Epic Roman artwork boosts vineyard’s appeal

Yorkshire’s most northerly commercial vineyard has brought the county’s Roman history to life as it resumes its vineyard tours.

Dunesforde Vineyard in North Yorkshire has commissioned a unique attraction – a giant-sized painting showing nearby Aldborough almost two thousand years ago, when it was the administrative centre for Roman Empire in northern Britain. The mural, which measures almost 18 square metres is the first serious attempt to depict Aldborough in the third century A.D. when it would have matched York for size and was, arguably, more important than its neighbour.

The work, which is based on the latest archaeological evidence, is now on show at Dunesforde Vineyard and owner Ian Townsend hopes it will help encourage visitors to the site.

“This is the first time anyone has attempted to re-create what Aldborough would have looked like when it was an important Roman centre. Everyone involved has worked hard to ensure that this portrayal is as accurate as possible,” he said. “Attracting visitors to your vineyard is relatively easy during the summer. But tempting people at other times of the year can be more of a challenge. We hope this wonderful work of art, along with our other wine-related artefacts, will help attract people all year round,” he said.

These days Aldborough is a sleepy village, but 1,800 years ago its population numbered around 3,000 people. “It was an incredible place. It had an amphitheatre, a Forum, heated baths, a temple and we have reason to believe there was a vineyard there too. Places like York were garrison towns but Aldborough was the seat of government for the north,” said Mr Townsend.

Working in acrylics, Leyburn-based artist Lynn Ward has taken six months to complete a work which is 7.3m wide and 2.4m high. Spread across six boards, it features almost 1,400 people, 86 horses, 18 dogs and even a tiger fighting a gladiator in the amphitheatre.

“It is one of the most challenging pieces of work I’ve done but it has also been one of the most rewarding. Often when you’re creating a work of art, you can use your imagination, but in this case, we were trying to accurately replicate what Aldborough looked like, from buildings to carts and wagons, and so I had to be very precise,” she said.

Ian Townsend – Dunesford Vineyard

Mr Townsend was inspired to commission the painting after learning that the Romans could have been making wine in Aldborough 1,800 years ago. “We’re pretty sure that we’re not the first to have a vineyard in this area. Archaeologists found a tablet in the Roman fort of Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall which referred to wine in production at Aldborough. The original tablet sits in the British Museum, but we have a replica in our tasting rooms.

“Given that there is evidence of Roman vineyards in Lincolnshire and that the Emperor Probus (A.D. 276-282) granted permission for Britons to plant vineyards and make wine, it seems highly probable that there would have been vines growing in such an important centre as Aldborough,” he said.

The Townsend family planted 6,500 vines on a six acre site in 2016 and the vineyard currently produces around 3,500 bottles of white, rose and sparkling wines each year. The vineyard has four grape varieties – Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir Precoce, Bacchus and Solaris. Production is expected to peak at around 8,000 bottles in future years.

“We’re a boutique vineyard that concentrates on creating quality wines rather than volume. This far north, it’s always a challenge to create wine, but we’re buoyed by the fact that the Romans could have been doing the same thing almost 2,000 years ago,” said Mr Townsend.

Much of the detailed information of what the town looked like has come from The Friends of Roman Aldborough. Trustee David Roberts said: “What I like is the way it connects the presentday vineyard to the fact that wine might have been made here in Roman Aldborough around 1,800 years ago,” he added.

Aldborough’s Latin name was Isurium Brigantum. The settlement was established some time after 74 A.D. and its creation was only possible because of the agreement made between the Romans and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, the Celtic tribe that dominated the region. Dunesforde Vineyard has a sparkling wine named “Queen of the North”, which celebrates the Brigantes monarch and which is proving popular with northern Brides.

Dunesforde’s Roman Aldborough mural is available to view to visitors attending tours and wine tastings at the vineyard. Pre-booking, via the website is essential.

You can view a video about the mural here

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