THE driest September on record has led to a vintage year in the UK’s most remote vineyard.
Despite being more associated with 100mph winds and midge-infested heather, a smallholding at South Dell, just six miles from the Butt of Lewis, has harvested about 600lbs of Black Hamburg grapes.
More than 400 bunches have been produced on Donald Hope’s allotment, and they have been eagerly snapped up by customers.
Most have been sold in the local farmers’ market in Stornoway, while others have gone towards making bottles of Mr Hope’s Hebridean rosé, which he distributes to friends and family.
The vineyard was started from a single cutting which he and his wife Jean, 63, brought from County Durham when they moved to Lewis some 17 years ago.
Now Mr Hope, 70, a retired former missionary, has 20 vines bursting with grapes.
Developing the Fruit of the Vine vintage, known locally as Château Hebrides, has been even more of a triumph for the Hopes, as they are both teetotal. The medium-bodied, dry rosé with aromas of flowers and a palate of ripe berry fruit, was produced after advice from friends who are wine experts.
Mr Hope sells the grapes, grown in a long polytunnel, for £3 a pound.
He said: “It has been a vintage year because we had so much sun in September. The sugar content of the grapes is so high we should get an alcohol content of between 10 and 12 per cent. It is just as well we are teetotallers – I know somebody who drank a bottle and said they had a hangover for three days.”
He added: “I literally had two people fighting over the last bunch – they tore them apart.
“I have grown vines for over 40 years. People said you could not grow grapes in the Outer Hebrides but we have proved that you can grow anything here. I also have peaches and apricots. All you need is enough shelter. It can be done.
“There is certainly enough sun to ripen the grapes. All this started from one small cutting in a poly bag. It survived the winter and now we have the most north-westerly vineyard in Britain.”
Mr Hope said several dozen bottles should be produced from the latest harvest and be ready early in the New Year.
Patrick Rohde, owner of Aitken Wines in Dundee, said: “We currently have a Chilean supplier who have a range of wines named Outer Limits, but this Château Hebrides is taking things to a whole new extreme.
“I would love to taste the wine as I’m sure the Hebrides have their own unique terroir.
“I’d heard of someone growing some aromatic white grapes on the banks of Loch Tay but never had the chance to try that wine either.
“With global warming allowing vineyards to be planted further north in Europe and great wines currently being produced in the south of England, there may be a chance for commercial wines in Scotland, but it could take a couple of centuries.”
The Black Muscat grape has more than 30 synonym names, including Muscat Hamburg, Black Hamburg and Golden Hamburg.
In most of the world, Black Muscat is destined for table grape production.
However, in certain markets, it is also used to produce wine. In California’s Central Valley, Black Muscat grapes are used in the production of dessert wine.