Virtual December Meeting of the Wine Club

We are getting used to a “new normal,” and whilst it can never replace what we all hope will be back soon, it is better than the alternative!  And so it was this December, when the Upton Wine Club hosted their second virtual meet. December has traditionally been the month where our wine club goes to town and pulls out all stops for a really festive food and wine pairing evening. This year, our village showed (again) what tremendous spirit we have, with some wonderful home made sausage rolls and mince pies, accompanying cheese and chorizo, with some Christmas crackers, again home made!

We were joined by Katie Jones from her home in the South of France, who presented a selection of her wines, along with a wonderful story of how she moved to a small community, who fell in….and then out of love with her but through adversity has found an amazing way of life, which may not be for everyone but most of us would want to sample, if only for a few weeks of the year!

Between Katie, and then supported by Frankie, we explored a number of wines, all grown on vines at least 60+ years old, which goes against the ethos of the community around her, who prefer to pick grapes on younger, more abundant fruiting vines. This was a voyage of quality over quantity, with a market for both, although personally, I know which ones I will be buying!

Our first wine was called On the QT Bin 25. This was made from 100% Cariganan Gris grape, a difficult grape to grow and for that reason is hardly harvest anywhere else in the world. It was a tremendously smooth grape, herbaceous and one to try with soft cheeses or even a few mussels!

The whites were finished off with Blanc “A Different Direction” and Macabeau. Both were rated very high by our members and worth a try.

We moved on to the reds. The first of which was called Hairy Grenache, so called after the hair on the leaves. The wine however, was beautifully smooth and if you are still making use of the BBQ this winter, one to try with some of those sausages!

Next up was her Fitou. Full of dark red fruits, herbs and just a touch of liquorice – simply delicious. This was followed by a Domaine Jones Syrah and those that liked the previous wine, loved this one! Made from a very small batch of wine grown each year, this was more intense but with similar liquorice and deep red berry flavours. Our last Red was called “La Gare Old Vine Carignan”, branded after the new office Katie works, a converted railway station. A great red to finish, full bodied and full of that jammy fruit flavour, making it a wonderful Xmas tasting wine.

Our final wine was a sweet Muscat, which has become a favourite of many a member. Wonderfully smooth and perfect with a bit of blue cheese, should you have any room left after Christmas dinner!

It was a great to share a drink and have a virtual chat with some fellow wine enthusiast. It really helped add a little bit more Christmas Spirit to what has been a very very mixed year! Let’s hope for a more uplifting 2021!



First Steps for HUGS

We were slightly hampered by Covid in our first few months – the perishing pandemic prevented us from holding meetings or getting plans for a refill pop-up off the ground. But, we still managed to launch a nature trail (free on, run a campaign to plant 1,000 trees (400 planted so far!) and focus on helping the local owl population. Members also wrote to our MP, David Johnston, to invite him to take part in a discussion about the private member’s bill on tackling the climate emergency ( He declined.

We had a workshop on mitigating global emissions using the en-roads simulator – pretty whizzy stuff developed by MIT. You can have a go yourself at  And we contributed ideas to the various Parish Councils for improving green spaces, supporting nature’s recovery and becoming more sustainable. Hopefully more on these once we’ve seen the PC’s response to the village questionnaire.

Chilton Road Bird Survey

Have you heard the birds along Chilton Road? It’s quite a little chorus following the closure and will be even better as the weather gets warmer. We’ve started monitoring bird species on the new quiet stretch to see if anything changes. There were 10 species logged on the first pass in December. (You can see what they were on the iRecord system at – search for “Chilton Road survey”. You can also join the team of volunteers who are carrying out the fortnightly update.)

Ideally we’d also have comparison data from before the road was closed. Unfortunately we don’t have this, but we’re working with the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) to interpret the data we’re now collecting.

While on the subject of cycle-friendly routes, did you know that there’s now an almost continuous track from Upton to Wantage along the 544 Cycle Route and Icknield Greenway? This is part of ongoing improvements to cycle routes across Oxfordshire.

On Boiling Frogs

Thanks to experiments by Friedrich Goltz in 1869 (and probably numerous predecessors), we know there’s no truth in the idea that a frog will sit happily in a saucepan that is gradually heated up until it becomes an ex-frog. But it’s an image that’s been used a fair bit when describing apathy towards mitigating climate change. The analogy works well: incremental change doesn’t seem to require urgent response. And then, suddenly, when the danger becomes clear, it’s too late. At the point of realisation, you’d expect a fast and decisive reaction. (Frog exits pot; governments ban CFCs to prevent further damage to ozone layer.) So, what’s different about climate change? Why are we so reluctant to take the necessary action to prevent global warming increasing by 1.5 degrees Centigrade?

