Business editor Laura Knowlson meets the couple behind Yorkshire's latest award winning vineyard.

IT may not sound like the most attractive business proposition - investing in machinery and grape vines, painstakingly planting up acres of land with no idea of the outcome and having to wait at least five years before seeing any return on your investment, all the while being at the mercy of uncontrollable external factors such as the weather and plant disease.

But for one North Yorkshire couple taking those risks has paid off as not only are they now creating award winning tipples in only their third year of production, but they have just been named Wine Maker of the Year in the Mercian Vineyard Association Awards.

Turning off the A59 towards Nun Monkton, you'll soon see the sign for Yorkshire Heart Vineyard, directing you down a tree covered passage towards the centre of the wine making operation.

On a sunny afternoon, looking to the blue skies above the rolling countryside framing the rows and rows of vines it's easy to forget you're standing on what was formerly an English arable farm. But that reality has helped to create a unique selection of wines, which are playing their part in the growing popularity of England's wine industry.

For Gillian and Chris Spakouskas wine making started as a hobby , with Mrs Spakouskas producing wines from a variety of fruits in the garden, while the couple ran the local milkround.

In the early part of 2000 they planted 35 vines in their garden in Green Hammerton, and five years later made their first official wine, which inspired them to look at the possibility of planting on a commercial basis.

Mrs Spakouskas said: "We sent some of our wine samples to the Mercian Vineyard Association to see if there was potential. It was ropey but there was something there.

"A wine consultant came up to see if the land we had was suitable, and recommending a field which belonged to my family, which was protected from west winds during the growing season."

In 2006 the first 1000 vines were planted, followed by 1000 to 3000 vines planted each April for the next five years bringing the total number to 12,500 which filled the site.

Yorkshire Heart vineyard is now growing 17 varieties of grape, all the time finding out which are most suited to the Vale of York's climate and topography, and also which will make the best quality and flavoured wines.

Mr Spakouskas said: "It was a slow process. We envisaged planting one acre, then after that thought why not plant another acre, then another two, and soon we had seven acres of vines.

"Then when the opportunity came to buy more land we went for it, and this May we planted a further three acres bringing our total up to ten, with 17,000 vines."

The Yorkshire Heart winery now produces three whites, three reds, one still rose, and a sparkling white. Last year's vintage, which won the business the title of Wine Maker of the Year, also received awards for Best sparkling wine, , Best northern wine and Best label, as well as winning Best wine from another vintage.

Mr Spakouskas said: "The vast majority of our original vineyard are hybrid grapes that have been bred for northern europe. That's one of the reasons we are making good wine. Also we now have better equipment.

"We didn't need wine making equipment for the first two years, so the initial investment was the vines and trellacing.

"Bit by bit we bought what we needed, and we have now replaced our original equipment, the vines are more mature and the grapes have more flavour.

"At the very start we were always confident that the vines would grow, we were 90 per cent confident the fruit would ripen, and after that it was down to our ability or inability to make wine from it."

This year has seen further growth at the vineyard, with an adjoining field planted with 1000 Rondo for Red and Rosé wines,1,500 Ortega for quality white wine and 2000 Seyval Blanc for their award winning English sparkling wine.

And if winemaking isn't enought, Mr and Mrs Spakouskas have started a cider orchard which is a mixture of desert, cooking and cider trees, with all the new vines and fruit trees set to come into production 2017.

The Yorkshire Heart venture also features a micro-brewery, created off the back of the success of our vineyard and fulfilling Mr Spakouskas and his son Tim’s long held ‘taste’ for beer.

The brewery has grown from a modest initial proposal into a very efficient brew house, with all beers are brewed on site using top quality malts and hops, as well as water from the site's own natural spring.

As production increases Mr and Mrs Spakouskas are now taking their first steps in marketing their wines and beers.

Mrs Spakouskas said: "We want to sell most of our products from on-site but we are also targetting farm shops and restaurants and hotels.

"Winning the awards has really helped, and we have already had people ringing up to place orders.

"Because of the high levels of tax we have to pay on the wine, it isn't financially viable just to focus on wine production.

"We are therefore branching out into winemaking tours and tasting sessions, as well as venue hire for a all kinds of special occasions."

After producing 10,000 bottles of wine last year from fruit picked entirely by family and friends, Mr and Mrs Spakouskas are now looking at the prospet of taking on their first vineyard staff.

With plans brewing to plant another two acres by 2016, Mr Spakouskas said: "Our ambition is to have all 12 acres established and in full production. It's looking like 2018/19 before we get anything like full production.

"Longer term we'd like to build a new building for the winery and a visitor centre."