The small sign flashed at me as I manoeuvred the bend; Wine shop 3/4 mile. Rain had given way to a clear sky and a glimpse of the sea over the fields. Intrigued and wondering how a wine shop ended up in a narrow Devon lane, I drove on towards Stoke Fleming, making a mental note to find out more.
Halfway down the hill from Stoke Fleming to Blackpool Sands, where the road joins the pavement, I stopped to admire the view. Having left the car at the campsite and headed off on one of my favourite short walks, this pause to contemplate the bay and the lighthouse at Start Point was always irresistible.
At the bottom of the hill, I crossed over the road towards the valley.
Wine shop ¾ mile
There it was again; Wine shop 3/4 mile. I stopped, attempting to visualise where this sign and the one I’d seen earlier would meet in the middle. Mentally, I added an asterisk to my note to myself.
Time for an adventure
On Friday, as I make my way to the community shop in Blackawton, I see the sign again; Wine shop ¾ mile. I turn towards it. With the windows down, I drive slowly along the lane. To my left a stream flows in the opposite direction to me. To my right, the slopes of the valley are lined with trees. Suddenly, I come face to face with a delivery van that swiftly backs up to let me pass. We exchange a friendly round of thanks. I drive on passing cottages, orchards and picture postcard gardens all the time winding inward, deeper into the valley.
Over the bridge to the wine shop
At the end of the lane, a new sign on the stone wall reads Wine shop 300 yards. Following its arrow, I drive on, parallel with the wall. Soon on my left, a chalk board announces my destination: Michael Sutton’s Wine Cellar. I enter into a long driveway that smells of grass and wildflowers. Underneath a small, humped back bridge, the same stream flows in the direction I have just come from. I pull in and park, preferring to go on foot rather than drive over the tiny bridge. After all, it is not my car. I step out and look around, pausing for a moment to listen to the birds going about their daily chores.
Michael Sutton’s Wine Cellar
Crossing over the bridge, I step into the tranquillity of the surroundings. On one side a garden extends along the stone wall that has guided me along the road. On the other neat fields roll over the land.
I approach a small cluster of buildings on my right. The door is open and another chalk board tells me that this is the wine shop. I move into the dark coolness of the cellar. Above someone is shifting things around; heavy sacks or boxes thump on the ceiling. My eyes adjust to the soft lighting after the brightness of a South Devon spring day.
A surprise awaits me
I breathe in deeply. Wine. In the middle of the room there is a long, high table, island style for customers to stand around and enjoy a taster. All around the walls, bottles are stacked and lovingly labelled with handwritten cards tied around their necks. I move along passing the Salcombe Gin, and the carefully stacked whites in the direction of the reds. I blink. No. It can’t be. I am taken by surprise as I spot Quadis; a local wine from Cádiz in this tiny cellar. A wine that’s not easy to find in Spain. I look again. Blue label Quadis. Red label Quadis. I look closer: wines from Sanlúcar de Barrameda that I am familiar with. I explore. I read the handwritten labels, turning them over for the descriptions.
Ringing the school bell
I have no idea how long I have been in there alone before I step back out into the sunshine. I wonder how to attract someone´s attention. I look at the chalk board again and read it properly. It offers three different instructions for calling someone.
I choose the old school bell. It reminds me of my grandmother who had a similar bell that I used to play with as a child. I pick it up and swing it harder than I intended to. It rings out across the Devon air. A dog barks. A face appears at the window above and, with a friendly wave, lets me know that he is on way.
I wait, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine on my face. The man, I later find out is called Jonathan, appears. Back inside the cellar, I’m curious to know where the connection with Sanlúcar de Barrameda comes from and how they stock a wine that I´ve rarely seen in Cádiz. Jonathan shares his memories of a trip to Sanlúcar; prawns on the restaurant terraces of Bajo de Guia, washed down with Manzanilla and wonderful hospitality.
“Oh, the Manzanilla” he says with a sigh.
I tell him that I used to work in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and how surprised I am to find the wine in one of my favourite parts of Devon. I let on that I’ve never actually tried the red label Quadis. Immediately, I am regaled with its properties, texture and what food to accompany it with. Just before I leave, with my bottle of Quadis in my hand, Jonathan asks me if I know about tomorrow’s wine tasting session.
“Italian wines” he informs me.
“Oh! I’d love that. I don’t know anything about Italian wines” I confess.
“Then come along! We start at 12.00. I’ll write your name down.”
Nodding, I thank him for his time and his wine-infused knowledge.
I leave with a bottle
I step out into the bright light with my bottle of red label Quadis; my connection to Cádiz. I can’t resist a selfie with my bottle and the Devon background. I send it by WhatsApp to a friend in Trebujena. I know she’ll appreciate the significance of my discovery.
“Pero si tienes un vino Gaditano entre las manos” She replies. But that’s a wine from Cadiz in your hands!
Her surprise equals mine. A Madrilenian living in the province of Cádiz, she knows how hard it is to find wines from Cadiz anywhere else.
“Chin, chin” she says. “Que zona mas bonita. Sigues en Devon?”. What a beautiful area. Are you still in Devon?