Harper Adams University alumna Zoë Evans has recently launched Rowton Vineyard with her twin sister Melissa.
Zoë, from Shropshire, graduated from Harper with BSc (Hons) Agri-food Marketing with Business Studies in 2015.
Her interest in viticulture stems from her degree’s placement year at Majestic Wine Warehouses and was further developed while working in New Zealand following her studies.
The 27-year-old said: “I worked as a trainee manager for my placement year with Majestic Wine Warehouses in their Shrewsbury and Evesham stores.
“I learnt a lot about wine, including how to taste it and what factors influence the character of the wine. It still amazes me that you can grow the same variety of grape just a few miles apart and the difference in flavour profile can be staggering due to slightly different soil profiles, weather conditions, aspect of slope, sunlight hours, etc.
“That intrigue, coupled with a big interest in agriculture, lead me down the path of viticulture.”
Zoë secured a work experience for after her university studies with Marisco Vineyards, one of the largest producers in Marlborough New Zealand.
She said: "I knew that they would have an efficient approach to developing vineyards and making wine due to being one of the most recent countries to produce wine. What also make New Zealand attractive was how before they started planting vineyards and making wine, the rest of the world said it would be impossible to grow grapes there as it’s too cold but look at them now; one of the biggest wine producers in the world!
“Marisco Vineyards, whose brands include The Ned, already had around 300 hectares of producing vineyards and they were in the process of planting a new 600-hectare site called Leefield Station. I was involved in some of the planning process of the new vineyards.
“I also worked across the three established sites doing yield estimates and working with the individual vineyard managers, helping them with day-to-day tasks. I covered a lot of the contract growers, some based up to an hour and half away in Nelson. We visited them to work through fungicide spray programmes and to collect grape samples.
“I had an opportunity to work in the cellar come harvest time which was a fantastic experience and I learnt so much about wine making. The winery was relatively new, and the facilities were brilliant. During harvest they ran two 12-hour shifts. They had five machine harvesters onsite that would run continuously for around six weeks. It was hard continuous work, but the fantastic team made it all fun and worthwhile. I worked with people from all over the world; Croatia, USA, France, Australia and Italy, some of whom just spent their time travelling around the world working vintages. It was great to learn wine making techniques and tricks of the trade from them!
“About six months after coming back home, I came across an advert for a vineyard assistant at Halfpenny Green Vineyards over in South Staffordshire. At the time I hadn’t really considered England, and particularly the Midlands, as being a suitable area to grow grapes. But I am very glad that I went for the job because that is where my knowledge and passion for English wines really flourished. I learnt about grape varieties that I had never heard of and being hands-on in the cellar and the vineyard really helped grow my understanding.
“That is what gave me the confidence that vineyards in England can produce some fantastic fruit and awesome wines.
“My twin sister, Mel, and I are the third generation on our family farm in Rowton, west Shropshire. We are very fortunate that our dad is very open to diversifying the farm. Mel’s experience is in marketing, branding and events whilst I have experience in retail, growing vines and vinifying them. So together we should make quite the team!”
The pair planted a five-acre vineyard in spring of this year and expect to get their first crop in the autumn of 2022. Once they are fully producing, they hope to produce 10,000 to 12,000 bottles per year. They also plan to host tours of the farm in the future, giving customers a more rounded view of how agricultural life is woven together.
“We plan to make our wines really approachable and easy going,” said Zoë, “with fruit-forward characters. We are currently working on our branding and want it to be fun and stand out, as well as being informative about the grape varieties, vineyard and winemaking techniques.”
On a final note, Zoë added: “Since completing my placement year, I have always recommended to friends and family that they should look into doing a placement. It was such a valuable experience. I wouldn’t be where I am now without it.”