23 Mar 2006

The English Wine Renaissance

I GAVE a lecture on this subject yesterday.

So much has happened in English Wine in the past 50 years - from no commercial viticulture to 250 commercial sites. Even today entirely new vineyards are being planted, sites are expanding considerably as demand outstrips supply and even the Champenois are investing in UK terroir - to date £1m. There is a very definite interest at the top end of the market. With any luck the adage that the best way to earn a small fortune is to have a large fortune and buy an English vineyard will soon wear completely untrue. I look forward to seeing what happens over the next 50...

The wines showcased (including facts) were:

Ridge View Merret Fitzrovia '03
[Limited supply, £19.95, sold on-site / mail-order / Waitrose]
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
Est. 1994, Sussex Downs
16 acres, currently planting an additional eight
Aspires to: Champagne (and seeks advice/yield quotas from Champenois)
Low ridge of paludina limestone on a sandstone bed, hills create a rain shadow
Trails new technology, including the ‘preserveur’ anti-TCA (cork taint) wax seal
Cuvee Merret is IWSC's best bottle fermented sparkling wine
Named after Christopher Merret who described how a “gay, brisk and sparkling wine” was being drunk in London over 30 years before the French Mike Roberts a former accountant, he and Christine take a very disciplined approach
An outstanding wine - gentle, whispery, poised, like Laurent Perrier rose but with more fruit, finesse and a charming autolytic character. More subtle than Nyetimber in my opinion.

Camel Valley Atlantic Dry '04

[£9.45, on-site / mail-order / Rick Stein]
Schönburger and Reichensteiner
Est. 1989, Cornwall
Ten acres, currently planting an additional seven, holiday cottages, nature trail
Grows: Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner, Bacchus, Schönburger (W); Triomphe d'Alsace, Dornfelder, Pinot Noir (R)
Aspires to: "Distinctive fresh Cornish style"
Screw cap, stainless steel heavily invested in
Privately owned, maverick Bob Lindo has a flair for marketing and publicity and for courting celebrity chefs (Rick Stein) who stocks his wines
"They have been used where 'Champagne' is just too down market and only 'Cornwall' will do!"
Crisp, elegant, balanced, well-made, English hedgerows, long finish, dry

Wyken Hall '04
[Around £7, on-site shop and Michelin-listed restaurant / farmers' markets]
Est. 1988, Bury St. Edmunds
Seven acres plus arable farm, llamas, 'edible garden', 'Good Dog' ale, maze
Grows: Bacchus, Senator, Madeleine Angevine 7672, Auxerrois, Kerning (W); Triomphe d'Alsace, Leon Millot and Pinot Noir next vintage (R)
Aspires to: wines to complement on-site restaurant
Good at courting heavyweights such as Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson (her favourite UK vineyard to visit)
Family run by Lord and Lady Carlisle, wine made by Shawsgate
“We’d like to think we’ve saved a farm and given life to an ancient farming community by bringing it into the 21st century.”
Crisp, slightly unripe stone fruits including greengages, appetising and mouth-watering, long finish, dry. A nice Bacchus. Well worth visiting the vineyard too where the chefs cook steak like a dream.

Worthenbury '04
[£8, Sold on-site / mail-order]
Sauvignon Blanc
Est. 1991, Wrexham, Wales
One acre, poly-tunnels, gradually expanding
Grows: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir
Aspires to: New Zealand
Family run, winemaker is Martin Fowke (Three Choirs)
Flying pig label/mascot - "...goes right back to the early 90's when we started the vineyard. We'd just bought The Old Rectory but not yet moved in, and were puzzling about what to with the acre of ground at the bottom which had been horse training and paddock but we didn't ride. I settled on vines and told the family over Sunday lunch back in our old house that I was thinking of planting a vineyard. Then 18 year old son knowing everything about everything said sarcastically- 'Oh Yes, and there'll be a flying pig on the label!'"
Dry, definite Sauvignon character coming through subtly on nose and palate. Quite an achievement and praise-worthy. Very pleasant indeed.

Bookers '04
[£7.50, on-site shop/cafe / mail-order / local wine merchants]
Pinot Gris
Est. 1973, Sussex
23 acres
Grows: Muller Thurgau, Chardonnay, Schönburger (W); Rondo, Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Würzer (R)
Very significant investment in part EU funded winery
Superb courting of media locally and nationally
Founder (and former chemical engineer) Rodney Pratt quotes "lunacy" as reason he started the vineyard
Blotting paper dry, astringent and sadly a very difficult wine to make friends with.

Chilford Hall '96
[£Curio, general range sold on-site (60-70p/c conference/events centre / shop and cafe) / mail-order / Bedales, Borough Market / exported]
Est. 1972 (land thought useless for other crops)
18 acres, currently planting additional rows, largest events centre in East Anglia, nature trail, outdoor art etc.
Grows: Müller-Thurgau, Ortega, Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner, Schönburger, Dornfelder and Siegerrebe
Family run, winemaker is Chris Durrant, former pig farmer
Standing up to the test of the wine admirably, being just a touch curranty with a large presence and a duracell ("on and on") aftertaste

Sandhurst Late Harvest '01 (one month late)
[£6.50 50cl, on-site, mail order]
350 acre mixed farm, Sandhurst, Kent - 25 acres vines, 55 acres hops
Grows: Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Schönburger, Faberrebbe, Seyval Blanc (W); Rondo, Dornfelder, Pinot Noir (R)
Family run, winemaker is Owen Elias (New Wave Wines)
Super, the late harvest character really shone through and left a tuning-fork aftertaste behind it