Enjoying life in the grape outdoors! A vintage year for East Yorkshire’s award-winning wine producers

Award-winning East Yorkshire wine producer Laurel Vines is celebrating a bumper crop this harvest.

The vineyard and winery based at Aike was established in 2010, with the first wine produced in 2013.

The family-run business prides itself on producing quality wines, using locally-sourced ingredients and products in a sustainable way.

Having run a successful electrical business in Beverley, Ian Sargent decided he wanted to try his hand at something completely different and, with an interest and passion for wine, Ian and his wife, Ann, found that Laurel Farm in their home village of Aike was an ideal location to develop a vineyard and the business grew from there.

After consulting agronomists and vine suppliers, the site at Laurel Farm was prepared in 2010-2011 with 2,000 vines planted.

The past 10 years has seen the business grow and develop and it now has 15,000 vines producing 15,000 litres of wine (between 14,000 and 16,000 bottles of wine) every year.

In 2017, a purpose-built winery was added to the business which means that the whole wine-making process takes place on the site, from picking the grapes through to the labelling of the bottle once the wine is produced.

Rebekah Sargent, who works alongside her mum and dad in the business, said she is incredibly proud of the wines they produce and hopes to put Aike on the wine-making map.

“My dad runs an electrical business in Beverley and decided that he wanted to do something that would get him out of the office at the weekend as a new hobby,” said Rebekah.

“He wanted to try something a bit different and he had a passion for wine and had visited vineyards when he had been on holiday and so the idea came from there.

“He looked at Laurel Farm and had agronomists look at the land, who said that the chalk land would drain well and plans to address wind and frost issues were considered.

“We planted our first 2,000 vines and they took remarkably well and next year will mark 10 years since we released our first wine.”

Laurel Vines Vineyard and Winery

Laurel Vines currently offers three white wines, one rose and one red.

This year, for the first time, the vineyard has harvested its first sparkling wine grapes and the first sparkling wines – one white and one rose – will be produced for 2023 in time to celebrate Rebekah’s wedding.

She continued: “When we first began, we grew German and Austrian hybrids because they are from a similar climate to ours.

“We have dipped our toes into different varieties and this year we are harvesting our first three English sparkling wine varieties.

“My dad is making his first sparkling wine this year so it will be ready for my wedding next year.”

She added that given the Yorkshire climate, a number of measures have to be taken to protect the crop but, as with all outdoor farming, their harvest is wholly dependent on the good old British weather.

“We have wind breaks at the bottom of the vines to help prevent too much wind disturbing them,” said Rebekah.

“My dad has also developed a fan frost protection system to protect against frost which can be very damaging to young buds on the vines.

“It works by having large fans at the bottom of the rows which are temperature controlled.

“They suck the cold air from under the vines and throw it over the top of the vineyard so it doesn’t settle on the crop.

Laurel Vines Vineyard and Winery

“Three years ago, we had some really bad frosts in spring and we lost 80 per cent of the crop, which really hurt.

“This year, the harvest is really good.

“We had good sun and heat which ripened the grapes and the more recent wet spells have helped to swell the grapes and put more juice into them.

“We are one of the few English vineyards reporting a good harvest because in the south the drought has affected their yields.”

Laurel Vines is a family-run business with traditional values at its core.

Its central team of Ian, Ann and Rebekah, alongside family members Craig Lane and Neil Sargent and close friends Jonathan Yeo, Adrian Scott and Nick Dove keep the business running efficiently.

But at harvest time, Laurel Farm becomes a real community affair with volunteers coming along to the vineyard to cut the bunches of grapes before they are pressed on site in the purpose-built winery and transferred to the vessels for fermentation.

The grapes are loaded into a machine which strips them from the stem.

They are then pressed in a machine, before the grape juice is pumped into the vessels.

On arrival at the harvest sessions, the volunteers receive a hot breakfast sandwich and tea and coffee before being given their grape-cutting scissors, stool and crate to cut off the bunches from the vines.

At lunchtime, they are provided with a hot meal and glass of wine to sample before being given a bottle of wine to take away as a thank you at the end of the day.

Rebekah added: “At our session on 1st October, we had 80 volunteers, who picked 6.5 tonnes of grapes.

“We have a vast array of people who come from all over to take part and many people come back to us year after year.

“Last year, we had a couple who came from Scotland and we have had a singer and guitarist from Leeds.

“Usually, people come from the local area such as Beverley, Hull and Driffield. Every year, a group from the Driffield Breezers cycling club come down to help.

“We can’t thank everyone enough for their help at harvest and they are always good days.”

Helping out with the latest harvest was Kate Scott from Aike and her eight-year-old grandson Leo Hudson.

Kate said: “We enjoy coming to help with the harvest. It is good fun and makes a change from anything else you can do on a weekend.”

Sharon Nicholls, from Hedon, said: “I have been coming for a few years and I love working outdoors in the fresh air and the atmosphere, working together with everyone, is great.

“The wine is absolutely gorgeous as well.”

A group from the James Alexander GP Practice in Hull attended as part of a team building and well-being event organised by the Marmot Primary Care Network.

Stephanie Fisher said: “This is a great chance for us all to see each other outside of work and take part in a different activity. We are all really enjoying it; it’s been a lovely day.”

With Laurel Vines wine being stocked in an array of restaurants, retailers and venues, including Yorkshire Wildlife Park, the brand has grown in popularity and acclaim over the years.

An appearance on The Hairy Bikers Go North last year gave the East Yorkshire vineyard a welcome boost.

“After our appearance on The Hairy Bikers Go North, we sold 10,000 bottles in three months and sold out of some varieties,” said Rebekah.

“It was great to have the Hairy Bikers come along.

“They cooked for us here at the vineyard and helped with the pruning and labelling and tried the wine.”

The quality of the wine and the sustainability of the processes has also earned Laurel Vines a number of awards with them being awarded Winemaker and Grower of the Year for Midlands and the North in 2018.

They were also awarded Sustainable Vineyard thanks to the use of solar powered energy and their water recovery project.

This year, Laurel Vines has also been shortlisted for two Remarkable East Yorkshire Tourist Awards – Remarkable Local Producer Award and Remarkable Ethical, Responsible & Sustainable Tourism Award.
They are also supplying the wine for the awards night.

Moving forward, Laurel Vines is hoping to build on the number of events and activities it hosts to promote the vineyard as a visitors’ retreat.

Rebekah added: “Over the summer, we have hosted a number of picnics with guests receiving a tour of the vineyard and winery, a bottle of wine and picnic food. We have also hosted a number of wine bars and open days.

“We would love to welcome more people to Laurel Vines and hope to build and expand on the events we offer. We also hope we can keep winning awards to put us on the wine-making map.”

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