Two years ago, husband and wife Neil and Maria Corbould, made the bold decision to buy a farm in Surrey and establish a vineyard. However, this is no ordinary project, Neil is a Special Effects Supervisor in the film industry and has just been nominated for three Oscars and two BAFTAs for his work on Napoleon, Mission Impossible and The Creator. He has won multiple awards including two Oscars for Gladiator and Gravity, as well as four BAFTAS for Fifth Element, Saving Private Ryan, The Day After Tomorrow and Gravity. Maria, also with a background in the film industry, has started to narrate their journey into wine via social media, which promises to be full of spectacular twists and turns. We eagerly anticipate accompanying them on this adventure as we regularly check in with them to learn about their progress.

1. What inspired you to plant a vineyard?

We like wine and my husband thought we haven’t got enough going on with the film work, building work and our two little kids so he thought we could plant a vineyard on our two south facing slopes. For a while I thought it was a joke. But he’s a visionary and once he gets something into his head he will see it through. 

2. Are you getting help and advice along the way?

Yes, absolutely. Neil found a wonderful company called Vinescapes who came to see the land, took soil tests and talked us through the process. It wouldn’t be possible for us otherwise as we have no knowledge or experience. Vinescapes have been with us every step of the way. From planning to planting (which was very exciting!) and now they manage the vineyard with regular visits.

3. Have you faced any major challenges and how did you resolve them?

We had to delay planting by a year. Everything was ready, vines were ordered and dates booked in but unfortunately our neighbours reported us to the council for making some noise while doing ground works on the farm. They didn’t know we were planning to plant a vineyard, giving them a wonderful view and probably increasing the value of their property! We are based within the M25 and close to London so we are overlooked by a couple of neighbours. It’s not as rural as most vineyards. After that we wanted to make sure the council was happy with everything we’re doing on the farm and didn’t want to get into more trouble, so Neil made the decision to postpone. It was a hard decision but probably for the best as it gave us extra time to sort out drainage in the fields. Maybe a blessing in disguise? 

4. What grape varieties have you chosen to cultivate, and why did you select these varietals?

We planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier so the varietals traditionally used to make Champagne. This was recommended by Vinescapes. At the time it sounded like rocket science so we just took their advice, now I know that pretty much all the vineyards in the UK cultivate these grapes. 

5. What are the characteristics of the soil or terroir?

The soils are classified as Sandy Silt Loams. It’s an interesting type of soil, quite a lot of clay deep down. From what I hear most vineyards in the UK have chalky soil so it will be interesting to see if our wine will taste different.  

6. What wines do you and Neil enjoy drinking at home?

Neil has always loved Champagne but recently we make a point of trying different English Sparkling Wines instead to see what is possible for us to achieve. 

7. Are there any specific British vineyards that inspire you?

Personally, I love Chapel Down. We haven’t been to their vineyard yet but when I tasted their wine, I thought it was very impressive and really stood out. We are not too far from Denbies and Albury Vineyard (an invitation would be nice ;) We are tiny in comparison, but I hope one day we will be making wine as good as the top players in the industry! 

8. How do you manage the day-to-day running of the vineyard when Neil’s full-time job must take him away a lot and you have a young family to juggle?

It’s not easy. Neil’s latest film was filmed in Malta, so he was away for months at a time. It wasn’t ideal but when Ridley Scott asks you to do his latest epic you drop everything and go! So unfortunately, Neil wasn’t here when the vineyard was planted, but that is also the reason why I feel this strong connection to the vineyard now. It’s my baby. It might not have been my idea, but I was there the day the vineyard was born and now I have this strong urge to look after it. When Neil is home he happily drives his tractor in the vineyard and he loves taking the kids out for rides on his sit on lawn mower. At the moment Rob Poyser from Vinescapes manages the day to day running of the vineyard and if there are any bigger jobs to do we get a team in to help out. I am learning every day and hope that one day we will be able to look after it by ourselves. 

9. As newcomers to the winemaking industry, what advice would you give to others looking to start their own vineyard in non-traditional wine regions?

Don’t think about it and go for it! If you analyse it too much, you’ll never do it! It’s probably bad advice but I think this is how we ended up with a vineyard. It’s here now and we will do our best to make exceptional English Sparkling Wine. 


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