We had now just about reached the end of our 2013 English vineyard adventure, having no more non-wine related activities to engage in, we therefore aimed to finish as we started by once again getting amongst the vines, only now we had exchanged Devon for Kent and none other than the estate of Herbert Hall.
We came across Herbert Hall for the first time last year whilst we had been touring vineyards in Sussex and Kent. We noted that there were a couple of vineyards close to the village of Marden, one being Hush Heath Estate, which we also visited, and another simply titled as “Marden vineyard”. Intrigued, we got in touch and discovered this to be what we now know as, Herbert Hall, whose proprietor, Nick Hall, kindly agreed for us to visit and take a tour of his vineyard and winery.
A relative newcomer to the English wine scene, Herbert Hall was set up in 2007 with the first vintage released in 2009. These wines can now be found in some of the country’s most prestigious retail outlets and restaurants. All attention is focused on producing high quality Sparkling Wine, a Brut White and Rose, using the traditional method and made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.
We promised that we would be back in touch and having consumed one or two bottles of his fizz over the past year, we were keen to see if we could in any way get a little more involved. Nick welcomed our return and a chance for us to work amongst the vines, so here we were, towards the end of our trip but ready for some more vineyard action.
Nick had already hatched a plan of things that we could do and was intent that we should not simply be doing menial jobs for the sake of it. Instead, he preferred us to have the opportunity to take away some new experiences as well as being able to demonstrate those skills that we had already learned, which we can’t thank him enough for.
Over the next three days, we undertook various tasks in and around the vineyard and winery. Included was some tucking in and trimming, using our recently found knowledge to get on with the task with little intervention. We felt very privileged that Nick chose to join us for most of the three days in our company, where we spent many an hour chatting amongst the vines, in the winery or over lunch sat in the sunshine in the garden of his family home. We could not have been made to feel more welcome.
We were blessed again with amazing summer weather and when the temperature peaked at 32 degrees it felt like we could have been on a vineyard in the South of France.
In the winery, we got the chance to fill a cage with the 2011 wine ready for riddling by loading it onto the gyropalette. We also had a go at disgorgement, dosage and corking – great fun, though we must admit that we were better at some jobs more than others. Kel took himself off the crown cap opening and disgorgement after a couple of the bottle necks fractured in the process (eek)!
Nick was recently interviewed by The Wall Street Journal about his wines, which you can read more about here.
We also had the opportunity to meet Peter Morgan, Head of Winemaking at Plumpton College and co-wine maker at Herbert Hall. It was great to hear the views of two great wine makers and their advice to us has been of great value.
Peter invited us to visit the College so we could see the facilities for ourselves. We duly agreed that we would make a detour on our return schedule and head for Plumpton before heading back home the following morning.
That morning, we chose to set off that bit earlier so we could reach Plumpton with enough time on our hands to get home at a reasonable hour. This was a good decision as we encountered our second flat tyre of the trip!
Not to be deterred, we put this matter to one side and met up with Peter. Here, we were introduced to Chris Foss (Head of the Wine Department at Plumpton) whom Kel has had contact with over the past year or so in relation to undertaking possible courses at the college as well as help and advice about the English wine scene in general. It was great to actually have the chance to meet Chris in person.
Peter then took us on a tour of the vineyards and the winery. Plumpton has recently heavily invested in its wine education facility as we witnessed new buildings being constructed that included class rooms, laboratories and additions to the winery. The college also makes its own range of wines of which we had the opportunity to try their fizz at a local English Wine festival last year.
This drew to a close our English wine adventure. We were fortunate that our flat tyre was quickly fixed and we were able to make our journey home without further incident.
English wine has come such a long way in such a short time and we feel very confident about its future and no doubt we shall be back amongst the vines once again in the not so distant future.
We awoke to what was to be another scorching summer’s day. Having arrived back at our hotel in the early hours after an enjoyable night at The International Wine Challenge Awards Dinner it was now time to check out and go exploring. Both of us could probably have slept a few more hours but check-out time was upon us and we had a full schedule penned out.
It was a slow and painful drive out of London taking hours rather than the planned 30 minutes or so, though luckily this did not impact too much on our schedule as shaving off some of the time intended for each stop seemed to do the trick.
Once out of London, we had a very pleasant and sunny drive heading towards the south coast once again.
Our first stop along the way was to The Bolney Estate at Bookers vineyard in the village of Bolney.
We had called here last year and were impressed by their Pinot Noir, which not only looked the part, that is not deep purple, but also tasted like you might expect. However, it would seem that others have made a similar discovery and unfortunately for us (though fortunate for Bolney) they had completely sold out and would not have any more in stock until the next vintage is released next year. However, we weren’t going to go away empty handed, so we purchased a bottle of: The Bolney Estate Classic Cuvee 2007 – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier & Chardonnay (yet to be tried).
Our next destination at Pulborough has several vineyards in close proximity to one another including Nyetimber. All share similar soil types (loam on greensand) although there is some cross-over with some of the grape varieties used, the wines that each produce are distinctive to the individual estates.
Nyetimber is not open to the public, although we did try to contact them to see if we could (cheekily) visit but this wasn’t forthcoming. So, a quick photo shoot outside the property is as far as we got but we do have a bottle of their fizz already at home in our “put away and to be drunk at a later date hideaway cupboard/cellar”.