The most obvious reasons are that governments want to protect their economies, and that as individuals we’re not willing or able to brook the cost or inconvenience of doing without the products that create the emissions. It’s not uncommon to feel powerless when in front of such a big problem. And after all, “the Chinese are building new coal-fired power stations so it makes no difference what I do”.

The main issue with doing nothing is that the problem gets worse. And if we divest ourselves of responsibility we’re being dishonest into the bargain: we’re the ones busy buying affordable goods manufactured in China, so we’re driving demand for that energy.

Facing up to the problem is going to involve changes, sacrifices and some creativity. One writer likens it to medieval cathedral building*. The people who start the job won’t be around to see it finished. But they know they’re contributing to something much more important that will endure.

*(Read the full article at




Banksian Medal Awarded by VPA

Well, on the 12th December, despite Blewbury Village Hall refurbishment not being complete, we managed to hold the Banksian Medal Competition outside the hall under a VPA gazebo. Thank you to Andrew for helping me put it up – I hadn’t got a clue which pole went where! We had nine entrants and all of them deserved to win. Well done to Rosie and Mathew Phillips (the youngest entrants) for taking part. The most unusual entrant was Tony Sibley’s whose table decoration displayed his skill as a woodturner and included wooden Christmas trees, snowmen and bells. And, congratulations to our entrant, 90 years young, who was placed 2nd by the judges – which proves you are never too old!!

The judges, Joanna Fielden and Alex, had great difficulty in choosing a winner as so much thought and work had gone into all the wreaths and table decorations. The final decision was:

1st place – Kornelia Hearman. (winner of the Banksian Medal)

2nd place – Helen Bennett

3rd place – Graeme Gettings

Highly Commended – Rose and Mathew Phillips

The judges asked the Committee to pass on congratulations to all the entrants for their beautiful entries, so, Congratulations to you all!

It is hoped that when we have the Summer Show in 2021, all the entrants in this competition will take part and put entries into the floral art section.

Well, we’ve now been locked into the Covid-19 Tier-4 and goodness knows how long it will be before we have freedom again. Let’s hope the vaccine which is now being given out will do its job and it can be distributed to everyone as soon as possible.

Despite the restrictions, the VPA will be preparing for the Summer Show, to be held in July 2021.

In the meantime, maybe we can hold another competition at the beginning of April – how about “An Easter Bonnet with Spring Flowers.”

There’ll be an update on the allotments next month. Just to let you know, the hens are surviving the mixed weather we’re having and still laying well.

Did You Know “It is said that marigolds, particularly the Mexican variety ‘tagetes minuta’ will control Ground Ivy, Horsetail and Ground Elder.  It may be disconcerting to the visitor to see a dense crop of marigolds blazing in some unsuitable part of the garden, but if this remedy works as effectively as turnips against couch grass, who cares?

Happy Gardening – Keep well and safe.

A Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year from all the Committee Members of the VPA.



VPA review 2020

You still have time to enter our Banksian Medal Competition, the deadline is December 12th. Details are available at Blewbury Post Office, from Maggie in Upton on 850126 or send me an email to VPA.IN.BL.UP@GMAIL.COM  and I will send them to you.

Don’t forget we have had to cancel our Christmas Social this year.

I can’t believe we’ve almost reached the end of 2020 and what a year. A wet, wet  spring and a hot, hot summer, with windy storms in between. I won’t mention the stressful months caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reviewing 2020:  As the VPA has been unable to do anything during the past year because of the pandemic, I have offered some ramblings about my Didcot allotments. My allotment sites have been kept open throughout the year by the Town Council, whilst conforming to the various coronavirus rules. These plots are my ‘green gym’. I don’t know how far I walked each day during the summer carrying two 2-gallon watering cans backwards and forwards from the water trough to keep the plants alive!  At the end of the season most of what I planted survived. Surprisingly the main crop potatoes (Cara) were superb and I’m now enjoying lovely baked jacket potatoes with plenty of butter. The main disaster was the sweetcorn – I don’t know why – I kept them watered and weed-free, they produced cobs but dried out and died for no apparent reason. I’m waiting to see what is going to happen to the Brussels sprouts – they don’t look too good at the moment as they seem to have blown and look like mini-mini cabbages.

Well enough about the allotments – they have now been put to bed until the spring.

The hens did really well this year, despite the hot summer. Their inner run is enclosed with a recycled roof from my old conservatory roof and keeps surprisingly cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also gives them a dry run in the wet weather. I did have to take Holly (she’s nearly 7 years old!) to the vet recently, she had lost feathers around her face. She was given a complete overhaul and guess what – the vet decided it was her hormones, given her age! However, since then all the hens (Shallot, Pumpkin and Bortlotti) have received lots of tonics for their feathers, bones and general health. They all look in fine form and are still laying well. They’ve also had lots of treats including cold water melon in the hot weather!!

