Medieval vineyard opens its doors – or so we heard on the grapevine

The sun is streaming down and I’m sitting in a vineyard enjoying a rather lovely glass of wine (or two) made from the vineyard’s own grapes.

But I’m not sunning myself in the south of France – I’m at this historic Warden Abbey Vineyard, just outside Old Warden. I’ve come to learn a little more about this hidden treasure ahead of its open day on Sunday.

Warden Abbey Vineyard PNL-141109-114435001

Warden Abbey Vineyard PNL-141109-114435001

The vineyard, which dates back to medieval times, will be welcoming visitors to its heritage open day, where it is also set to launch its brand new Friends of Warden Abbey scheme.

Vineyard manager Jane Markham explained: “It’s about exploring the heritage here because we had no idea about how important and influential the Abbey was until we started researching it.

“We’re also going to be launching the membership of our friends of Warden Abbey scheme at the open day.

“That’s going to be really important because the volunteers are absolutely the life blood of the vineyard but we still have lots of fundraising that we need to do.

“The friends will be a way for people to support us and what we are doing here if they don’t have the time to volunteer or don’t want to for whatever reason.”

The new scheme is just one of the exciting new ventures the vineyard is exploring, which also includes inviting groups of schoolchildren to visit to help enrich their curriculum.

Volunteer John Blackham said: “Part of the curriculum is to do with green issues and it’s a great example of how you can grow things and make use of it. It’s not all about wine, back in medieval times it was used as a preservative as well as in ceremonies and for visitors to the abbey.

“They also learn about history and things like Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries. I think a lot of us know that, but don’t really know what it meant.”

The vineyard was first planted by monks in medieval times and in 2010 Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity leased the vineyard in an ambitious project to provide a unique community and educational resource – and are carrying on the tradition of making medal winning wines.

The project works with other local charities and schools to offer social and therapeutic horticulture, wildlife and heritage projects, help for people into employment and voluntary work and much more.

Now, for the first time ever, the vineyard will be opening as part of the national Heritage Open Day scheme, and will be open from 11am to 4pm with free entry and parking.

Vistors will be able to find out the fascinating – and sometimes bawdy – tales about the vineyard and abbey, how the monks made wine, how the vineyard is tended today and about its work now.

There will also be a chance– of course – to buy its wine, with The Reformer 2013 and The Founder 2013 both on sale. I can recommend both –I even had seconds, all in the name of journalistic research, of course!

Both wines commemorate important landmarks in the history of the abbey and the wider area, and are hoping to replicate their previous success, which has seen the vineyard’s pick up awards at the International Wine Challenge.

The open day will also include a barbecue, local food stalls and educational animal encounters. For details see www.wardenvineyard.org.uk –and see www.biggleswade
today.co.uk to see a video of our day at Warden Abbey.