It is already renowned for its rolling green valleys, male choirs, rugby prowess and proud working-class solidarity, but now Wales can add another attribute to this list – the production of fine wine.
The first vintage of a newly-planted vineyard in a sunny valley in Monmouthshire has won two medals at leading wine competitions this week.
Ancre Hill Estate's prosaically-titled White Welsh Regional Wine 2008 was awarded a silver at the Decanter World Wine Awards and a bronze at the International Spirit and Wine Competition, and has been commended or won a medal at a third major show, the International Wine Challenge.
Richard Morris, a chartered accountant who turned his passion for wine into a business five years ago, planted three types of vine – pinot noir, seyval blanc and chardonnay – in a south-facing meadow outside his home four years ago.
Fielding media calls yesterday about his £12 bottle, which he sells from his cellar door, Mr Morris said: "It's our first vintage. You don't expect that to happen – to get three medals from the three most important wine competitions in the world."
The Welshman put the success of his wine down to a good site with low rainfall, sunny weather and good drainage, and "fastidious" viticulture practices such as regular pest spraying and canopy management.
Welsh bottles could compete with the best in the world, providing the vines were planted in the right "meso-climate," he added, saying: "It does always rain in Wales, but there are pockets where there are some valleys where there are surrounding trees that take the rain away."
There are around 15 vineyards in Wales, compared to more than 300 in England, concentrated in Cornwall, Sussex, Kent, Surrey and Suffolk. Most attention and prizes currently alight on English wine.
Mr Morris, 57, and his wife Joy, 50, decided to plant vines at his home in the Wye Valley after selling his part-owned logistics business for £36m in 1999. After a few years of consultancy work and travelling, which involved several trips to vineyards in Australia and South America, he took a course in viticulture at Plumpton College in East Sussex and realised that his home would make an excellent vineyard.
"We sent samples of the local soil for analysis to the geology master at the local school and were delighted to discover the white rocks that intersperse the clay loam soil are Jurassic limestone – responsible for the excellent terroir of the Chablis region in France," he said.
This year Ancre Hill is producing 14,500 bottles but aims to produce 25,000 annually by 2015. Around 70 per cent is sparkling. Mr Morris hopes that on its release in two years' time his sparkling wine will vie with champagne for prizes.
Could the French make a decent warm beer?
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