Not to be deterred, we had read about and were intrigued by a wine estate that was minutes up the road, which has an old windmill as part of its tasting room. From the pictures it looked an idyllic place and we weren’t to be disappointed.
Upon entering the windmill at Nutbourne on the ground floor, which has been nicely done out with a welcoming and tasteful seated area, we went up a flight of stairs to what is the tasting room and shop where a balcony overlooks the vineyard and surrounding area.
Here, we were met by the very friendly Irene, who was most helpful with describing the estate, its history, vines and grape varieties. We were also offered a tasting of all the still plus one of the sparkling wines.
Sussex Reserve 2012 – A blend of Bacchus, Huxelrebe and Schönburger: Crisp with soft fruit flavours.
Bacchus 2011: More flowery and perfumed than some of the Bacchus’ that we have tried lately.
Nutbourne Blush 2011 – Pinot Noir & Schönburger: Light & refreshing with summer fruits.
Nutbourne Hedgerow 2009 – Bacchus & Schönburger: Does what it say on the label! Slightly off-dry blend with hints of hawthorn, green leaves and a touch of elderflower.
Nutty Brut 2010 – Pinot Noir, Reichensteiner and Chardonnay: Crisp, fresh with good bubbles, hints of apple and pears – bottle taken home.
Before heading off, we took the opportunity to have a walk around the vines and well tendered paths. The estate hosts various events throughout the year, including music and BBQ’s, so it is worth keeping an eye on their website for details.
By now the heat of the day was sweltering, so the call of the seaside became even more appealing.
It was great to take some time out to simply walk along the sea front as well as take in the famous Pavilion. However, to Kel’s disappointment, the Volks Electric Railway, which had been pencilled in for today, seemed to be closed. The little railway claims to be the oldest working electric railway in the world and boasts one or two interesting artefacts. Oh well, we shall just have to come back when it is operating. Contacting them prior to departure might be helpful perhaps?
And so, our first day venturing into Sussex came to a close and we found ourselves hotel bound for the evening for some very much needed sleep (in our plush £17 a night Gatwick Travelodge, a bargain indeed!).
Our schedule for our second day in Sussex seemed all the more busy, so it was to be an early start so as to try and fit in all that we had carefully planned.
And what better way to start our day but to call into one of England’s few organic vineyards, run by one of the leading figures in things organic and winemaking, Will Davenport.
We had come across Will’s wine a year earlier purely by accident when we were touring Kent and Sussex vineyards and we happened to call into the local shop at Horsmonden. Here, they had various bottles of English wines on their shelves including the one that caught our eye, Limney White, that retailed at just under a tenner.
We thought that it was such a good example of an English white that we wrote to Will to let him know. In fact, we ordered more and gave out bottles of it to friends last Christmas.
So here we now were with the man himself, who had taken the time out of his busy morning to meet us and give us a personal tour of his vineyard and winery.
One thing we picked up straight away is Will’s passion for his craft, in particular doing things organically. This seems to have been a labour of love that is now getting the respect that it deserves including from ‘those that be’ at Plumpton College.
Some of the vines are now reaching the ripe old age of 20 or so years, which Will is re-invigorating by encouraging a new shoot to grow from around the base of the trunk. Once this has been established, the older trunk will be cut off and future use will see the newer shoot then being used as the trunk.
Will concentrates his efforts on a small range of dry still and sparkling wines. He has in the past released a limited quantity of Pinot Noir and might do again in the future after a bit more experimentation in order to get it to be exactly as he intends.
We had a great morning, particularly as Will is so enthusiastic and knowledgable, utilising his degree in Chemistry to good effect alongside his winemaking portfolio. Discussions about organic practices, chemicals, soils and of course the wine itself, made for a fascinating morning.
Limney Horsmonden 2011 – Ortega, Faber, Siegerrebe, Bacchus & Huxelrebe: Dry crisp with citrus, orange peel and floral aromas.
We also tried the 2012, which was still in the tank and developing.
We took home a bottle of: Limney Estate Quality Sparking Wine 2008 – Pinot Noir & Auxerrois, which is yet to be tried.
Will’s Blanc de Blanc made from 100% Reichensteiner had sold out.
The English Wine Centre
The English Wine Centre stands proudly by the roadside just outside the picturesque village of Alfriston.
As well as having a well stocked shop, the centre also boasts a restaurant with outside seating area and separate buildings, one for functions such as weddings, of which, one was taking place at the time of our arrival, as well as a small hotel.
We were greeted by owner Colin Munday, who was happy to talk about his range of wines and his take on the English wine scene.
Open for tasting was a bottle of Cornish wine: Polgoon 2012 – Orion & Bacchus: Crisp, fresh with some aromatic and floral aromas. At only 9.5% this seemed a nice summer quaffer.
After much browsing, we decided to take home:
Alfriston is soon to become even more rooted on the wine map of England when the nearby Rathfinny, heralded by Mark and Sarah Driver with French Winemaker, Jonathan Medard, and Cameron Roucher as Vineyard Manager, together plan to become one of the country’s biggest producers of sparkling and still wine.
