A place to visit you’ll want to come back to!
My name is Marine François. I celebrated my 21st birthday at Biddenden Vineyards. Born and bred in Provence, I am at present studying at the “Ecole d’Ingénieurs de Purpan” specialised in Agriculture and Agronomics, and I intend to specialise in wine making and vine growing.
At the end of my second year of study, I was lucky to have the opportunity of a placement in and English speaking country as part of my course of study. Having searched for some time, I began to take particular interest in English vineyards, in full expansion right now. My attraction to them might also be explained by my origins: my mother is English and came to live in France when she met my father. Being the grand-daughter of British fruit-growers, it is in some ways like ‘coming home’ for me.
Intrigued by the “oldest vineyard in Kent” which is also a family business, valuing tradition and innovation, I sent an e-mail to Julian Barnes, Managing Director and owner of the farm with his wife, Sally. What a nice surprise it was to receive a rapid response, explaining that they take on a foreign worker every summer.
A few months later, there I was on board a ferry (called “Pride of Kent” to get my stay off to a good start!) with the white cliffs of Dover in front of me. There followed a drive to the vineyard, on the left-hand side of the road! When I arrived at the estate, I was amazed to discover the place where I was going to work, and learn, over the next three months. After being shown my lodgings, I was about to take a walk around the vines when I saw Tom, the oldest son and vineyard manager, coming to check if the “French girl” had arrived safely, and I soon had to get used to my new nickname “Frenchy”.
Their vines are very different from those I am used to, both in respect of the varieties grown and the way they are trained. Around the corner of the winery, I met Sam, who is the only son not to work on the farm and who has his own contracting business. He explained that the high training of the vines avoids exposure to the frost and dew on the ground. I should realise I am in England … even if this year is exceptional in terms of heat and sunshine, which counters my bias against “English weather”.
Above all, my summer turned out to be an exceptional one thanks to the people I have met. I would like to warmly thank the Barnes family, Sally and Julian have always been exceptionally kind to me, recommending places to visit and regularly inviting me to family meals. This gave us a chance to exchange information on viticulture and discuss our different cultures, and most of all our common love of travelling, gastronomy and fine wine! I was also able to chat with their three sons, who I also had a chance to work with and to participate in events such as a visit to a hop farm with Will, “Fruit Focus” with Sam and a beer festival with Tom.
The members of Biddenden’s dynamic team have welcomed me too, their conversations, kindness and even outings have meant that I have really appreciated this summer. I have participated in various tasks, whether in the office, the farm shop, the winery or the vineyard. I must admit that my “coup de coeur” is for the events. In reply to the question Julian once asked me “are you a show girl?” I would now answer “yes I am! with no hesitation.
I am leaving Biddenden with a head full of memories and I certainly intend to return, especially because next June the vineyard will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
As the Kentish would say “see you later…”