28 May 2024

With no experience of cultivating vines, Farming Connect mentoring from an established producer has been key in helping Geoffrey and Cath Easton make the successful transition from livestock farming to growing grapes and producing wine.

Geoffrey and Cath Easton have been farming at Llety Farm, near Llangynhafal, Denbighshire, for 32 years, as county council tenants initially before buying the farm five years ago.

They had built up livestock numbers to 700 sheep and 200 cattle but as they got older the workload associated with those enterprises started to take its toll.

“I hit 60 and I thought “this is getting a bit tough now’’, I wasn’t enjoying the work involved with the sheep and we agreed that we needed to change our work practices,’’ Geoffrey recalls.

“We started to look at something we could develop and semi-retire.’’

Establishing a vineyard appealed to them both but, as Geoffrey admits, “we had no knowledge whatsoever of how to do that.’’

A friend of theirs did and that is how they initially got started, by establishing a vineyard in partnership with him.

“He had the technical knowledge and we had the land,’’ says Geoffrey.

“The farm is in a stunning location, everyone who visited would tell us what a fantastic place it was so we thought we could utilise that.’’

They applied for the Farming Connect mentoring programme to receive advice and support from experienced grower Robb Merchant of White Castle Vineyard, near Abergavenny.

He visited Llety Farm and was able to draw on his 15 years’ experience in growing vines and producing wine to provide important input. 

When the business arrangement with their friend ended, the Eastons found themselves needing to fill the knowledge gap created by his departure.

Robb’s help at this point was a “gamechanger’’, says Geoffrey. “It was absolutely essential, we had so much to learn and Robb was able to help us with that.

“We just put our hands up and asked him “where do we start?’’

With guidance from Robb and also independent consultant, Penny Meadmore, they set about planting more vines and there are now 4,500 in the ground.

There are four grape varieties – Solaris, Chardonnay, Rondo and Pinot Meunirthey – to produce white, red and sparkling wine.

The Eastons harvested their first grapes in 2023 and are about to produce the initial batch of Offa’s Dyke Wines.

They see that first year of production as a learning curve, admitting they were a bit disappointed with the yield.

“We were quite inexperienced in the production side of it so we weren’t expecting miracles but it has been fantastic on the educational side of things,’’ says Geoffrey.

The wine will be sold directly from the farm with customers having the opportunity to walk among the vines.

As they approach the 2024 season, Geoffrey says the Farming Connect mentoring program has been invaluable.

“We are going into this year with much more confidence,’’ he says.

Robb says the experience has been a positive one for him too. “Seeing Geoff and Cath get to the place where they could harvest their first crop, that’s the reward for me. 

“I think mentoring is a brilliant way to pass on knowledge. There are people who I have mentored who don’t follow through with their plan because they recognise that the manual labour and investment needed is perhaps not for them so it is very rewarding when something does come of it.’’

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