Nestled in the Vale of York, lies Dunesforde – a lush, four-acre vineyard and one of the most northerly in the UK.
Working in harmony with the area’s cool climate and using inspiration from the vineyards of Tuscany, it produces high-quality fruit to make distinctive, characterful, award-winning English wines.
Peter Townsend and his family have lived in the village of Upper Dunsforth for 40 years. Since 2016, they have been growing and producing their own wines on a plot of land just 100 yards from the family home. Winning regional and national awards – and supplying to Michelin restaurants – Dunesforde has gone from strength to strength.
Peter’s brother, James, initially brought the wine interest to the rest of the family. For many summers, starting in 2011, James spent time in Tuscany working on organic farms, living in a castle and exploring vineyards. Returning each autumn with a passion for wines, the Townsend family decided to visit Tuscany and stayed in guest rooms in the castle, enjoying the many local vineyards the region has to offer.
Peter – who was previously an accountant – and his family went back out the following year to look at buying a vineyard, but the prices were outside their budget. They also looked at sites in Bordeaux and England’s south coast. Back in Yorkshire, they considered four different sites, before finding the perfect spot just 100 yards from the family home. With a good amount of shelter, rainfall, temperatures and soil, the space was ideal for a vineyard – and in 2016 the family planted 6000 vines.
James, who has been studying to be a winemaker for the past three and a half years, oversaw the project and managed the planting operation. The rest of the family supported in other roles and funded the buying of the land. Following two years of growing, the first harvest was picked in 2018 and over 80 volunteers from the village came to help the family in picking the grapes.
They then found a wine producer in Wolverhampton who bottled and labelled the first batches of wine in January 2019. By the October of that year, the wine was ready to be released to the public and two varieties – the Bacchus and the Solaris – were released. The wines were stocked in Michelin-starred restaurants around Yorkshire and sold online and at the vineyard itself.
The Townsend’s felt confident with their stock, but Peter felt there was still a lot to learn and embarked on wine tasting courses – until, sadly, Covid halted his plans. Instead, they built custom tasting rooms and a terrace area, which is popular in the summer time with guests enjoying a drink and small plates.
The wines that were developed went on to win gold and silver awards, as well as a regional trophy for best wine in the North. The Townsend family pride themselves on high quality wines, with a focus on getting better every year.
Dunesforde’s modus operandi is creating a diverse portfolio of wines, with four varieties and 10 different wines made every year, including still, sparkling, red, white and rose wines. The range is diverse and subjective to the taster. Each year, they produce 10,000 to 12,000 bottles, with 2,000 of the most popular wines and the smallest batch being just 201 exclusive bottles.
Peter is incredibly proud of the site they occupy: “It is a really special place – a little piece of paradise”. At the vineyard, they offer tours and tastings year-round, most popular in the summer months. A two-hour slot includes a 30-minute walk around the vines, a history lesson in wine and a tasting of between two and eight glasses, with the Grand Tasting including small plates.
Prices for the tastings start at just £27.50 – an affordable and enjoyable way to while away a sunny summer afternoon. There is a real focus on history within the Townsend’s mission. Peter explained that the Romans introduced wine into Britain and the process of winemaking was continued until 1650, when a change in parliament and the introduction of feudalism made wine an exclusive drink, meaning the large number of UK vineyards were no longer required. With a nod to their history, the Queen of the North wine is named in tribute to Queen Cartamandua, leader of the Brigantes tribe in Northern England.
Future plans for Dunesforde are in the works, with a plan to expand, plant more wines and build a winery on site. Vineyards, however, are not a quick turnaround and take multiple years of work for good grapes to grow. Peter and the team hope that the vineyard will be multi-generational, continuing the legacy for years to come.
They will soon be releasing new wines, including a Special Reserve. They are also preparing to host events such as birthdays, corporate days and workshops in their hire space. They already host wine and food evenings with local chefs, such as Simon Gueller of Box Tree and Steph Moon of Rudding Park. Talks from nutritionists in their ‘Lunch and Learn’ series will see healthy eating take to the stage, too, as Michaela creates live dishes that support female hormones and a balanced diet.
For more information, visit www.dunesforde.com