There is only one way to celebrate National Blueberry Month and English Wine Week. That’s with England’s only commercially-produced blueberry wine.
Brothers Stephen and James Long were born in Bythorn in Cambridgeshire before moving to Lutton Farm. Stephen went to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester and James to Moulton Agricultural College and have been working on the family farm since 1981.
“Lutton Farm was originally a livestock and arable farm with a small 3 hectare pick-your-own fruit farm,” says James. “We first focused on strawberry production and became a commercial soft fruit farm, growing strawberries, raspberries and blackberries supplying the UK’s premium supermarkets.”
“It wasn’t until I visited Poland that we thought about growing blueberries. I was working on a joint venture project with a friend to establish a new blueberry growing site out there. There are now about thirty blueberry farmers in the UK. We can claim to be the first.
“Unlike some other plants, blueberries are not able to self-fertilise and therefore require the help of bees to pollinate each flower individually. This is an enormous task for the bees – in just one hectare of land, there is an average of 3.3 million flowers on the blueberry crop.
“We therefore have to introduce colonies of native bumble bees into the crop at the right time as the flowers open, ready for pollination. Once opened, the flowers are only receptive to pollination for three short days, so timing is absolutely critical. We introduce 30 colonies per hectare to achieve pollination!”
Harvest is the end of June through to October. 250 pickers are employed to hand-pick the high bushes. The shortest time taken to make a wine was eight months. The latest vintage has sat in the tanks for much longer. The whole bush-to-bottle process will take around 21 months.
“Aurora is a variety of blueberry we grown on the farm,” continues James. “But we’ve also taken inspiration from what an aurora borealis is, which is the incredible natural light display, which is something natural, yet something completely out of the ordinary, just like our wines. We grow fifteen different varieties on the farm, but the wine typically gets made form a mix of Liberty, Aurora & Barbara Ann.”
Wine production started as a means of using fruit rejected by the supermarkets because of size, shape or being too soft. Now around 55 hectares of land is dedicated to growing blueberries under poly tunnels. Stephen himself has become an authority in the field and has developed his own recipe for soil and nutrients for planting the bushes in “to ensure the best flavour in every single berry!”
While he focuses on plant health and business strategy for the business, James focuses on the mechanical and engineering side.
The Long Brothers produce three wines. Dusk is medium dry, medium bodied, £11.95 per 75cl bottle. Alc 11% vol. Midnight is medium dry, full bodied and the same price. And lastly, the blueberries are frozen, then pressed and fermented to create their sweet Ice Wine (£17.95 per 37.5cl. Alc. 10.5%).
The Long family works with Haygrove Evolution near Ledbury to create their wines. Stephen provides the recommendations.
“Dusk goes brilliantly with antipasti, tapas, slow cooked lamb or a rich chocolate dessert.
Midnight: with steak, mushroom risotto or to accompany cheese. The Ice wine pairs well with cheese, chocolate desserts or can be added to sparkling wine.”
1.5kg of blueberries go into every bottle of Midnight and Dusk wines, while the ice wine uses 2kg.
“We pick around 600 tonnes of blueberries every year. The number of bottles we produce every year varies. Our biggest year was 2020 when we produced 12,500. Since the launch of Blue Aurora in 2018, we have pressed 37 tonnes of blueberries which may otherwise have gone to waste.”
As well as gut-friendly blueberry gummies, health bars, juices and meal replacement shakes, Holland & Barrett sells Blueberry Vision caplets combining the fruit with eyebright, grapeseed, marigold and lutein. Blueberries helps maintain eye health.
Penrhos Spirits in Herefordshire makes a blueberry gin liqueur while blueberry gins are available from Redcastle in Angus and Tarquin’s in Cornwall. Cheshire’s Coach House brewery makes blueberry beer.
For more information on Blue Aurora English Blueberry Wine, please visit: blueaurorawine.co.uk.
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photographs courtesy of Blue Aurora Wine and Penrhos Spirits