From a view point close to the English Channel can be seen the large area that the estate covers and its development so far. We hope to have more on this at a later date, so watch this space…
It would have been rude not to visit the actual village of Alfriston, that has in its own right become a bit of a tourist pilgrimage (as we soon discovered). However, taking a walk away from the main village square, we came across the most relaxing of village greens that had as its backdrop St Andrews Church and close by The National Trust owned Clergy House. This was the first property acquired by the Trust all the way back in 1896, which was a pleasure to visit with plenty of butterflies and bumble bees busying themselves in the gardens. A resident kingfisher also nests in the reeds behind the gardens but unfortunately on our visit we did not catch a glimpse!
Our next wine adventure was not to be until we arrived in Kent but we still had plenty to do on our way there.
After leaving Alfriston, we drove up to the cliff tops at Beachy Head, which offer dramatic views of the coastline and surrounding countryside. From here we could see the grey clouds rolling in, our first real cloud cover and cool breeze experienced in weeks and it was certainly a shock to the system. Nonetheless this didn’t deter from our enjoyment of being at this famous landmark.
This was followed by a brief walk along Eastbourne’s promenade but it was a real shame that the sun had chosen to hide away from the seafront.
The following day, we had a wine day off although we did consider whether we would have time to call in to the Bluebell Vineyard, who make the Hindleap Sparkling Wine range, however, as it is closed to the public it was not possible.
The highlight of the day was to be the much anticipated call to the Bluebell Railway, who have now achieved their long term ambition of reconnecting with the mainline at East Grinstead. This has been the result of several years hard labour during which literally thousands of tons of household waste had to be removed from a cutting that hadn’t seen trains pass through it for the past sixty years. The railway achieved its goal in March of this year and Kel was very excited to now be able to journey on this particular piece of line. Better still, the railway had a scheduled diesel service running alongside the steam service on that day. The Bluebell Railway has always prided itself until recently to be a steam only operation therefore having the opportunity to travel along the railway by diesel was a real treat.
Our last stop was to The National Trust’s Sheffield Park and Gardens, which we had planned to visit on our adventure last year but were deterred by rain on that occasion. In total contrast, today we were blessed with hot summer sun and blue skies. The impressively landscaped 18th century gardens make for a relaxing day out, where you can while away hours strolling along the various footpaths that meander past flowering gardens, huge trees, a waterfall and picturesquely framed lakes.
Tune in for our final instalment of ‘The Bacchus Gricer’, which finds us on a renowned Sparkling Wine producer’s estate in Kent with a brie foray back into Sussex before heading home.
England is producing excellent award winning wines year on year and they are well worth hunting out!
Our journey continued winding through the Dorset countryside towards Hampshire, where we would then make a detour and head for London.
Having now moved out of our comfy cottage environment that Eastcott Vineyard had provided, we were now cheap hotel hopping and determined to stick to the very low budget that we had set ourselves. This included restrictions on our food, meaning that eating out was a definite luxury and that we had to find and provide ourselves with a reasonable diet with only pennies to spare: an endurance test indeed to see how well we could cope on little.
Enter “The Travelodge Surprise” – a surprise as we never knew how the end result would turn out. Now don’t try this at home, or should we say in a Travelodge near you, unless you have a strong will not to cave in to dining out or take-away – we nearly did but in the end, we held on strong. We are glad to be back home to some welcome cooking we can tell you!
To make the “Surprise” you will need:
- 1 kettle (essential)
- 1 plastic bowl
- 2 plates (optional – if missing eat straight from the bowl)
- 1 spoon
- 2 forks (again optional – if missing take turns to use spoon)
- Packet of noodles
- Packet of dried soya mince (TVP)
- Packet of sauce flavouring or stock cube
- Boil kettle
- Throw all ingredients into the bowl
- Pour boiling water over contents and leave to soak (cover bowl with plate or similar)
- Stir occasionally over 10-15 minutes
This became our main supply of “nourishment” for the next few days… and we survived!
Right, back to the adventure…
We still had plenty to do before London and this included sampling another English award winning wine, none other than an International Wine Challenge Trophy Award.
In this instance, the trophy was for the best English Sparkling Wine of 2013 and we were about to try it out for ourselves. As well as the IWC Trophy, this wine had also won: Silver Outstanding Medal in International Wine & Spirits Competition 2013 and Silver Medal in Decanter World Wine Awards 2013.
… and the Trophy went to none other than The Furleigh Estate.
The Furleigh Estate
Furleigh Estate, tucked away in the Devonshire countryside at Salway Ash, pride themselves on dedication to their craft, working in collaboration with students from Plumpton College, who are studying one of the wine degree courses. They make both still and sparkling wines, some of which, are limited release.
We arrived a little later than planned after almost getting lost driving around the narrow winding lanes (something we were by now getting used to). The tasting room was busy with a coach load of visitors, who had been on a tour of the vineyards and winery and were now sampling Furleigh’s range of wines on offer.
However, this did not prevent co-owner Rebecca Hansford (Winemaker Ian Edwards being the other half) coming over to welcome us and spend a little time chatting about their estate and wines.
A bottle of the trophy winner itself was duly purchased.
Classic Cuvee 2009 – 41% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 24% Pinot Meunier: Persistent mousse, fruity with brioche aromas, elegantly balanced with long finish.
