Tom and I are now on the hunt for unusual wedding venues since we got engaged last year and moved into our new house – my attention has now turned to full-on wedding planning. When Sheldon’s Wine Cellar came up on Groupon, I knew that this would be a great way to kill two birds with one stone (metaphorically speaking of course!)
Sheldon’s had already been suggested to my Mum as an ‘alternative’ wedding venue by a work pal and so Tom, Mum, Dad and I trooped off to the wine cellar. Firstly, we were surprised to find out that the tour lasted three hours! We were expecting a quick ‘here’s our shop, taste our wines, off you go’ kinda thing. How I underestimated that…
The building and courtyard that Sheldon’s now occupies in Shipston-on-Stour was commissioned by local dignitary John Badger, who was Chairman of the Poor Relief Society, in 1842. According to our knowledgable guide, Dale, Badger originally set up an apothecary distilling gin and producing ‘quack’ medicines and elixirs to cure common Victorian ailments. As an apothecary, Sheldon’s skirted around some of the more inconvenient laws that controlled ale houses.
In 1850s the business was inherited by John’s nephew, Edward Sheldon, who quickly ditched the medicinal wines in favour of importing vintage port, sherry and Madeira. Originally orders were delivered by dray, or horse and carriage, to local affluent homes. From Sheldon’s 100 year old ledgers, the vicar of Halford used to order over six gallons of gin every six weeks or so! Halford was clearly having quite a party.
In the dining room, which is used for Sheldon’s Wine Bar, the hefty steel crane once used to lift wine barrels from the drays into the cellar, has now been turned into an arty lamp. It was perfectly calibrated so that only one man was needed to lift the barrels.
When the train arrived in Warkwickshire, business flourished and through a series of well placed ads in city broadsheets, Edward Sheldon’s, became one of the largest independent vinters in the country.
Sheldon’s supplied goods across the Empire from local Oxford University to officers’ mess rooms stationed in India, Africa and Australia. Sheldon’s even continued to enjoy good fortunes right up until WWII. During first world war exports of fine wines increased to supply the Majesty’s forces, whilst in WWII merchant ships, which would have carried the loads, were commandeered for the war effort.
Today Sheldon’s still occupies the premise and the 12,000 square foot wine cellar built by John Badger. If anyone knows Shipston, they’ll also know the town has an exceedingly high water table – which was one of the great things for making gin, but not so good for storing wine. Sheldon’s cellar often floods and in 2007 following days of torrential rain the water rose to waist height.
The team are now so used to this occurrence that they’ve perfected the flooding drill – two chaps wade into the cellar, one with a torch, the other attempts to save the most expensive bottles of wine in the 20 minutes they have before the cellar becomes impassable. In 2007, they lost 14,000 bottles of wine. Now a lot of wine is stored off site in reserve.
In all its history Sheldon’s has never been burgled and this might have something to do with the large mastiff hound that lived in the cellar and was given full prowl once the lights went off. Back in the day it was often the youngest team member’s responsibility to let the guard dog out last thing at night and entice back into its kennel first thing in the morning – you can still see the dog’s cave in the cellar.
Following our awesome tour (and I clearly have remembered more than I thought!) we enjoyed a selection of wines from Sheldon’s stocks, including the house champagne which is made especially for them by Henri Blin for the last thirty years. Next year Sheldon’s celebrates its 175th birthday, so bottoms up all round!
You can visit Sheldons here: http://www.sheldonswines.com/ Tom and I will be going back this summer to enjoy the wood fire pizza in the main courtyard.