On behalf of the Committee Members of the VPA may I take this opportunity to wish everyone in Upton an enjoyable, safe and happy Christmas and New Year together with best wishes for 2021.

Did You Know?  Battersea Park in London was once the site of a giant asparagus field, with over 260 acres set aside for its cultivation.

Happy Gardening, keep well and safe.



HUGS have More Trees.

It’s National Tree Week, so it’s very fitting that there’ll be 400 new trees planted across the 3 villages following our ‘More trees, please’ campaign.

Thanks very much if you’ve found space for one tree (or a whole bunch). And if you were already at full capaci-tree, don’t worry, the Woodland Trust has agreed to supply Upton with 400 native trees to plant our own ‘tiny forest’.

The plan is to use a method pioneered in Japan in the 1970s, and successfully deployed in the last couple of years in the Netherlands and Witney! It involves putting in trees very densely – as many as 600 on a tennis court-sized space. Competition encourages the trees to grow much faster than usual in the first 3 to 4 years, achieving higher than usual levels of soil enrichment, and quickly becoming home to large numbers of birds and invertebrates. (Search for the ‘Tiny Forest Zaanstad’ report from Wageningen University if you want to see the species lists!)

The trees arrive in March, and will need lots of mulch to get them started. The young woody growth on hedges and trees makes one of the best mulches, so if you’re pruning or clipping over the winter please don’t brown bin it – let me know and I’ll take it away.

Citizen science: Owl project

We’ve launched a new project to study the owl population in the three villages. Lu Barton, our local owl expert, is working with us to help map and support our owl population. Together we’ll be listening for owls, putting up nest boxes, installing nest webcams and working to improve local habitat for owls.

Lu has already been looking into where our local owls are around the 3 villages. Do help her by emailing her ( to tell her if you’ve seen or heard owls near you.

Lu has already been hosting fascinating Facebook live sessions about each of our local owl species – tawny, little and barn owls. She’s joined in the sessions by her own gorgeous owls and she tells us more about each type of owl and what we can do in our gardens and on our land to support them better. If you missed any ‘owlcasts’ you can watch again on our Facebook page. Here’s a short link to find it:

Joining HUGS

It’s free to join – just drop an email to You’ll get advance notice of events and you’ll get a say in what activities HUGS focuses on in 2021.



Covid Help Available

The United Charities of Blewbury, Aston Upthorpe and Upton (UCAB) has been allocated money from the District Council to support people who have been negatively affected by the COVID pandemic and are, for example, in need of support for food and other basic essentials. If you would like to follow this up, there are applications forms in Blewbury Post Office. We are more than willing to help with filling these in if required or if you would simply like to message me as a next step that’s absolutely okay too.

email: or telephone 07773001385.

All requests are dealt with in absolute confidence.



HUGS Looking to plant more Trees

‘Tis the season to plant trees in!
According to The Woodland Trust, it’s best to plant trees between November and March when they’re dormant and there’s less risk of causing damage.
There are lots of reasons people plant trees – to replace an old one that had to be felled, to help wildlife, to grow fruit, to soak up carbon, to remember a loved one, just to watch it grow.
But there’s another compelling reason to plant a tree this year. Because it will help us reach our target of 1000 new trees in the 3 villages!
Native species have the dual benefit of capturing carbon and supporting indigenous wildlife so we’ve got a great list of natives for you to choose from – and they’re all under a fiver.
Depending on what space you have available, how about a beautiful flowering tree like a guelder rose or a bird cherry, or if you’ve got a bigger gap, why not a sweet chestnut so you can be roasting your own in a few Christmases from now. For the full range, see the tree-planting section of our website:
We’ll also be able to put you in touch with expert local gardeners for advice on where and how to plant.
Owls over Upton
We’re launching an exciting project with Lu Barton of Lu’s Owls in Didcot to monitor owls in our area. Owls are an indicator species, helping us understand what state our local nature is in. We know tawny and little owls are still around, but we think we’ve lost barn owls in recent years.
Using the data we collect together we want to put up more nest boxes (several with web cams) and we’d like to work with landowners to improve habitat for our owls. More info next month!
Village Questionnaire
You’ll be getting a questionnaire from the Parish Council asking what you’d like to see happening in the village in your mail/email soon.
It’s a good opportunity to register your support for activities and expenditure which promote nature, the rural landscape and sustainable lifestyles.
Members of the Parish Council committee aren’t opposed to these things – in fact they’ve been very positive about protecting the environment and biodiversity. But they need to know what your views are, and what you expect them to take into consideration when making decisions.
If you’re concerned about the environment, biodiversity or climate change, please speak up.

