Nowt like a good drop of Chateau Leeds

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The Independent Online

Deep in West Yorkshire's pit country, in sniffing distance of Tetley's brewery, Europe's most northerly commercial harvest of wine grapes was last week gathered in - high and, thankfully, dry.

Deep in West Yorkshire's pit country, in sniffing distance of Tetley's brewery, Europe's most northerly commercial harvest of wine grapes was last week gathered in - high and, thankfully, dry.

The crop from the vineyard at Woodlesford, between Leeds and Castleford, will produce some 6,000 bottles of wine this year - proof that despite the flooding at nearby York, global warming can have a silver lining. And the viticulteur George Bowden, a former schoolmaster, is planning to double his output next year.

Vines flourished in Yorkshire during the warmer climate of the Middle Ages. The Cistercian monks of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds, and the Benedictines of St Mary's Abbey in York, continued to produce wine until the time of Henry VIII.

But the dissolution of the monasteries - and centuries of cold weather, the Little Ice Age - put an end to the tyke Châteaux. Mr Bowden reckons that the last Yorkshire vineyard went out of production some 250 years ago.

Until now. For last summer, 53-year-old Mr Bowden quit his job as a chemistry teacher at Wetherby High School to turn a hobby into a full-time business. He now produces Seyval Blanc and Madeleine Angevin wines from grapes grown on six acres of a south-facing slope, just a couple of miles from the closed Ledstone Luck pit.

He chose the land - now known as Leventhorpe Vineyard - because it had always been known locally as a "warm" field, with well-drained heat-retaining soil, which had always cropped a couple of weeks earlier than its neighbours. But, though he has carefully chosen vines that will flourish in a cool climate, he also believes that global warming has helped.

He gets members of the local bowling club to pick the grapes ("because they are used to bending") but regrets that he cannot employ former miners to tread them ("that's all done mechanically these days").

Once pressed, the juice is put into tanks to allow the pulp to settle out, and it is then fermented for about six weeks. Château Woodlesford 2000 will be ready for bottling next May, and will go on sale for £5-£6 a bottle.

"It's been a good harvest this year, despite being interrupted by all the rain," he says. "I have now got twice as many vines planted up, and could get double the crop next year, fingers crossed."

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