Wendy & Simon: The Larkhill Vineyard Dream Team

When Wendy & Simon Bond contacted us in Spring 2018 to purchase a Post Driver we just had to visit them. Why? Because their post driver was to aid them in installing their own UK Vineyard and for an insight into one of the UK’s fastest growing industries, we couldn’t turn it down.

They welcomed us in Summer 2018 at Larkhill Vineyard, to show us how they had been getting on and this is their story so far…

A few years ago the couple were happy newlyweds, and decided that they wanted to plant a small vineyard. Based in Tetbury, Gloucestershire they are in the perfect location within the UK to achieve what should be an excellent harvest and some fantastic wine. They are planning to produce a Dry White, a Blush/Rosé, but mainly Sparkling.

Getting Prepared
However, we must re-wind because before even planting a single vine, a vast amount of research went into this project. They visited numerous UK vineyards both big and small, read books written by Viticulture experts, joined Wine GB*, and enquired with professional contractors and consultants in order to give their vineyard the best start.

They eventually decided upon an approach which used professional consultants for the planning and set-up, expert contractors for the planting, and their own hard graft for the balance.
Armed with a Viticulture Course from Plumpton College and an incredibly positive attitude, they were ready to get started.

The Planning & Ground Prep Stages
A Viticulture Consultant assessed the land, soil, aspect, and weather of their region in order to recommend 3 grape varieties which will give the best chance of a good yield; Seyval Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Phoenix.

This was a crucial element of the process as vines require 3 years of growth before they are ready for their first harvest. Without professional knowledge their efforts (and hard-earned money) might have been wasted by planting the wrong varieties for their unique conditions.

Thanks to a background in farming and agriculture Wendy made light work of prepping the ground herself by bringing out the John Deere. Allowing them to crack straight on with the planting.

Larkhill Vineyard

GPS Planting
The land was prepared under their watchful eye, then next up was the vine planting – this was when both Simon and Wendy felt like it was really starting to get real.

Wendy spoke about this process in admiration of the meticulous way the team worked to achieve the fabulous straight lines and uniform rows you see in the photographs. Again, professional help was enlisted here by a team of highly experienced Viti contractors.
Vines are very delicate plants, with correct handling, planting, and protection from rabbits being crucial to ensuring minimum plant failure, as well as the all-important GPS machinery.

Trellising with the Post Driver
At this point Wendy and Simon step in with a hands-on and incredibly positive approach.

When we visited, Wendy and Simon had planted 2000 vines: each requiring a mid-post, plus each row needing 2 end posts which will take the strain of the wire, and later the vines fully laden with grapes. Still following?

Larkhill Vineyard

Using a post system from Hadley Group* and wire products from Gripple*, they embarked on installing all the supporting posts and wires that the vines will grow on, with a deadline of April 2019…nothing like a bit of pressure.

They were kind enough to take a moment out of their hectic schedule and show us how our Post Driver aids the installation process. Remembering how the GPS planting had created beautiful straight rows; Wendy was set on ensuring their own post driving was in-line with the rest (no pun intended). Equipped with a measuring stick, spirit level, and keen eye for detail, Wendy and Simon worked as team that most professional contractors could take a few tips from!

Step 1 – Wendy marks the post with her measuring stick at the exact depth they will drive it to. She then marks the mid-point between 2 vines with a pointed trowel, before inserting the post into the soil. Simple yet effective.

Step 2 – Simon, directed by Wendy, then positions himself with the Post Driver on top of the post, ready to drive it in. But not yet! Because before that, first Wendy manually adjusts the post it to perfectly vertical using a spirit levelling tool strapped to the post. Genius.

At this point a series of fabulous hand signals (to achieve a pure vertical post, nothing else), occur from Wendy, as with Ear Defenders and the noise of the Post Driver, shouting just wouldn’t work… Pardon?

Step 3 – It’s then a thumbs up from Wendy but only once the spirit level is saying the post is vertical, and Simon drives the post to approximately halfway down.

A quick hand slash from Wendy and Simon cuts the throttle immediately…the halfway point to make any minor adjustments. A check on the spirit level, some minor adjustments, and the all-important ‘stand back and take a look’ test. Who needs technology?

Larkhill Vineyard

Step 4 – Another thumbs up to Simon to drive the post the rest of the way into the ground, and a final hand slash from Wendy at exactly the right depth (on the line she drew on in Step 1).

Step 5 – And onto the next post…all 520 of them!

Their attention to detail is inspiring, and it is clear to see that the finished result will be breath taking. We even volunteered to be their first tasters!

Customised Post Driver Adapters
When Simon first enquired into the Post Driver he told me of their plans over the telephone, including what posts they had planned to use, and how accurate they wished for the finished result to be. At Easy Petrol Post Driver we decided that for this project a set of Custom Adapters would give the best result. Hadley Group were kind enough to send us sections of the two post types that would be installed at Larkhill Vineyard, from which we were able to manufacture some steel caps cut to the profile of each post. All in all, a great team effort.

Upon our visit it was clear this as the correct thing to do, slightly more expensive than our off-the-shelf range, but so important when we saw the fine detailed result they wished to achieve.

By making a custom cap with the exact profiling it meant the control they have when driving the post in is as accurate as it can be. This therefore minimising any lateral motion whilst installing, which could have resulted in an increased amount of hand signals for Wendy due to the not-quite-vertical posts. In addition, a cap like the ones we created minimise any potential burring or damage to the tops of the posts which again would detract from the finished result.

How much Wine?
The question we imagine every visitor to a vineyard will ask, ‘How much wine will you produce?’.
At the time of our visit Simon and Wendy had planted 2000 vines, equivalent to 5000 bottles of wine. Sounds like a lot. But after some more research they realised this wasn’t enough to be able to sell any of their harvest to local wine makers, as well as having some of their own bottles.

They have since embarked on preparation for an additional 3500 vines, which should yield up to 15000 bottles per year. This will then give them enough to both sell some harvest to local commercial winemakers, and have an incredible yield of their own to open a Cellar Door. Another 750 posts will also be sunk!

It becomes clear that this is not just a hobby they love, but also something that will flourish into a professional business.

First Harvest
The first harvest will be in 2020 and will be produced into saleable bottles by 2021. We wish Wendy and Simon every success for their Vineyard and look forwards to visiting their Cellar Door to taste some delicious wine – hoping that their Post Driver made their long journey just a little bit easier.

Larkhill Vineyard

Keep up to date with their progress on their Facebook page www.facebook.com

Wine GB is the UK wine growers association www.winegb.co.uk

Hadley Group are suppliers of vineposts throughout Europe www.hadleygroup.com

Gripple are international suppliers of wire joining and tightening tools and equipment. www.gripple.com