Originally, we planned to call upon several vineyards in the area but these either did not open on the day available to us or had not got back in touch, and one even seemed closed altogether when we chanced it and drove up to the front door. Therefore, we decided to make the most of the splendid sights and sounds that we knew were available (although non-wine related).
We decided to stop off along the way at Corfe Castle, a National Trust property that we have visited before, still worth a second or even more visits. It’s rich history, stretching as far back as the 10th Century, and its majestic stance against the backdrop of the surrounding village and countryside leave a lasting impression. The Swanage Railway runs alongside and lends an added attraction both on and off the train.
Here, we took in lunch. Ah ha! We hear you cry! What’s happened to your endurance test, your “Travelodge Surprise”??? Well, we can tell you dear friends, it was just that, that we had for our lunch! By now cold or more precisely luke warm from being in a hot car boot, we stuck to our guns and “enjoyed” whilst sat on a hill overlooking the castle (a good distraction technique).
The Swanage Railway
This is a great railway well worth a visit. The main station is right in the centre of town and very close to the sea front. It was proposed for closure in 1968 but strong local opposition kept it open until 1972. However, fortunes were upturned when in 1979 part of the line was reopened as a heritage railway. Today the line has been reconnected with the main line and is a major tourist attraction.
We visited Swanage a couple of years earlier for one of the many gala days that are staged at the railway, which on that particular occasion was also playing host to a local beer festival.
Still on the hunt to find a local wine merchant who sold English wine, we managed to locate one close to the station but alas there was no English wine! Although they did have an impressive selection of local ciders and ales.
However, we weren’t to finish the day without our goal being accomplished and this occurred when we tripped over the border into Hampshire to take a look around the Mid-Hants Railway when we literally stumbled upon The Naked Grape wine merchants in Alresford.
This is a locally run business with another premises at Four Marks (also a stopping point on the Mid-Hants Railway) and was neatly set out with product information. The friendly member of staff was very helpful especially with being able to point out the section containing English wines as well as describing each one of them to us.
We opted for the most local:
Court Lane Vineyard, Ropley Dry Reserve 2011 – Grapes non-specified but the UK Vines website highlights that it grows: Huxelrebe, Muller Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc, so it may just well be a blend of all four though we suspect that it might be more in line with the last two grape varieties on the list. Good fruit aromas that carried onto the palate with a richness to the mouthfeel and a good finish. Might also have undergone some malolactic fermentation but still maintained a fresh acidic backbone. A very pleasant surprise to our day.
It was almost time to set off on our journey to London but not before taking a walk around the locomotive shed and yard of the Mid-Hants Railway at none other than Ropley!
The railway had closed to the public for the day but a kind Shed Master permitted us to take a walk around the yard, for which we gave a small donation for the upkeep of the railway.
This line was once the main line for the London and South Western Railway Company (later part of The Southern Railway) from London to Southampton and was closed as a through route by British Rail in 1973. It has earned the name “The Watercress Line” after one of its main functions used to be the carriage of local watercress to retailers in London. It was and still is famous for its gradients and as such local engine crews describe the journey as “Going over the Alps“.
The line maintains its Southern Railway heritage and is well worth a visit, in fact they are currently building seven holiday cottages next to the railway at Ropley.
It was now time to head for London and get ready for the International Wine Challenge Awards Dinner and Summer Ball, which was to take place the following evening.
A few more tales to tempt your taste buds to get out there and try English wine!
After a few more days spent working amongst the vines at Eastcott Vineyard, we once again had the opportunity to go exploring the Devonshire countryside.
A good start to the day was calling in on Lucy and Ben Hulland at Huxbear Vineyard, Chudleigh. They shared with us their inspirational story of giving up their ‘day jobs’ to head South from Manchester, learning how to make wine at Plumpton College and purchasing land to plant a vineyard. Living in a caravan in a field far longer than envisaged, where they have now planted vines, built a house and a winery from scratch. They have also managed to grow a family of two children and two dogs in this time.
They now have over 9000 vines to look after, which Ben impressively does himself. They have a selection of German varieties for a white blend, but their focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for future production.
It was a true pleasure to meet a young couple who have changed the direction of their lives and committed to the land. They have achieved a huge amount since 2007.
We weren’t able to taste the white blend as this had sold out due to production being of a limited number of bottles. However, we did taste the 2012 Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay, both still developing in the tank and we were able to take a bottle of Ben’s Huxbear Vineyard 2011 Chardonnay home with us.
By now it was almost lunchtime, so what better than heading to the Coast for chips by the sea. We spent time enjoying the sun in Seaton, looking out over the sea lapping against the Jurassic Coastline. We were blessed with glorious weather and the town was bustling with locals and tourists. Even the Town Crier was out and on form.
The town also boasts a vintage tramway that runs from the town centre to Colyton, running along the banks of the Seaton Marshes in the Axe Valley, it is a very picturesque setting indeed.
It was such a lovely sunny day, we decided to drive along the Coast taking in the picturesque seaside towns of Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth. We highly recommend visiting these charming seaside towns with their striking coastal views.
Pebblebed Wine Cellar
Our final call of the day was at Topsham, a quaint harbour town on the River Exe estuary. We enjoyed a pleasant walk along the marine harbour, passing local pubs and bars already filled to the brim with people sat outside in the warm evening sun.
Our initial thoughts were that we were going to be disappointed as the Wine Cellar looked full when we arrived, however, there was space at one of the long tables, if you don’t mind sharing there’s plenty of room for everyone.
