The Isle of Wight: a family affair
A plentiful supply of farm shops helps to promote locally grown produce on an island that has much to offer lovers of food and drink
Saturday 26 September 2009
Over the next few weeks, anyone on the Isle of Wight with time to spare is likely to be pressed into service picking grapes at Adgestone Vineyard. Adgestone produces around 22,000 bottles of wine each year, which will be sold all over the island, and elsewhere by mail order. They include a delicious sparkling rosé, an aromatic white, and a red table wine. The vines are planted on an attractive south-facing slope; from the top is a panoramic view of Brading, whose origins were in Roman times, and of Sandown Bay beyond. A vineyard trail lets visitors walk through the rows of vines, heavy with bunches of grapes ripening in the early autumn sun.
Adgestone is one of the oldest vineyards in Britain, smaller than the more commercialised Rosemary five or so miles further north, and typical of the family-run enterprises all over the Isle of Wight that help to promote locally grown produce.
The temptation to eat and drink one's way around the island is huge. Heading west from Adgestone along the road across the Downs, I stopped at a lookout point. Stationed at the entrance to the car park was a van emblazoned with the name of the local ice-cream maker: Minghella. The company was founded in 1950 by Edward and Gloria Minghella, and local cream is used in their products. Among their ice-cream flavours is Cold Mountain, a white chocolate and red berry mixture whose name is a reminder of the film directed by their son, Anthony, who died last year. As I queued for a cornet, I could see most of the people admiring the view had been prompted to stop by the lure of the ice cream.
In the heart of the Downs is Mersley Farm, known locally as Garlic Farm due to the crop that has been grown here since 1975. Colin Boswell, whose family farms at Mersley, admits the farm "has suddenly taken off". He attributes its success to a growing interest among visitors to the island in their food's provenance. This is one of the reasons that, earlier this year, he opened a café, a wooden building with a sunny courtyard that serves tasty meals made from the farm's vegetables and other local produce. Visitors can also take a walk through the farmland, stay at one of the farm cottages, or go to the busy shop to stock up on garlic bread, smoked garlic, garlic chutneys and pickles, and even garlic bulbs to grow at home.
The popularity of buying and eating local food is reflected in the number of farm shops signposted around the island, such as that at Briddlesford Lodge Farm just outside Wootton. But the foodie heartland must surely be Godshill, whose thatched cottages cluster around the church and spill out along the main street. It is home to the Godshill Cider Company; Godshill Organics, which grows organic vegetables on its three local farms; and Chocolate Island where chocolates are made on the premises. Sue Brownrigg sells free-range poultry at nearby Sheepwash Farm, from where she also supplies a number of the island's hotels and restaurants. She says there is no special reason why so many food producers have settled in and around Godshill, "but it's certainly the gourmet place to be". She recommends The Taverners, the village pub which promotes local ingredients – including those Sue produces – on its menu.
The island's most prestigious chef is Robert Thompson, winner of a Michelin star, whose restaurant is at The Hambrough hotel, perched high above the beach in Ventnor, a resort full of elegant Victorian villas on the Isle of Wight's south coast. Local honey, tomatoes, game and many other island ingredients regularly feature on the menu.
A more unusual place to stay is the Enchanted Manor, a few miles to the west of Ventnor at Niton. Lovingly restored by Ric and Maggie Hilton, the manor provides luxurious bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and the enchanted theme extends throughout the property, with fairies featuring in the décor of the bedrooms, public areas and the wooded garden. Elsewhere, the Isle of Wight Farm and Country Holiday Group offers a variety of accommodation, both bed and breakfast and self-catering.
The demand for local produce led to the setting up, 10 years ago, of the island's foodie highlight, a farmers' market held every Friday morning in the shadow of St Thomas of Canterbury Church in the island's capital, Newport. Among the regulars are Mary Case, a fourth-generation Isle of Wight bee keeper, who sells the honey from her nine apiaries. Others, such as Julian Bagnall, have adapted a flagging business or started a new one to join the market. Bagnall was a trout farmer who noticed his sales of whole trout were falling. Now his pâtés, home-smoked trout, and ready-prepared fillets in different sauces are popular sellers.
Other market delicacies include sloe gin made from fruit picked from the hedgerows at Aldermoor Farm; Gallybagger, a tasty hard cheese made by Richard Hodgson using the milk from his neighbour's Guernsey herd; and bread made from flour milled on the island.
Many of the people shopping at the market are locals stocking up for the weekend ahead. But there are plenty of visitors too; and the smart ones take an empty bag with them, for the edible souvenirs they will be tempted to take home.
*Red Funnel (0844-844 2690; redfunnel.co.uk/holidays) offers ferry and hotel packages
*Cathy Packe stayed at the Enchanted Manor, St Catherine's Point, Sandrock Road, Niton (01983 730215; enchantedmanor.co.uk ), which has doubles from £149, including breakfast.
*Car rental available from firms such as Top Gear Car Hire (01983 299056; top-gearhire.com )
*Adgestone Vineyard, Upper Adgestone Road, Sandown (01983 402503; adgestonevineyard. co.uk ) opens daily, 10am-5.30pm from Easter-October, and approximately 10.30am-4.30pm in winter.
*The Garlic Farm, Mersley Lane, Newchurch (01983 865378; thegarlicfarm.co.uk ) opens 9am-5pm Mon-Sat (from 9.30am November-March), and 10am-4pm on Sundays.
*Hambrough Hotel, Hambrough Road, Ventnor (01983 856333; thehambrough.com )
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