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Taplow Vineyard

When Iris Midlane and her late husband, John, bought Wickenden on the northern edge of Taplow in 1988, the purchase included two rather surprising extras: a vineyard and a cellar with 9,000 bottles of wine. The vineyard was set up by Raymond Locke, the previous owner of the house, to provide a small business venture for his daughter, Susan. The vines – of which there were several thousand – produced French and German white wines, both medium and dry, with grape varieties including Sauvignon, Merlot, Müller Thurgau and Seyval.

The Midlanes had little knowledge and no experience of wine-making, but fortunately they found help immediately at hand, in the form of George Clark, who had taken care of the vineyard since its earliest days. George admits that his knowledge was acquired ‘on the job’ and although the first vintage, in 1983, was not a great success, over the years the wines improved and in 1994 the Midlanes won a bronze medal at the English Vineyards Association national wine festival, with a white ‘oaked’ wine.

Viticulture is a year-round business, with the most arduous job – pruning the vines back to just a couple of feet in height – being done in January. This, and every other task, often had to be carried out in typically unpleasant English weather. Most of the work was done by George single-handed, but at harvest time, Iris and John’s family and friends would come to give a hand and once all the grapes had been picked, a grand barbecue party would be held for everyone – weather permitting, of course. The harvest was best done in September, but the grapes’ ripening process was frequently delayed until October and on one occasion Iris remembers it being done on Guy Fawkes night.

For the first few years, the Midlanes sent the grapes away to be processed, but then they set about carrying out even this task themselves. The electric press that was used has now been removed from the property, but the huge fibreglass vats remain – three containing 580 gallons each, and one massive one that held 1,116 gallons. Yields varied considerably from one year to another, with the best year producing 12,000 bottles and the worst just 2,000. The wine was sold at local outlets, including the Orangery at Cliveden, some small off-licences and even Majestic Wines, at the Bishop Centre. However, the relatively high price and low yields mean that it was never going to be a great commercial venture, and the arrival of Sainsbury’s in Taplow sounded the death knell for the little vineyard.

By 1997, the wines were in need of replacement and the Midlanes decided they would call it a day. All the plants were grubbed out and the site was covered by a small artificial lake, which today provides a peaceful haven for wildlife.

Gill Holloway