All Pebblebed wines were available to purchase by the glass as well as by the bottle, which gave us the opportunity to try the full range. The food on offer was simple but tasty, meat and cheese platters or thin based pizza, we elected for the latter – tomato and mozzarella oh so good!
The staff were very friendly and helpful, willing to discuss the wines and the vineyards. On this occasion we hadn’t booked to go on a tour of the vineyards and the new winery as we felt a visit to the Wine Cellar would complement our evening better.
Sparkling Seyval 2010 – pale lemon green, nice persistent small bubbles, apple fresh with good acidity, after a while in the glass more pastry, brioche notes come out, lovely bubbly tipple.
Sparkling Rose 2010 – Seyval Blanc & Rondo, delicate rose pink in colour, larger bubbles, more prominent fizz on the palate, aromas of cranberry, strawberry, hints of apple, yeast characteristics mid palate, fruit tapers off at finish.
Dry White 2011 – Seyval Blanc & Madeleine Angevine, light floral aromas, lemon citrus, white pepper, creamy mouthfeel, surprisingly low acidity, which for us affected the structure of the wine.
Dry Rose 2011– Seyval Blanc & Rondo, orangey pink, light red fruit aromas, cranberry, strawberry, smoky overtones, creamy on the finish, very soft low acidity.
Red 2011 – Pinot Noir Precoce & Rondo, pale ruby red in colour, a lovely promising nose of red fruits, cherry, violet, plum, herbs and some smoky savoury notes. Rondo characteristics shone through, fruit lingered on the palate, surprisingly nice for an English red.
For our next instalment, sadly leaving Eastcott Vineyard behind, we headed to Torquay – or should we say The English Riviera! Taking in the sights, sounds and wines to be had, or should we say in the case of the wines, to be drunk!
More tales for English Wine Week, up close and personal at Eastcott Vineyard in Devon.
The Guests are put to work
After a good night’s sleep in one of Eastcott Vineyard’s gorgeous holiday cottages, aptly named Cabernet, our first job was to assist Richard with his stall at the summer Ruby Market in Hatherleigh. The market was larger than we expected and was bustling with people in the Devonshire sunshine. All sorts of local produce was on offer: meat; dairy; vegetables; cakes; breads; beers; ciders; as well as arts and crafts, plus a bit of Country music to keep the crowds entertained in the heat. It was great to see Richard in action talking passionately about his wines, of which two were open for tastings.
Throughout the day, a steady stream of people visited the stall, tasting and purchasing from the range of wines. We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with locals, visitors and stallholders alike, coming away with a rather full shopping bag of produce ourselves to take back to our cottage. We can highly recommend Grumpies of Cornwall pies, West Lake apple juices and ciders, Curry Now! sauces by the Anglo Indian Chef, Riverside’s Goat Cheese and the Vegetarian deli.
The following day, Hilary gave us a tour of the vineyard to familiarise us with everything and the kind of work we would be helping out with. It’s a truly beautiful spot with 12 acres of land, 6 of which are planted to vine with 7 varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Rondo, Dunkenfelder, Solaris and Seyval Blanc.
Most of the week, we were out amongst the vines, tucking the shoots into the trellising system, ‘geek alert‘ known as vertical shoot positioning (VSP) where all the vines are trained to grow upright. It is interesting to see the varietal differences between the vines once you get up close and personal with them, such as differences in colour, leaf texture and shape. I’m even getting quite attached to them. We were also privileged to witness the flowering start, although the flowers appear quite insignificant they are an essential part of the process to form the all important fruit. We also helped with general vineyard management, such as tidying up around the hedges as well as other jobs.
We participated in Hilary and Richard’s Vineyard Tours that included a visit to their shiny new and very modern winery. It was interesting to hear more about their story of how they came to own and run the vineyard. These were probably the most educational and informative tours we have attended.
One evening was spent at a tasting and presentation with the Fuchsia and Geranium Group in Plympton. About 40 people attending their local meeting heard Eastcott’s very professional presentation and tasted some of their wine. We assisted with handing out the samples to the group. It was a fun evening and great to meet some of the local community.
We also attended one of Richard’s tutored wine tastings with a group of young lads on a stag weekend, um a challenge maybe? Considering they confessed they didn’t know a great deal about wine, they were great sports, asked lots of good questions and seemed to enjoy it all.
Our final day coincided with it being Kelvyn’s birthday, which we celebrated with homemade strawberry victoria sponge cake (thanks again to Richard) and the cottage suitably adorned with birthday banner and balloons courtesy of Ruth and Hilary. We all enjoyed a glass or two of each of Eastcott’s Sparkling range as well as Furleigh Estate’s Classic Cuvee 2009.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather since arriving, the sun shone every day and the heat warmed our skin, average temperatures hovered between 25-30 degrees, we have never had such good tans – could you really call this work??? On a hot day in the vineyard, we were generously rewarded with refreshingly chilled elderflower cordial and yummy carrot cake both freshly made by Richard.
Most evenings, we relaxed in our lovely cottage or, took advantage of the evening sunshine, lazing on a blanket in the orchard, with a well deserved glass or two of chilled Eastcott wine. We certainly enjoyed our experience of the Devonshire vineyard lifestyle. We were even adopted by the neighbour’s cat, Mrs Tinks.
