Ten years ago, sisters Jackie and Caroline had never run or even worked in a vineyard.
Lawyer and civil engineer respectively, their family had recently moved to the UK from South Africa.
And despite their homeland’s reputation as a New World wine powerhouse, they hadn’t been involved remotely before.
âWe had nothing to do with the wine industry – except to be good enough to drink it,â joked Caroline York, 35, as we walked through Terlingham mansion towards the vineyards.
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âWe got here a day before the first harvest, so we had to learn quickly.
“To be fair, we had just fallen in love with the property and the surrounding area.”
It’s easy to see why.
Situated on the slopes of the Kentish Downs just outside Folkestone, Terlingham Vineyard must be one of the few in the country to enjoy sea views.
When the sisters first took over the relatively small four-acre site, its previous owners had recently planted vines that had not yet ripened.
Jackie and Caroline said their help was invaluable as they tried to learn a whole new profession.
And clearly they did.
Because until today the vineyard has just been named one of the 20 best to visit in the UK, out of over 700.
Last year one of their roses won bronze at the Independent English Wine Awards.
That means less than a decade in their new wine career, they are firmly on the map.
One of the things that made them stand out, they say, is the emphasis on sustainability.
âWe are a natural vineyard,â said Caroline. âI think there are only three of us in the UK.
âThis means we don’t use any fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides. No chemicals enter the soil.
âThey say one of the downsides is you get more sick vines, but there are ways to deal with that.
âTo be honest, it all came with our arrival and we received this spray program for the vines.
“It just seemed like a lot. You become more aware of the extent of these things when you start doing them on a larger scale.”
Caroline’s older sister Jackie Wilks, 37, said the taste of the wine didn’t seem to have been compromised either.
âThat’s why it was so exciting to get the award recognized,â she said.
“The wines are tasted blind and the judges don’t know anything about the story or anything.”
The emphasis on sustainability apparently continues throughout the process, with all packaging including labels, rather paper-based, produced literally by Sandgate Printers.
But as tasty as the wine is (and in the interest of journalism, this journalist may have sampled a few), the sisters admit it’s very difficult in Britain to profit from winemaking alone.
That’s why they focus on the visitor experience – wine tastings, private receptions, and accommodation.
Despite this, most customs, they say, originate from the immediate surroundings.
âI would say 90 percent of the people who come here are locals, really local,â Jackie said.
âWe cannot say enough about the support we have received from the community.
âThey really took us under their wings and looked after us since we got here.
âEven during the pandemic, they did their best to support us, buying as much wine as possible.
“But outside of this area, I still don’t think too many people know us.”
It is suspected that this could be about to change.
The Times article and the price are two things.
Then there is the warm welcome, the engaging nature of the sisters, the emphasis on visitor experience and sustainability, and these beautiful surroundings, overlooking a verdant valley and the sparkling English Channel ….
Terlingham Vineyard is certainly another of Kent‘s hidden gems.
And while the pandemic has done a lot of horrible things, it’s also at least served as a reminder of how many we have.
For now, kudos to that.