WINEMAKING as an "organised" hobby is a comparatively new thing, although wines have been made in these islands for centuries in the cottages of country folk. It was only in 1953 that the first "Winemakers' Circle" was formed at Andover, closely followed —quite independently and spontaneously—by others at Welwyn Garden City and Cheltenham.
In the few years since, however, the idea has spread with astounding speed, and by 1968 there were well over 400 such clubs, scattered the length and breadth of the British Isles, and even in Canada; most of them following the original idea and calling themselves "Circles," some of them adopting the style of "Guilds," and yet others calling themselves "Societies" or "Associations." The publication of the monthly magazine, The Amateur Winemaker, from 1958 onwards has done much to consolidate the movement and publicise the aims of the Circles.
All of them have the same fundamental objective—the improvement of the standard of country wines—and all of them notably have the same characteristic, a striking friendliness and informality. The Circles are real centres of friendship and good fellowship, as well as a means of instruction.
By buying apparatus and sometimes ingredients in bulk they are able to obtain discounts from many firms and thus can offer their members these goods at favourable rates.
Practical winemaking is learnt pleasantly and in a sociable atmosphere by means of talks, demonstrations, quizzes, and competitions, and nowadays there are also inter-club contests. Members learn not only how to make wine, but how to exhibit and judge it.
On the social side, there are usually Christmas or New Year parties, dinners, dances, outings to breweries, sugar refineries, glassworks, potteries, wine lodges, vineyards, and other places of interest to the winemaker.
All in all, members find that joining a Winemakers' Circle is definitely worth while, and anyone interested in the subject would be well advised to contact the nearest one, if they are lucky enough to have one in their area.
The list is now too long to be reproduced here, but if you wish to know your nearest Circle drop a postcard to: The Editor, The Amateur Winemaker, North Croye, The Avenue, Andover, Hants, who can also advise on how to set about starting a Circle if none exists in your locality.
The first National Conference and Show—quite a small affair—was held at Andover in 1959, and others have followed at Bournemouth, Brighton, Harrow, Cheltenham, Clacton, Harrogate, Bognor and Torquay, and "the National" has now developed into a mammoth competitive wine show which can attract as many as 3,000 entries. It is allied to a week-end of lectures, discussions and merrymaking which is the big event of the year for keen winemakers and visitors even come from abroad —Germany, Denmark and Canada, for instance.
The show has now grown into the National Association of Amateur Winemakers, which any Circle can join upon payment of a £2/2/- annual subscription. Individuals can join for an annual subscription of £1/1/-. The general secretary is Wing Cdr. R. W. Woodley, of Burnside, Chalkpit Lane, Monxton, nr. Andover, Hants, and the membership secretary Mr. K. Hill, 18 Laxton Road, Hunts Cross, Liverpool 25.
The National Conference and Show led in turn to the formation in 1964 of the Amateur Winemakers National Guild of Judges which set itself the task of getting down on paper a system of wine judging, notes for the guidance of show organisers, judges, and judges' stewards, and specimen schedules which clubs or organisations could adopt for their wine competitions.
A tremendous amount of ground work was done on this, and embodied in the handbook which the Guild eventually published, "Judging Home-made Wine" (3/-, from the "Amateur Winemaker," North Croye, The Avenue, Andover).
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