be proud of, for sure. Pefriog and Solaris also won awards at the International Wine Challenge Awards, with Pefriog taking a Silver and Solaris a Bronze.
In 2019 there’s also been a keen interest in Gwinllan Conwy’s wines in Japan. As it currently stands, they are the only Welsh wine producer exporting to Japan with their wines being on sale in the Japanese equivalent of Harrods. With the very recent twinning of the magnificent nearby Conwy Castle and Japan’s Himeji castle, the Welsh and Japanese relationship seems to be developing further and Gwinllan Conwy recently hosted the Japanese entourage who were visiting Conwy for the twinning ceremony. They’ve even had their brochure translated into Japanese.
Gwinllan Conwy can be easily accessed from nearby Conwy. If visiting the area it’s recommended to take a taxi out to the vineyard, as you’ll want to make sure you sample all of the wines. Tickets for the tours and events can be purchased directly from their website here. As well as being available to buy directly, Gwinllan Conwy’s wines are also available locally at The Grape to Glass, Vinomondo and Bodnant Welsh Food.
There are plenty of other local attractions in the area if your visiting for an extended period. Head out and search for some stunning local waterfalls, or maybe try your hand at surfing in Wales’ only inland surf lagoon at Adventure Parc Snowdonia.
Have you ever tried Welsh wine? What were your thoughts?
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