A plus we found to the cottage was that the bedrooms are on the ground floor, so they are lovely and cool later in the day, especially in the heat we experienced during that week. The bed was also very comfortable, so we slept soundly and solidly every night! On one of the cooler mornings we had, admittedly not many, which is a rare thing I hear myself saying, we had a wonderful early morning jog around the vineyard, and you can’t get better than that really. If you are after a holiday to remember in the West Country, we couldn’t recommend a stay on Eastcott’s Vineyard more.
The days seemed to pass quickly and the next part of our English vineyard adventure was about to begin. It was sad to leave Eastcott behind (for now) as both Hilary and Richard had been most welcoming, great hosts and a pleasure to work with. However, we came away better equipped having gained a sound knowledge from the good direction that both had given on how to do the job well.
To say that Hilary and Richard have only been making wine for the past 6 years, having come from none wine-making backgrounds, and now going on to win awards with both the International Wine Challenge and the International Wine and Spirits Competition says something of their commitment and dedication to the cause, setting a good standard for their future vintages.
Our Eastcott Star Wines:
Brut, 2009, 11.5%, £19.90, Seyval Blanc, strawberry (bonbons) and cream, Kel gets notes of apricot glazed pastry and brioche, lovely lingering aromas!
Brut Rosé, 2010, 12.5%, £24.50, Seyval Blanc and Rondo, strawberry, cranberry, hints of fresh cherry and freshly crushed almonds, good acidity, creamy mouth feel and persistent bubbles.
Other Eastcott wines:
Brut Zero, 2008, 12%, £19.90, Seyval Blanc, lovely dry style sparkling white, crisp green apple, good acidity and freshness, nice creaminess. Surprisingly not as dry as one might expect for a bone dry sparkler with no added dosage.
Furzehill White, 2010, 11.0%, £9.90, blend of English varieties plus Chardonnay, dry style white with aromas of English hedgerow, elderflower, nettles and lime citrus notes. However, the acidity and sugars felt a little out of balance
Gribbleford White, 2010, 10.5%, £9.90, Seyval Blanc, easy drinking medium dry style, apple and kiwi aromas with a hint of crushed almonds.
Two Moors Rosé, 2011, 11.5%, £10.90, Rondo and Madeleine Angevine, strawberry and cranberry flavours, hints of herb, refreshing on a summer’s eve.
In our next blog we’ll tell you more about our visits to other wineries as well as great things to do on days out in The West Country.
Guest Wines Tour de France
We had now reached what seemed like miles and miles upon miles of vines, it was truly beautiful! Every available space was lent to viticulture – welcome to Burgundy!
The weather was still being kind to us, with temperatures in the twenties, enabling the skies to clear later in the day opening up a wide vista of vines as far as our eyes could see. What better place to begin our day than at Gevrey Chambertin.
We had an early morning appointment at Domaine Heresztyn and did not want to be late as we knew that we were in for a treat. We were met and greeted by Ewa, who is mother to winemaker Florence Heresztyn, third generation of the family, whose husband Simon Mazzini also makes Champagne.
Ewa spent a little time explaining her family history and how the Domaine has developed over the years. You would be right in thinking this isn’t a very French Domaine name because it’s actually Polish. Jan Heresztyn emigrated from Poland in 1932, eventually arriving in Gevrey-Chambertin where he started acquiring parcels of vines, building up the business to what it is today with his two sons and now grand-daughter. It was a lovely start to the day and helped create a nice ambience in which to taste some truly excellent wines.
Kelvyn particularly liked the more gamey aromas of the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru 2007, whose grapes came from the parcel of vines right next to the house. Ruth preferred the softer, fruitiness of the Morey-Saint-Denis 2007. It was fascinating to taste the differences between each vineyard site.
Soon we were on our way again, travelling south. So much is in close proximity to the road that name after famous name simply pass by as you drive. It was with awe that we tried to take all this in.
In order to gather our thoughts, we felt that it would be a good idea to stop off and stretch our legs at Vosne-Romanée to walk around its many famous high sloping vineyards. What an ideal place for a picnic whilst bathed in beautiful sunshine, leading to an immense feeling of satisfaction, eating local produce (though the tomatoes were from an allotment in North Shields!) and drinking a glass or two of the red stuff. A lasting memory indeed!
We then drove through the famous Côte d’Or villages of Nuits-St-Georges and Beaune. Stopping off at Nuits-St-Georges as well as making a detour to Meursault, Saint Aubin and Puligny-Montrachet for brief strolls to soak in the atmosphere. It was also great to see the many pickers at work in the vineyards – something that we would be doing in a few days time.
Near to Saint Aubin we passed the sign for the quaint village Gamay (though none of the grape variety of the same name is found here) and recalled a producer from there whose wines we have previously bought at the Paris Vignerons Indépendants Fair, Domaine Gilles Bouton et Fils, and are excellent. Sadly, all was quiet due to harvest so we weren’t able to visit on this occasion but we hope to return again.
On our way from North to South Burgundy, the terrain turned quite flat and agricultural concerns other than vine took precedence before regaining their status as we approached Mâcon. Here, the valley that we were driving through grew more hilly.
