Beyond dry January: university wine and spirits

Paul Greatrix abandons dry January and takes a long look at university produced wines and spirits
This article is more than 1 year old

Four years ago looking at some more rather niche HE courses I was surprised and delighted to be able to report on wine courses and research at Plumpton College (which to be completely honest I had assumed for many years was a made up place) which has a very strong claim to be the UK’s centre for excellence in wine.

As the website has it

With the finest facilities and courses available in the UK, you’ll be able to gain all of the knowledge you’ll need to be successful in this highly competitive industry. Plumpton is renowned for being the UK’s centre for excellence in wine; giving you vital access to first-class education, training and research. Not to mention the only college that offers undergraduate degrees in wine business and production in English. You’ll be able to benefit from our excellent links with wine producers and distilleries, including visits to the world’s key marketplaces in wine.

Plumpton College also provides industry training for vineyards and wineries and is located (in a very real place) at the heart of the South East of England’s wine industry. The pitch continues:

  • We’ve got 10 hectares of vineyards producing 40,000 bottles of award-winning still and sparkling wines each year at Plumpton.
  • We’ve also got a purpose-built Plumpton Wine Centre which includes a commercial winery, research winery, laboratories and a sensory evaluation room for you to experience.
  • Combined with our team of international expert lecturers, you’ll certainly gain an excellent all-round experience at Plumpton.

Plumpton is not the only wine producing institution as was recently revealed here on Wonkhe in Louis Coffait’s write up of his visit to the Royal Agricultural University. RAU also produces wine and has its own vineyard which is used to teach students about viticulture, vineyard management, grape varieties, wine production, marketing and finances etc and:

The summer heatwave brought a record harvest, producing 15,000 bottles from 40 rows of vines over 2.6 hectares. Tony Norris the Farm Manager, proudly told me that Cotswold Hills 2016 Dry White Wine had won the Bronze award from the International Wines and Spirits Competition and is nominated for this year’s Rural Business Awards. In addition, £1 from every bottle sold through this social enterprise goes into the RAU’s First Steps Fund.

And then there is the Oxbridge gin war. Last year both Oxford and Cambridge launched their own gins, each sourced from the botanic gardens associated with the universities. Oxford’s effort certainly looks pretty classy:

Just six months after the opening of Oxford’s first distillery, The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD) has today unveiled its second premium gin – a complex, richly botanical Physic Gin created for the University of Oxford’s Botanic Garden.
Physic Gin, which carries the exclusive University of Oxford brand, is the first spirit to be launched under a 25-year licence allowing the distillery to produce alcoholic spirits for the world-famous university. Its formulation and design celebrate the history and current usage of the university’s extraordinary botanic garden – the oldest of its kind in the country.

Meanwhile, over in Cambridge, the Cambridge Distillery announced the launch of Curator’s Gin, which it created in partnership with Cambridge University Botanic Garden:

Having been awarded three consecutive times as the most innovative distillery in the world, Cambridge Distillery was thrilled to be offered unprecedented access to Cambridge University Botanic Garden’s extensive collections. Under the watchful eye of Sam Brockington, the Garden’s Curator, we hand-picked these extraordinary botanicals and cycled them back to our distillery within minutes of harvesting, using our pioneering novo-dimensional distillation matrix to preserve absolute purity of freshness and flavour. Our Master Distiller William Lowe then expertly blended these individual elements into Curator’s Gin: a truly outstanding spirit with a herbaceous, floral profile.

Wine and gin then do seem to be the (rather alcoholic) flavours of the month. But given the financial challenges ahead I’m sure many more universities will be looking to make some money in similar ways.

Are there other university produced wines and spirits we need to know about?

7 responses to “Beyond dry January: university wine and spirits

  1. Excellent piece. A University of Glasgow gin as well as a dark ale and an IPA will be on the market soon. Retail staff training as we speak at the Tennents Training Academy. True story!

  2. Heriott-Watt university in Edinburgh have been running a world-class BSc Brewing and Distilling degree for over 100 years. But I believe that due to licensing laws, they are not allowed to actually sell any stuff that the students produce during practical lessons. It either goes down the drain or down the students’ throats.

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