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Welsh vineyard beats world’s leading producers to secure Decanter’s gold medal

Robb and Nicola Merchant

In a true David versus Goliath moment, a small Monmouthshire vineyard has taken on the world’s most established winemaking regions, to secure a gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

White Castle Vineyard’s Pinot Noir Reserve 2018, a red wine priced at £25.50 a bottle, is the first Welsh vintage to be presented with a gold medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

This was also the first year that White Castle Vineyard has entered the international renowned awards, which sees judges blind taste entries to ensure each is appraised purely on its quality, regardless of where it originates.

In addition to praising the quality and characteristics of their pinot noir, Decanter’s judging panel applauded White Castle’s owners for their ambition and success in creating a red wine, something that has generally been thought impossible with the UK’s climate.

Founded in 2008 by husband and wife, Robb and Nicola Merchant, White Castle began when the couple purchased a field next to their home and set about planting 4,000 vines. What started as a dream has grown to become a well-respected brand producing 10,000 bottles a year.

Nicola Merchant, from White Castle Vineyard, said: “White Castle Vineyard was born from a desire Robb and I shared to live in this beautiful part of the world. We wanted to live in the countryside, and in those first days after purchasing our smallholding, while walking the grounds I wondered if we could one day leave our jobs and work with this land?

“When the chance came to buy a south facing plot next to our home, the idyllic dream of planting vines seemed like a chance worth taking. The rest is history, but I could never imagine that we’d create something that would be judged the best in the world.

“The support we’ve received since the announcement has been amazing. The past few days have been a rollercoaster, in the best way imaginable. We’ve not really had time to sit back and celebrate ourselves, but when we do, I think we’ll need a bottle of pinot.”

Within a day and a half of their victory, White Castle Vineyard sold over 800 bottles of their Reserve 2018, promoting them to restrict sales to one bottle per customer to ensure as many as possible to try the vintage.

Robb Merchant, added: “We’d never entertained winning a gold award at Decanter, a competition that receives over 8,000 entries from across the world. We knew we had a quality vintage that had won against strong competition before, but Decanter is the pinnacle.

“Provenance, quality, and integrity have been our goals since before the first vine was planted. We never wanted to sell on mass to supermarkets, but over the years we’ve grown to meet demand from loyal customers. Since the win, we’ve been inundated with messages congratulating us and asking how they can become involved in our future. It’s an unbelievable experience and it all started with Nicola’s dream.”

While White Castle’s latest and greatest successes are undoubtedly driven by the couples’ passion and commitment to quality, they are not alone in Wales. The Decanter World Wine Awards also recognised North Wales’ Gwinllan Conwy with a bronze award for their Solaris 2019.

These accomplishments are considered to exemplify the achievements of a growing number of independent Welsh wine producers. With around 30 vineyards operating across the country to produce a range of vintages and styles, the Welsh wine industry is increasingly attracting global interest.

In May, the International Wine Challenge 2021 recognised White Castle Vineyard for their Pinot Noir Precoce Reserve. They were joined by Powys’ Montgomery Vineyard, who secured awards for their Sparkling Seyval Blanc, Sparkling Rosé, and Solaris 2020; and Gwinllan Conwy, who also received an award for their Solaris 2019 and Pefriog 2019.

Despite the hardships faced by all businesses during the pandemic, producers remain undeterred from their shared goal to secure a place at the table alongside the world industry’s leading regions.

In June, that collective effort resulted in the return of Welsh Wine Week, which saw producers open their vineyards and cellars to the public, through a series of events designed to allow consumers to discover the quality wines produced on their doorsteps.

Welsh Wine Week is organised by the Welsh Drinks Cluster and funded by Welsh Government, which works in partnership with Welsh drinks producers to promote the industry and its production of world class products.

Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, said: “A huge congratulations to White Castle Vineyard on their fantastic success and showing the world how Wales can produce unbeatable vintages. This is a great achievement and they deserve huge praise for their commitment and dedication to secure a gold medal.

“I am very proud of our producers who continue to make sustainable quality products and build Wales’ global profile. I look forward to celebrating the success of more Welsh companies in the future.”