St Martin's Vineyard is the oldest vineyard on the Isles of Scilly and one of the most south-westerly in all of the UK. The first vintage was bottled in 2000 and the vineyard has consistently produced island wine every year since.
The site was previously a flower farm run by Derek Perkins whose father began working the fields in the 1920's. Flower growing was a key industry on Scilly beginning in 1879 when an enterprising islander impressed the traders at Convent Garden market with a box of wild narcissi. The islands offer an ideal climate thanks to the mild winters and springs making them relatively unique in the UK, but the growth of overseas production through the 20th century resulted in a significant decline in the flower industry. In 1950 there were 90 family owned flower farms on the islands - today there are a smaller number but they still represent an important part of the island economy and we think they are still something rather special - visit our neighbours at Churchtown Farm for deliveries to the mainland!
In 1996, Derek's daughter Val and her husband Graham planted the first trials of vines in one of the south-facing fields, assisted by their son James who has since gone on to run his own organic vineyard in Australia. The first rows were Reichensteiner, a white variety which is widely planted in Germany but also in the UK and New Zealand. These were followed by further plantings of Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe and in 2000, the vineyard produced 124 bottles of the very first Scillonian wine. Since then, more field have been brought into production and now the vines cover 2.5 acres of the site and yield as many as 3,000 bottles in a bumper year such as 2018.
For the first few years the grapes were sent to a vineyard on the mainland to be processed, but as the vineyard gained momentum, the old stone cattle barn was converted into a winery and bottling plant where the wine continues to be made to this day.
The vineyard became a popular place for visitors to the island, offering guided tours and an opportunity to learn about how the grapes are grown and how the wine is made. But the most important part of any vineyard visit has to be the chance to taste the wine so in 2012, a new shop and tasting room was built to accommodate the increasing numbers of visitors.
Val and Graham both worked as teachers on the mainland before moving back to St Martin's to try a new experiment on the farmland which Val's father and grandfather had worked before them. They were advised by Trenoweth, the agricultural research station on St Mary's, that growing vines here would not be without its challenges and there was some truth in this - the amazing songbird population here makes for a delightful dawn chorus but stiff competition for juicy ripe grapes and the birds took the first crop in its entirety in 1999. Through hard work and initiative though, Val and Graham's gamble paid off and made the vineyard what it is today.
In 2018, after 22 years of dedication & hard work, Val and Graham felt the time had come to put down the secateurs and began looking for the next generation of custodians to take on the vineyard. That's where we - Holly and James - come in! After a chance conversation during our visit to the vineyard in 2018, we realised that this was too good an opportunity to miss and in February 2020 we made the move to St Martin's to take on the management of this very special place.
We hope you enjoyed this brief history of St Martin's Vineyard - check in with our blog posts throughout English Wine Week for more insights into the vineyard, the varieties we grow, the wildlife which shares the site and our plans for the future!