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Kent vineyard battles opposition to wine tastings near graveyard

Nine Oaks Vineyard in Kent is seeking to allay concerns of local residents after facing opposition to its new licence to hold wine tastings, with villagers arguing that nearby mourners could be disturbed. db finds out more.

Kent vineyard battles opposition to wine tastings near graveyard

Helen Matheson-Pollock, co-founder of Nine Oaks Vineyard, told the drinks business that she and her husband, who own the three-hectare site, are hoping to allay the concerns of local residents who have voiced their opposition to the business’ new licence. The vineyard has come under opposition from local residents claiming nearby mourners will be disturbed by its wine tasting events.

“We want to put any concerns around this situation to rest,” she said. “We were unsettled by the level of complaints. They do come from just a small pockets of the village, but clearly they feel very strongly, so we want to do what we can to allay those concerns.”

Residents in Hothfield opposed Nine Oaks Vineyard’s bid to obtain a premises licence to sell alcohol, which will allow the site to hold wine tastings and events. Thirteen letters of objection were sent to local authority Ashford Borough Council from immediate neighbours.

Kent vineyard battles opposition to wine tastings near graveyard

Nine Oaks Vineyard’s original licence application covered the hours of 10am to 10pm, seven days a week. Matheson-Pollock described these operating hours as “the absolute maximum which we would ever need”. She explained that a licence of this scope would cover the business for “any eventuality”, but stressed that “it was never the intention that we would be open or doing anything for seven days a week”.

Since learning of the opposition, the Nine Oaks application was amended to Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm. “We weren’t told to reduce the hours, we took that decision,” she said.

The vineyard hosted three open air theatre events last year under temporary events notices, and its founders plan to do the same this summer. Matheson-Pollock and her husband will now have to apply again for the same temporary licences due to the reduced hours of the licence application. “The open air theatre evening events are not an integral part of the business,” she said, “they’re something that we actually thought would be a positive for the local community.”

One open air theatre event hosted last summer at Nine Oaks Vineyard

In hindsight, Matheson-Pollock said the limited information contained in the original application left space for misunderstanding. “Clearly it blindsided some people and there was scope for misinterpretation of our intentions,” she said.

Ashford Borough Council’s licensing sub-committee has voted to grant the licence with conditions to safeguard against problems, despite villagers in Hothfield, near Ashford, arguing that the vineyard’s proximity to the St Margaret’s church graveyard, which still has burials, could disrupt those in mourning.

Following a meeting with local council, one of the village protesters, Hothfield parish councillor Simon Brock, told KentOnline: “The area of the church that is closest to the licensable area is where most recent burials are — so where you have most numbers of people visiting their graves and people who are being buried there.

“So there could be a potential conflict between a happy event one side of the fence and a sad event on the other.”

Villager Jennifer Boorman said in a written submission to the council: “Families visiting graves would be greatly disturbed by people drinking, laughing and generally making a lot of noise.”

Nine Oaks’ co-founder stressed to db that the licence “is not about people on site drinking for eight hours a day, four days a week”. The site itself, with 3 ha under vine, has no building, meaning “tours and tastings will necessarily be small and intimate, and quite rustic”.

Kent vineyard battles opposition to wine tastings near graveyard
Husband and wife team Martyn Pollock (right) and Helen Matheson-Pollock (left)

Matheson-Pollock and her husband have been in contact with the church to explain their plans and “open channels of communication so that we can mitigate any of these difficulties”.

She said: “The church isn’t open all the time. There aren’t services every day, even every Sunday. So we will make sure we arrange things around events and we’ve committed to being responsive as far as we are able should something come up suddenly, like a funeral.”

Nine Oaks Vineyard is also working with a local Kent vineyard tours company to run the tastings and events.

Matheson-Pollock, who grew up in the village, said she understands that the granted licence “brings change” — something many don’t see as a positive.

However, she stressed: “The relationships with the local community and the village itself is very important to me. So we are we all committed to trying to build on those relationships that seemed to have been broken down.”

“It’s a beautiful little village. We’re very proud of the business that we’re building.”

Despite limiting the scope of the licence, Matheson-Pollock said it still “enables us to do the requisite tours and tastings that we want to do across weekends, which is for the moment, all we want to do”.

She added: “We are content to work within the parameters of the licence and try and work with the local community to see what works.”

*This article was updated following publication on 9 April 2024*

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