Breaky Bottom – Peter’s Notes April 2024 – 50th Anniversary!

16th May 2024

Breaky Bottom Peter on Tractor

Special announcement – 2024 is Breaky Bottom’s 50th Anniversary!

My livestock farm before planting vines

I planted the vineyard back in April 1974, so this month I am looking back to the very start – the ploughing of the proposed site, the initial planting of vines and the posting and trellising of the individual rows. I’ve recently re-discovered lost boxes of 35mm slides taken at the time. The photos show we were not teenagers, but we all looked about 50 years younger!

I first discovered Breaky Bottom while working at Northease Farm as part-time stockman/tractor-driver, starting in 1967. I had graduated from Newcastle University 1963-65, studying agriculture. The farmer eventually allowed me to reside there, a tiny flint-built dwelling which had remained un-inhabited for 50 years. There was no electricity and for three years I learnt the joy of following the change of season, and the candlelight in deep mid-winter proved enchanting, and a reminder of how human beings used to exist pre the invention of the lightbulb!

Three years on, and I was offered a tenancy within Northease Farm, a small-holding of around 30 acres, much of it steep-sloping grassy banks.

I decided to rear pigs as my principal enterprise, but also kept a small flock of ewes and their lambs, some geese, chickens to sell eggs and reared 100 turkeys for Christmas – a real old-fashioned ‘mixed farm’.

The two Joe’s and Peter sheep dipping against blowfly maggots

Some of my Light Sussex chickens and Dark Cuckoo Marans and cockerel, which lay the deepest brown eggs.

A few of my beautiful large white sows from a herd of about 30

An apparently tolerant ewe with my ‘ride-im-cowboy’ son Tom and my daughter Kate!

My Christmas turkeys, around November, so not far to go!

Winter, my first years at Breaky Bottom, with my landlord’s famous Shorthorn cattle

How did I decide to plant a vineyard?

My deep interest in wines started way back; my French Grandfather had a top-class restaurant in Soho London, Le Petit Savoyard, which he had started before the First World War. He taught us how to enjoy drinking; how to respect the label and the winemaker…. and after that to taste, and with a clap of his hands, he would say “remember children, it’s only fermented grape juice.”

In the spring of 1972, I was shopping in my favourite gardening shop, Elphick & Son in Lewes, for seeds and small plants. The friendly nurseryman showed me a gardening magazine and on the back page was an advert – two books by Nick Poulter who had a vineyard on the Isle of Wight, ‘Growing Grapes’ and ‘Wines from your Vines’. Nick and his wife kindly came to Breaky Bottom and he declared it would be a great place to plant vines…..the rest is history!

A friendly Iford village tractor driver kindly came to plough the virgin grassland, making ready for the vines

Peter on tractor, cultivating between the rows around mid-summer 1974

Peter and the dynamic Jack Pike, busy planting the vines; only 9,500 to go!

Peter tying young vines to the canes

Dear friend Bernie from New Zealand, with us in the early years, heeling in the thousands of vines pre-planting.

My first wife Diana looking beautiful amongst the vines in their first year, mother to our four delightful children!

A year or so after planting the vines (in 1974) I realised I couldn’t cope with so much work, and within a short time I waved goodbye (with some reluctance) to my lovely sows to focus on the vines and winemaking – the egg production and Christmas turkeys continued for a few years, but now only the sheep remain – and even at my age spring lambing is my delight.

As a footnote I can’t resist this photo of Emily, Kate and Tom – all dressed as old-fashioned shepherds in corn sacks, complete with their shepherds’ crooks… What’s not to like!

With all best wishes from the Breaky Bottom Team, Peter & Christina

Throughout 2024, in celebration of the 50 years, Peter’s Notes will feature further historic photos and text, reflecting more of the very early days at Breaky Bottom……. Enjoy!

Peter Hall

Peter has had 50 years of making wine at Breaky Bottom. He has come to appreciate that the best wine is made in the vineyard. The winemaker’s job is to let good grapes express themselves naturally.