Meet Rob Corbett, Vintner and Owner at Castlewood Vineyard
Castlewood Vineyard produces exclusive sparkling wines from its small pocket of only a few thousand vines. River Cottage and Castlewood Vineyard have teamed up this summer to offer you an exclusive Wine and Dine experience.
We sat down with vintner, Rob Corbett, to get the lowdown on all things wine from his Axe Valley vineyard.
How did you become so passionate about winemaking?
I started making wines as a youngster from hedgerow fruits, and vegetables grown in our garden. My friends will testify, I was often to blame for many headaches throughout our teenage years. I was then allowed to perfect my skills making fruit wines at The Lyme Bay Winery in my early 20s. This provided a great foundation for the production of the Castlewood wines.
Vines or cows?
Cows, they have to come first, they are my livestock and they couldn't survive without me! Dairy farming is the most diverse yet challenging lifestyle. It combines every element of growing crops, like vines in a vineyard, but in addition, animal nutrition, husbandry and reproduction; bringing a new life into the world is definitely the most rewarding part of being farmer.
Milk or wine?
Wine, obviously. It tastes better than milk with your dinner and you get paid a little bit more for it...
Talk us through the high points in your wine making career.
My Castlewood career is still very much in its infancy, but the Castlewood Wine Festivals rank very highly for me. When I planted the vineyard I set out to sell my entire vintage in one day and have succeeded in doing so for the first three festivals. I wanted everyone to drink the wine in the direct surroundings of where the grapes were grown. Enjoying the vineyard, it’s stunning view, local food, great music and ultimately having an unforgettable experience. Now as the vineyard is maturing, 2015 is the first year I can promote Castlewood further afield, entering the wines for awards and really put my little vineyard on the map.
If Prince Charles headed back down to River Cottage this summer, as he did last year, which of your wines would you serve him?
I’d be delighted to offer Prince Charles a glass of Castlewood NV. I would pair it with some lightly seasoned Lyme Bay diver caught scallops. Then maybe a glass of the Castlewood NV Rose perhaps with some of Hugh's Eton mess.
What’s the story behind your wine?
The Castlewood story... A dairy farmer's son, returned from university, then travelled to Australia in search of vineyard experience. In 2006 I returned, with long hair and no money. Castlewood Vineyard emerged from its south facing hillside in the Axe Valley over the following three years. Planted entirely by hand and aided by the use of the farm's equipment I cultivated the vines solely on my own, my first vintage was 2010.
Tending to a vineyard on your own for four years is quite a solitary experience, hence the birth of Castlewood Wine Festival. From 2010 onwards I've tried to take every year as it comes, adapting crop yields according to seasonal variations and balancing my sparkling wines in order to compliment the ever changing viticultural climate we live in. With every year a new style of Castlewood is born.
What characteristics do you think we can expect in wine coming from the most recent/upcoming harvest?
The wines we're drinking now are from the 2013 vintage. A cold start in May but by June the sun was out and we had consistent warm weather until October. The yields were modest which lead to extremely concentrated flavours. Due to the cold start, and shorter growing season, the grapes retained their natural acidity leading to very refreshing crisp wines with good length and concentrated citrus fruit characters. I'm most excited about the coming 2014 Castlewood wines though, to be released in 2016. A mild winter followed by excellent flowering weather, bumper yields and great sugar levels. These wines promise to present exceptionally ripe stone fruit characteristics often difficult to achieve in England. I've even fermented a small portion of Chardonnay in French oak barriques to add an extra dimension to the Castlewood Vintage 2014.
Where can we buy your wine?
Up until now our wines have only been sold at the Castlewood Wine Festivals. For the first year we are now able to offer it to our most valued local food supporters. River Cottage HQ and Hix Oyster and Fish House currently have Castlewood on their wine lists. The wines are available from the cellar door down at the farm. We've just opened our 150 year old tasting barn for visitors by appointment, and those attending the River Cottage Wine and Dine events. We're more than happy to offer private party, tours and tastings or if you're getting married and thinking of serving English Sparkling Wine at your wedding feel free to get in touch and we'd love to show you what we're all about.
We think the Wine and Dine event you’ve set up with River Cottage is pretty spectacular, what’s your highlight of the day?
Musbury Castle is a pretty breath-taking place for me, although I am biased! The Wine and Dine event takes everyone to the top of Musbury Castle; it gives you that end of the world feeling; looking high above the Axe Valley, beyond Lyme Bay and towards the English Channel. The vineyard shares the same views, people fall in love with it, the ethos and the honesty of the product. There's only so much Castlewood, we can't just turn on a tap, when it's gone it's gone. I think that's what makes it so special.