A day at Plumpton College: The cradle of UK wine professionals

The Wine Division, Plumpton College
The Wine Division, Plumpton College.

Vineyard knowhow

‘Vineyard days’ start early for Wine Production students at Plumpton, says vineyard instructor and lecturer Tom Newham, pointing at the diligent silhouettes, all in waterproof jackets, scattered around Rock Lodge Vineyard.

The historical vineyard was first planted in the 1960s in Scaynes Hill, Haywards Heath. It used to be owned by Chapel Down until Plumpton College took it over in the 1990s.

A 20-minute drive from the main campus, the site now supplies the raw material for Plumpton College’s own commercial winery – Plumpton Estate – which produces 15,000-20,000 bottles of wine commercially each year.

Despite the chilling morning drizzle, spring was most certainly in the air at the end of March. These keen students – aged from 20s to over 60 – were working in pairs, busy finishing their spring pruning and tying up the canes to the trellises.

BSc students specialising in Viticulture and Oenology are expected to attend vineyard work for at least one day per week during their first year and are each responsible for a few rows. The MSc students, on the other hand, conduct themed varietal research here.

For those already working with a wine producer, there is also the opportunity to take part in an apprenticeship programme, says viticulture apprenticeship programme manager Charles Negus. He adds that the college is already collaborating on the project with around 40 English producers, such as Hambledon, Wiston Estate and Rathfinny.

Gloomy weather combined with heavy soil (alluvial and clay), the muddy, low-land plot we were standing at can give the most capable wine-growers headaches. But this ‘happy coincidence’ is a perfect training ground for those learning to grow and produce top-notch English sparkling wines, according to the lecturers.

During their field days, students are trained to cope with almost everything that could happen around a vineyard; dealing with wet conditions and treating vineyard diseases, finding spots easily affected by frost, managing pests, birds and insects population on the site, and indeed, driving a tractor.

Besides the Champagne trio, students also try their hands at cool-climate grapes commonly seen in English and Welsh vineyards, such as Bacchus, Riesling, Seyval Blanc and Ortega, in addition to experimental plantings of disease-resistant PIWI varieties.

The choice of varieties needs to be both educational and commercially sound, explains Dona Frost, viticulture apprenticeship programme leader.

Tom Newham (left) and Charles Negus (right). Credit: Sylvia Wu

Plumpton Wine Division: A brief history

Established in 1926, Plumpton College is a land-based college located in East Sussex.

Among livestock barns, greenhouses, varied workshop facilities and the new AgriFood Centre on campus, sits the purpose-built wine centre, which encompasses a tasting room, research centre, laboratories and the college’s own commercial winery. 15,000-20,000 bottles of wine are produced for sale each year under its symbolic wavy roof, which is said to resemble the rolling hills of the Sussex Downs.

The Wine Division at Plumpton College took shape in 1988, when Bordeaux-trained winemaker Chris Foss initiated part-time courses on vine growing and winemaking with just two rows of vines. In 1992, the college launched its Higher National Diploma (HND) courses with the University of Brighton.

Today the Wine Division has evolved to become ‘the only academic provider of studies in Viticulture and Oenology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the UK’, according to its website.

Each year, the Wine Division takes in up to 30 Viticulture & Oenology students at the BSc level, and a further 15 for MSc studies. It also offers a BA in International Wine Business, enrolling a maximum of 20 students per year, as well as foundation degrees in both Wine Business and Production. An array of short courses, including WSET qualifications, is also available for…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/a-day-at-plumpton-college-the-cradle-of-uk-wine-professionals-507662/

A day at Plumpton College: The cradle of UK wine professionals A day at Plumpton College: The cradle of UK wine professionals *A day at Plumpton College: The cradle of UK wine professionals