Here at The Passage House Inn, we are passionate about wine and regularly review and update our wine menu to reflect this. We feel strongly about supporting local businesses and using local produce where possible so it seemed only logical to add a wine made by the very local Pebblebed Wines to our list when we came to revise it this Autumn. And so it was that I found myself on a dark December evening, tucked away in their cosy cellar, talking to the owner of Pebblebed Vineyards, Geoff Bowen, so that we could find out a little bit more about this vineyard just a stones throw (or near enough!) from our front door.
I had read that Pebblebed began life as a community project almost 20 years ago in 1999 but I was curious as to the spark that started it all off. Geoff told me that one night, he was sat in a pub with friends, debating what they should do with the 8 acres of land that came with the house they had just bought when they decided (inspired by camping in France) that they should plant some vines. Initially, 10 families put in £100 each and planted just half an acre of vines resulting in their first drinkable bottle of wine in 2002. An easy going man by nature, he said they never really had a plan but from there, planted a new field every year and now have 25 acres of vines just up the road in Clyst St George.
Although not all the initial ten families are still involved in Pebblebed, it is clear that a sense of community is at the heart of everything Geoff does. He says that they have been very lucky to have the support of local farmers and people over the last 17 years. As well as borrowing land to grow the vines, every year at harvest he invites people to come and get involved with the harvesting of the grapes. This is something that people engage with very positively with over 500 people of all ages turning up this Autumn to help with the harvest. In the past, they have held festivals at the vineyard to support Hospice Care and are planning to do so again next year (on 17th September 2017) to raise some money for a very worthy cause.
The concept of people getting involved with the winemaking process was reflected in Geoff’s proposal when he successfully appeared on the very popular Dragon’s Den. Despite being given a 3 hour grilling by the Dragons, he won over Duncan Bannatyne who invested £60,000 in the Pebblebed Partner Vineyards scheme. This idea, Geoff says, was a very early crowdfunder style pitch with 30 people (20 individuals and 10 businesses) putting forward £2000 each. The idea was that they would come and help with the whole process of winemaking from planting to harvesting and would also receive £2000 worth of wine back over a 10 year period.
Pebblebed’s philosophy is to sell their wine as locally as possible with a lot of their 50,000 bottles stocked at Darts Farm, Greendale and Riverford Farm Shops and now with us here at The Passage House Inn in Topsham. Geoff’s approach of working together and maintaining a sense of community resonates strongly with us, we are so proud to be part of Topsham and the vibrant community it offers and are now proud to be supporting this local vineyard. So why not pop down to The Passage House Inn and sample a glass or two of this delicious English wine and help us to support a very worthy local business.