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It sounds implausible: Welsh wine made in the vale of Glamorgan by two former pharmacists. I see a derisive smirk stealing over your face. But douse your taste-buds in a mouthful of Cariad Premier Fume, from the Llanerch vineyard a few miles west of Cardiff, and I guarantee that your smile will broaden to one of interest and delight.

It was a series of happy flukes that brought Peter and Diana Andrews to Llanerch. She is Welsh by birth and, having met at university in London, they both became pharmacists and by the Seventies were living on the outskirts of Cardiff.

At that time the M4 was being built - not continuously, but in separate pieces; and when the next stretch was about to swallow the land on which their daughters' horses were quartered, they set out to look for new accommodation, equine as well as human.

Driving westwards along the newest section of the motorway, they turned off to the south at the first exit, had a meander round the lanes, and came on a dilapidated old farmhouse with a "for sale" notice outside.

The place was in a sorry state - the roof of the cow byre had fallen in - but the land was on a lovely, south-facing slope, so they bought it and set about restoration.

Their main interest, then, was gardening. Only later did they start to grow grapes and, when they did, viticulture was just a hobby. But because they are "people who like to do things properly", they enrolled on a residential training course in Sussex and generally researched vineyards, with the distant aim of indulging their hobby when they retired in about 15 years' time.

In the mid-Eighties the chain of pharmacies which they had built up with a third partner was bought out by Lloyds. Armed with a bit of capital, they spent a year looking after their vines and trying to decide what to do.

Then, as Peter puts it, "Our hobby was starting to eat up our savings. We didn't want to move, and we enjoyed growing the grapes - so the obvious solution was to stay put and make that our business." Today they have nearly seven acres of vines, which in a good year produce 30,000 bottles, and their wines have won numerous awards.

More than that, by imaginative restoration of redundant buildings and land they have created a thriving tourist enterprise, with holiday cottages, bed-and-breakfast rooms, a licensed coffee shop, formal gardens, a vineyard trail and walks round a 10-acre conservation woodland which also embraces two small lakes.

It is hardly surprising that the place attracts more than 20,000 visitors a year, and is used by local authorities to promote Wales.

But how can you make good wine in a place that is so notoriously wet? In Peter Andrews' experience, Welsh weather is no problem.

By using cool-climate varieties of vines, and training them into an open canopy so that they make the most of the sun, he can always get his grapes to ripen satisfactorily.

Further warmth is created by the thick, finely sculpted hedges of grey alder, which cut the velocity of the prevailing westerly wind and allow the temperature to rise.

The soil - sandy loam over clay - is really too good for the operation: whereas in France or Italy there would be dusty earth between the vines, at Llanerch there is a carpet of velvety, ankle-deep grass.

The result is that the vines are excessively vigorous, and at this time of year de-leafing - to give sunlight direct access to the fruit - is a vital part of management. As the boss walks along the rows, his hand keeps shooting out to nip off a leaf here, a leaf there. "That bunch only needs 14 pairs of leaves to ripen," he says severely. "Any more and they're taking away goodness."

He points out that down the road, at Caerleon, the Romans were making wine 2,000 years ago, and that until the Reformation almost every monastery had its own vineyard. Now, in any case, global warming seems to be strengthening his hand. In his 20 years on the site he has witnessed "noticeable climate change", with milder winters, warmer summers and - until this season - a succession of summer droughts.

Harvest comes at any time between the end of September and the first week of November. This year it looks as though "the twenties of October" will be the key dates.

Already the amateurs who regularly reinforce a small army of hard-core pickers are telephoning to make sure they do not miss out on a festive event, at which their labours are rewarded by bottles of wine and a slap- up lunch.

No treading of grapes with bare feet here. The winery is all gleaming tiles and stainless-steel tanks, and the wine-maker is Diana. She it is who does the blending and tasting - and she finds that her pharmaceutical training stands her in pretty good stead.

At the University of London she spent much time learning medicinal Latin, and one phrase in particular has borne fruit. In those days a doctor would often write on a prescription "MSA", which stood for misce secundum artem - "make up according to your [own] fashion" - the implication being that the chemist should concoct medicine that the patient would find palatable.

Now she and her husband have found that "wine-making is very much like that. We're always trying to produce something that people will enjoy."

Apart from anything else, they hit on a brilliant name for their wines. A hundred years ago your cariad was your betrothed, your sweetheart. Now the word is a general term of endearment, like "love" or "dear", and it slips easily off the tongue, especially when you have a glass in hand.

Llanerch Vineyard, Hensol, Pendoylan, Vale of Glamorgan, CF72 8JU (01443 225877)

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