After a little bit of driving up and down small winding country lanes, we eventually arrived at Château de Lavernette where we were greeted by another mother of one the wine makers, Anke Boissieu. She made us feel very welcome and gave us a bit of a history lesson whilst we were waiting for her son Xavier and wife Kerrie, who share the wine making between them, to arrive.
We discovered that the Château has been in the hands of the family for some 400 years, having taken over from The Lordship of Lavernette and prior to this, the place had been owned by monks. It also lies on the border of Mâcon & Beaujolais, in fact the driveway of the Château is located in both AOC’s. Therefore, allowing the property to create both these regions’ wines.
Ta-da on the border of Burgundy and Beaujolais
We were met by Kerrie, who took us on a tour of the vineyards, first the Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais section and then onto the vines of Mâcon. Quite a novel experience!
Kerrie explained that the Estate is managed biodynamically, of which both her and husband Xavier are keen advocates. However, Kerrie also likes to inject a bit of a scientific approach into this as much as possible as her background was originally in medicine when she was a native of the States. It is here that she met Xavier when both were studying oenology at Saintsbury in the Napa Valley California.
We later came across Xavier in the winery where he was undertaking final checks and preparations for the forthcoming harvest, which was expected to start after the weekend of our visit.
Both he and Kerrie make the wines, though both have different approaches. For example, Kerrie has purchased some stainless steel tanks and is producing a range of wines from these, whereas Xavier prefers to use the traditional concrete tanks.
However, despite the family being steeped in tradition and Xavier’s endeavour to maintain this, he is not afraid to try out new things, for example by developing a sparkling style Blanc de Noirs ‘Granit’, with 100% Gamay, alongside a more traditional Crémant de Bourgogne and we must say that we thoroughly enjoyed both.
Kerrie showed us around the winery and cellar, where there were some interesting looking ‘saucissons’ hanging from the ceiling, of which one was enjoyed with a glass of vino later on around the table. She also showed us the equipment used for making up the biodynamic mixtures as well as examining the fertiliser that is produced from manure that had been placed in a cow’s horn, the earth was alive with worms and wee beasties.
It was great to while away a few hours tasting the wines from both winemakers and being made to feel very welcome by other family members and their friends on what was becoming quite late on a Saturday evening. We came away knowing that we would return to this delightful Château and its wonderful hosts hopefully sometime in the not so distant future.
Would things heat up as we headed South to the Rhône? ….
Guest Wines Tour de France
Leaving home at 7am we hit the road, sad to leave our little Tibby behind but excited at our French adventure ahead, plus we knew his lordship was in good hands with his very own support crew!
After a very easy drive south, we arrived at the Eurotunnel port. Having never experienced this before it was quite exciting and amazingly easy. We were even early enough to catch a train one hour earlier than booked. It’s a strange experience driving onto a train, then travelling at 110mph underwater without actually moving the car! If you haven’t travelled by Eurotunnel, we would recommend it. The return cost just over £100 and although it takes time driving to Folkestone and then onto your French destination, the fun is in the journey and this is day 1, not just a day lost to travel – we also got to see a bit more of England and of France as well!
We arrived in the northern Champagne region in the early evening. It has a noticeably flat landscape and besides the obvious vine, other types of agriculture featured such as potatoes and sunflowers. Although a lot of the Champagne vines were on slopes, many seemed to be on flat land. We would be hard pressed to say that the surrounding countryside matched the grandeur of the drink itself. Often, it seemed to be more in contrast: one dimensional and flat!
Also not reminiscent of our “atypical” picture of Champagne was the location of our Hotel Première Classe (yep, living the dream!), which was located within a business park on the outskirts of Reims (not pronounced ‘reems’ but ‘rance’ as we were corrected). Compact, decent and clean but most importantly, within budget (though French budget hotels are pricier than their English equivalent). Why waste good money on expensive accommodation when there’s Champagne to be bought (which surely must be in our budget, right?)!
The following day we headed to Ay, South of Reims on the outskirts of Épernay, and our appointment at René Geoffroy Champagne House.
The harvest, la vendange, had commenced the day before with attention being focused on the red grapes – the rosés were first in line, and although he was rather busy with all the harvest activity going on, we got to meet the man responsible for these wonderful wines, none other than Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy.
Anne, the Champagne House secretary, gave us a tasting and showed us around the winery. We were also lucky to witness the traditional Coquard wooden presses in action, pressing the grapes harvested that morning, with the dark juice flowing into stainless steel tanks on the floor below, gravity-fed as this is a more gentle procedure.
It is difficult to have a favourite of those we tasted as the quality of all was excellent, the Brut Expression, 50% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir & 10% Chardonnay, was light and fresh whereas the Brut Volupté 2006, 80% Chardonnay & 20% Pinot Noir, was richer, spicier and wafted those recognisable Champagne yeast aromas.
This producer also makes a limited number of still Pinot Noir wines (Cumières Rouge Traditionnel), which is interestingly a non-vintage blend of grapes from 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2009. He also makes Pinot Meunier still wines by the bottle, unfortunately the latter was sold out but we did pick up the Pinot Noir, which we are looking forward to trying.
Afterwards, we decided to take a leisurely stroll around Ay. It was an amazing feeling walking around and seeing so many world famous Champagne houses in close proximity to one another in such a small quiet village, surrounded on all sides by vines.
