The Yorkshire sheep farm that became Britain's highest vineyard

The hills of the Holme Valley may seem an unlikely spot for wine production.

Tom Whitehouse and Ellie Smith among the vines at Holmfirth Vineyard
Tom Whitehouse and Ellie Smith among the vines at Holmfirth Vineyard

In 2008, the land that was to become Holmfirth Vineyard was a traditional Pennine sheep farm.

When the farmer died and the site went up for sale, it was snapped up by Ian and Rebecca Sheveling, a couple with a professional background in design who have succeeded in transforming it into a wine estate to rival the vineyards of Tuscany.

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The full list of 76 Yorkshire entries in the Good Food Guide 2020Eleven years later, as their staff prepare for the autumn grape harvest, the highest vineyard in Britain - and one of the most northerly - is home to a winery, bar, restaurant, shop, seven self-catering apartments and a wedding and function venue. Last year 12,000 people visited to sample Holmfirth wines.

Ellie Smith with a glass of Holmfirth wine

General manager Tom Whitehouse, who previously worked in the hotel industry, is now in charge of over 50 acres and nearly 30,000 vines.

"It was a bit of an impromptu decision to plant a vineyard, but Ian and Rebecca did their research and visited a lot of other wine estates. Our height actually has some advantages for the growing process, as we are in a south-westerly position.

"The main challenge is the summer, and the amount of sun we get to make good wine! We harvest from mid-September through into October, and sell all our wine on-site and in the main bar area.

The secret network of Victorian tunnels that runs beneath Harrogate"Most people have quite low expectations of the quality of the wine and are really surprised that we manage to do it so well."

The vineyard is the highest in Britain

The business was on the verge of folding in 2016, when a fire in the winery caused by an overheating tumble dryer resulted in severe damage to the building. Funding was secured for an expanded complex, including a new restaurant, and the vineyard now offers tours and wine tasting events.

"The apartments sleep a total of 38 people and are eco-friendly, with power generated by wind turbines. The restaurant and function room opened in 2017 and have really taken off. Next year we have over 50 weddings booked."

This market stall has become Doncaster's first-ever entry in the Good Food GuideHolmfirth Vineyard has since appeared on the BBC's Countryfile, and enjoys loyal support from Holme Valley residents, who have credited it with reinvigorating the local tourism industry since the TV sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, which was filmed in the area, ended in 2010.

The Shevelings are also expanding their empire, and have purchased a second farm overlooking the sea at Robin Hood's Bay on the Yorkshire coast to turn into another wine-growing area.

"The growing conditions are good - in three or four years we hope to have it established. Wine production will be the focus but we are open to doing other things there too, especially as it is in an area popular with tourists."