HUGS Launch a Wildlife Walk

HUGS were at the Hagbourne Produce Show last month (socially distanced in the car park) to ask villagers what sustainable activities they’d be interested in. Popular suggestions included tree planting, a repair cafe, a pop-up refill station and wilding of verges and other areas. We’ll be working on making these happen.
We also attended September’s Upton Parish Council meeting to propose ways to keep the village green and low-carbon.

Village Wildlife Walk
We’re pleased to launch a wildlife walk in celebration of the beautiful landscape we live in. It’s a 2 mile circular route connecting the 3 villages along footpaths and the cycle track. It’s mainly metalled path so will be great for autumnal and wintery walks as well as spring and summer.
A printable map and directions are at
As locals, you’ve probably enjoyed the scenery and wildlife on parts or all of the route already. There are several hidden gems including the Hagbourne cemetery wildflower meadow (in summer) and Mowbray Fields Nature Reserve. There’s a top 10 wildlife spotting list for kids too.
We’ve walked the route with Steve Gozdz of Goring Gap Wildlife Walks, who’s offering guided tours of the route and has described it as a ‘haven of wildlife to be discovered.’
We’d be delighted to see any pictures you take and to hear about wildlife you find along the way.
The HUGS Team

Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal 2020

Owing to the ongoing Covid 19 Pandemic, there will not be any house to house collections this year. However, from the 22nd October there will be a collection box and poppies available at the George and Dragon here in the village, in Blewbury at Savages, the Garage, the Post Office, the Blueberry, the Red Lion and also at the Horse and Harrow in West Hagbourne.

I am also trying to arrange to set up a table somewhere in the village so that villagers can purchase a Poppy from myself or one of the other collectors, this will depend on current restrictions and also the weather. I will provide further details nearer the time.

Helen Weston


Wine Club back in Business

September saw the start of a new season for the UWC. With the first ever virtual UWC quiz finishing off the last season in June, this was the first “real” meeting since February this year! It was great to see everyone together, albeit with the new social distance rules that apply to the village hall.

The rules and guidelines for the village hall relating to COVID-19 are constantly being reviewed to ensure we are fully up to date and compliant.   Whilst we have had to make some changes for everyone’s protection, it has been brilliant to have the opportunity to bring back a little bit of normality for everyone who enjoys the wine club.

September allowed the club to start the new season with the delayed March meeting, which was wines from Brian and Giulia’s Strictly Wine business, presented by Ros and Andy, the distributors that have helped Strictly Wine build their business from the start!

One of the great things about wine is the varying tastes experienced from the same grape, which you get from the differing regions and methods of wine making. Great for the variety but not always easy to make a selection.   Ros and Andy helped out here by comparing various wines for different countries and regions for everyone to compare and contrast.

To start we tried the Zorzal, Sauvignon Blanc “Eggo Blanc de Cal” from Mendoza with the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 1 from Marlborough. Whilst the New Zealand Marlborough is perhaps better known for SB, there was an even split on preference. Try the Zorzal for something different!

Next we tried the Tahbilk Viognier, Nagambie Lakes from Victoria and the Swartland Winery ‘Limited Release’ Carignan. Really interesting to try a white against a red. There was a clear winner here, with one member ordering several cases of the Carignan….Christmas come early (if it lasts that long!)   100% Carignan, with some great complexity and a combination of dark red fruits and chocolate – Yum!

We had two very contrasting Pinot Noir’s to taste next. Lake Chalice ‘The Nest’ Pinot Noir from Marlborough and Ernst Gouws Pinot Noir, Western Cape. Two great wines, which changed people’s view as the wine opened up. The Nest, produced some very aromatic flavours mixed with light raspberries, whilst the Ernst Gouws was a much deeper red with again, more chocolate notes with red berries. Both great and worth trying with some Pate for a lazy Sunday supper!

Out last wine comparison was the Argentine Piattelli Premium Malbec Premium, Cafayate and the Berton Vineyard Gundagai Shiraz from New South Wales, Australia. Both brilliant wines to finish on, with the Australian Shiraz becoming the overall favourite, with some beautiful deep red berry flavours.  Just right for a beef casserole!

If you fancy trying any of the wines above then please look up (or just see Brian). For anyone wanting to know more about the wine club or who wants to come along and see what it’s all about please go to our website ( or mail

Looking forward to October’s meeting, where the committee will be talking about some of their favourite wines from the Summer!