A vineyard based in Raglan was awarded an esteemed prize at this year’s Welsh Vineyard Association Awards – marking the beginning of an exciting future for the family run business.
Set between the Usk and Wye Valleys in Raglan, Monmouthshire; the Dell has been farmed by the Alford family for five generations. Yet, housing a vineyard is a completely new adventure.
Lucy and Dan Alford dreamt of opening their own vineyard, after falling in love with wine during their travels in New Zealand and Australia a decade ago.
Over the years, the couple adopted the hobby of growing fruit and veg, but the ultimate goal was to make their own wine. However, this was always thought to be a plan for the distant future.
Director of the Dell Vineyard, Lucy said: “For the last fifteen years, I have been working full time as an ICU senior nurse. My husband, Dan has also been successful in making his own way in graphic design and working in an office full time.
“The idea of opening a vineyard became a part of our retirement plan. We knew that at some point in our fifties, we’d move back to Monmouthshire - where we both grew up - and open one but beyond talking about it on a couple of occasions with Dan’s dad, we hadn’t put much thought into it.”
This all changed with the second wave of the pandemic.
“Over that time, I could feel myself falling out of love with my job,” Lucy recalled. “There was a growing resentment against the NHS and lack of respect for nurses from the government. I also struggled with seeing so many young people fall victim to COVID. In my line of work, I have had to see and deal with a lot, but never on that scale.
“I came home one day and told Dan, who felt equally as restless in his own job. At the end of the day, we are outdoorsy people, and he was fed up with being stuck in an office all day. When he said, ‘maybe we should do the retirement plan now’, I didn’t really think twice about it... What I learnt from the pandemic is that life is too short.
“It all snowballed from there really. A lease for an established 20-year-old vineyard located close to the hamlet of Pen-Y-Clawdd became available. There are 1,700 vines that cover an area just over an acre in size; and several varieties planted including, Pinot Noir, Seyval Blanc and Phoenix.
“All the stars aligned.”
In addition to their lease, Lucy and Dan planted the Dell’s first ever vines. “Dan’s father, Clive has been an amazing support, and allowed us to plant 5,000 vines of Pinot Noir and Solaris in the Dell,” Lucy shared “We could not have done it without him.”
Lucy, Dan and their young son Rowan officially moved back to Monmouthshire from Bristol two years ago after months of commuting on the weekends.
Dan has since, taken on the vineyard full time while Lucy maintains her full-time job as an ICU nurse.
They planned on opening to the public in 2024, but after receiving numerous emails from curious customers, the couple decided to host an open day in June of this year.
The day was “incredible”, seeing 150 people attend. Guests sampled three of their wines, three from their other vineyard in Pen-y-Clawdd, and food from local vendors. Lucy commented: “It was an amazing day and throughout this whole process, the community have been wonderful!
“We were quite worried when we opened as it is right on people’s doorsteps, but people have really taken to it. They have been amazed that you can grow wine in Wales and - I think - like that they can come here and enjoy the outdoors, as well as local produce.”
The family’s hard work paid off at the annual Welsh Wine Awards.
Organised by the Welsh Vineyards Association (WVA), the Awards took place at the iconic Llanerch Vineyard Hotel, Hensol. This year saw a record 50 wines, from 12 different vineyards, entered into the competition.
All 50 wines were sampled by a panel of expert judges, with the tasting divided into five different flights, consisting of white and rosé sparkling, followed by rosé, white and red still wines.
Both Lucy and Dan attended the sparkling event - neither knowing that they were about to win Best Still Rosé with their Y Lleidr 2022. They also went on to win silver for their white rosé.
Delighted by their achievement, Lucy said: “We knew our rosé was amazing as we have had fantastic feedback over the summer, but we were still incredibly surprised and really excited to receive such an award.
“We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us throughout, especially both our families who have been absolutely incredible.”
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, Lesley Griffiths MS presented the awards. Upon the overall successes, she said: “A huge congratulations to all the nominees and winners at this year’s Welsh Wine Awards.
“Welsh wines are an important part of our food and drinks industry, which continue to gain increasing worldwide interest.
“It is now a multi award winning industry and I am proud of the hard work and commitment which takes place to make the best possible products for people to enjoy at home and abroad.”
There is no rest for Lucy and Dan as the two now look forward to developing their first sparkling wine and red wine, for next Summer and Winter, respectively. They also plan to plant a further 3000 vines in Spring before reopening to the public.
With open days featuring tastings, food pop ups and much more available to book, the Dell Vineyard are excited to continue growing and diversifying their craft.
Beyond all of this, the couple also look forward to welcoming a new arrival to their family in February.