THE unique microclimate of an Oxfordshire vineyard may have helped it escape the worst of a weather-related catastrophe.

IN the last week of April this year, panicked winemakers across Europe were frantically deploying candles, electric heaters and fans across their vineyards.

Producers in France, Germany, Spain and the UK were desperately trying to stave off the potentially devastating effects of a massive late cold snap – the worst in years.

And, as the harvest approached this summer, the French ministry of agriculture warned this year’s harvest was set to come in 16 per cent lower than the five-year average.

Prices for some of the world's most desirable wines are now set to soar.

But one vineyard in a corner of Oxfordshire seems to have avoided the worst of the bad weather.

Bob and Carol Nielsen, who grow about 20 tonnes of grapes each year at Brightwell Vineyard near Wallingford, say their perfect position in the south of the country, sheltered from severe whether by the North Wessex Downs and Chiltern Hills, gives them an enviable advantage.

In particular, their hot little pocket of the Thames Valley makes them one of the best UK producers of red wine, which requires higher temperatures than white.

Now they are looking forward to producing roughly their average 20,000 bottles which they sell to Waitrose, Oxfordshire farm shops and export to the the Far East.

Mr Nielsen, a former pilot who took on Brightwell 17 years ago, said: "Even Oxford is wetter and colder than Wallingford because we're just sheltered by the downs.

"If you look at a weather map, this area west of London will invariably be hottest because we are sheltered on all sides.

"In the Thames Valley bowl we're one of the warmest, driest parts of the UK, we are probably one of the most important red wine producers in the country."

Ironically, despite all the advantages of their snug seclusion, Mr Nielsen it is actually cold weather which may give Brightwell and Blighty the biggest advantage this year.

Firstly, because England is much colder than mainland Europe, our vines start budding and flowering later.

That means that when the fearsome frost swept across the continent in late April, France's vines has already made a healthy start on the year's growth which was then wiped out, whereas England's vines were only just beginning to bud – less growth to replace.

Secondly, Mr Nielsen said Brightwell is perfectly placed to take advantage of the latest trend – drier wines.

In the early 20th century the fashion was all for sweeter wines, but in the past 20 years consumers have been getting more and more excited about drier ones.

This is great news for the UK, as colder weather naturally produces drier wines.

As Mr Nielsen quipped: "If you're on the edge, it allows you to produce edgier wines."

And just this week, Oxford Wine Company was singing the praises of its new range of British bottles in its latest newsletter.

If this year's harvest on the continent is as bad as some fear, it could just be very good news for some in the UK, Oxfordshire included.