By Debbie James

Growth in the market for wine produced in Wales is creating new opportunities for Welsh farmers.

There are around 150 acres under vine in Wales, spread across 23 vineyards, and wine makers are now seeking to encourage more farmers to grow grapes on their behalf.

Robb Merchant, who has 5,000 vines at White Castle Vineyard on the outskirts of Abergavenny, says it is a business model which is becoming more commonplace.

Speaking at the recent international food and drink event, BlasCymru/TasteWales, at Celtic Manor, Mr Robb said this structure was commonplace in New Zealand and Nova Scotia.

“A lot of wine makers don’t want the bother of growing the grapes, they want to concentrate on the wine making process, so they outsource the growing.

“That is now happening here in Wales. For a farmer who is looking to diversify a bit it is a good industry to be in, growing cash crops.’’

Robb, a former postal service worker, and his wife Nicola set up their wine making business after purchasing a 12-acre smallholding.

It was Nicola, a former nurse, who first mooted the idea of establishing a vineyard after watching a film about a family who had moved to an olive farm in France.

In April 2008, the couple acquired another five acres of land adjacent to their smallholding – steep, south-facing land which was perfect for growing vines.

After much research, they planted the land with 5,000 vines. This May they plan to plant another 2,000.

The wine is sold direct from their holding and they also supply a fine wine merchant in Cardiff, as well as a number of high end gastropubs and Michelin-starred restaurants in the local area.

“We sell everything we produce quicker than we would like to, especially with our red wines,” said Robb.

“We only make 7,000 bottles per year and focus on quality over quantity so need to be very picky which outlets our wines end up in.”

But while sales are growing, so too are their input costs.

Everything in the process, except the wine, is imported and, as Brexit day has drawn nearer, prices have crept up.

Since January 1, the cost of each empty bottle has increased by 10 per cent and the screwcaps by 15 per cent.

“The fear of Brexit is having a direct impact,’’ said Robb.