You really don’t appreciate just how big the Champagne department is until you take a drive from Montagne de Reims to reach the Côte des Bar, a mere 20km from Burgundy, where we were destined for our next appointment at Louise Brison in Noé Les Mallets.
A three hour drive took us from flat open plains, through forest and idyllic villages to reach this Estate in the Aube department. We arrived fairly late in the afternoon, though Julie (Assistante Commerciale) was aware of our drive and had kindly agreed to wait beyond her usual closing time to receive us. And glad of this we were as we were treated to some excellent wines.
Julie displayed her wealth of knowledge for these Champagne’s and took her time so that we could really appreciate what we were drinking.
We were impressed to learn that every wine produced here is vintage, apart from the rosé, bottles from each year dating back to 1991 were on display and available to purchase all at very reasonable prices.
We particularly enjoyed tasting the Brut millésime 2007, 50/50 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, which had a lovely balance of fruit and toasty notes, and the Cuvée Tendresse Blanc de Blancs millésime 2005, 100% Chardonnay, which had a much more expressive nose displaying creamy fruit and hazelnut richness.
The harvest had not yet started here but was due to commence the coming Monday. It was fascinating to witness the procession of caravans and mobile homes that were being parked up next to vineyards creating small villages in themselves, in readiness for this event.
We definitely came away from Champagne with far more questions left unanswered and the desire to return to explore this region in far more detail than our quick whistle stop tour.
We were now on our way to our next destination. Though not in too much of a hurry so as not to take in Essoyes, a quietly picturesque village that the impressionist artist Renoir loved, spending many summers of his life here with his wife (originally from this town). Taking a walk around “Du Côté des Renoir” and seeing first hand where some of his inspiration was gained it was entirely understandable why he loved it so and in gratitude to this, the village displays various Renoir creations as large murals on the side of buildings all over the village. There was certainly an air of something serene and peaceful here.
Darkness soon fell upon us and unfortunately so did a diversion that took us miles out of the way of our original route. Feeling like we were driving blind in the dark with the fuel indicator creeping down lower and lower and no sign of a petrol station for at least 50 miles or so, we were preparing ourselves for a possible night of sleeping in the car (still looking on the bright side, we did have Champagne!). Running on empty, we finally found somewhere to fill up that accepted our credit card, having earlier discovered that certain petrol stations only accept French cards (silly us for mistaking France as being a part of Europe)!
Finally, after getting lost in yet another business park (in our defence, apart from lack of any signage, they also look the same), we found our budget hotel. Though, what is it with not providing a kettle at these places? Tea = civilisation! So off to bed we went to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for taking on Chablis.
Follow us to Chablis next …
Our final instalment of our 2012 English wine adventure concludes:
We still had much to do and see before our travels were over. We were now heading back to Kent and what better way to start than at The Bluebell Railway.
At the time of our visit, this railway was undergoing something of a transformation. Not only had there been a sighting of a diesel locomotive at this once very pro-steam railway (gasps of horror could be heard from the old-school fraternity!) but it was close to realising its long-held ambition of reconnecting with the main line at East Grinstead.
This connection has involved removing 90,000 tonnes of landfill and was still in progress on our visit with a projected completion date of March 2013 (something that the railway achieved on target and on budget – the big railway please take note!).
The Bluebell Railway is used in many film and TV period dramas and it is easy to see why.
Close by is a small railway that goes by the name of The Lavender Line. It is often in the news as it is part of the missing link between Uckfield and Lewes with an active local pressure group trying to get this bit of line reinstated between the two towns so as to once again create a through route between London and Brighton due to its importance as a commuter route. For the time being, it retains a tranquil atmosphere with its lovingly restored station at Isfield and many nature walks in the surrounding area.
Right then, let’s get back to wine…
We found ourselves in the Kent village of Marden, which once farmed apples and hops as its main commodity but has since replaced much of this with the cultivation of grapes due to it now being home to two important English sparkling wine producers – Herbert Hall and Hush Heath.
Both these producers were happy to show us around via prior appointment and it was great for us to see at first hand how two of the region’s leading fizz makers produced their lovely wines.
Up until this point we had not come across Herbert Hall. In fact, there wasn’t much clue to them being here as our initial search had simply come across a vineyard by the name of Marden. It wasn’t until we made an enquiry to see if we could visit that we discovered this to be Herbert Hall and what a wonderful discovery this was!
We met Nick Hall (who shares a partnership with his brother Peter) early one morning. He was happy to show us around the vineyard as well as his compact, very clean and well-kitted out winery, where we were given the opportunity to taste his fizz.
Herbert Hall concentrates on just two wines, a Sparkling white: Herbert Hall Brut and a rose: Herbert Hall Brut Rose, using a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The white is Chardonnay dominated whereas the rose is Pinot Noir dominated. Both are fantastic examples of well made English sparkling wine and should be sought out. They can be obtained from major high street retailers such as Harvey Nichols. What a find!
Read more about Herbert Hall in our 2013 blog.
Hush Heath Estate
Just a matter of minutes walk up the road is the estate of Hush Heath. Here, we were met by Owen Elias, previously the winemaker at Chapel Down who has since decided to concentrate his efforts making sparkling and still wines at Hush Heath.
There is a state of the art, brand new, compact winery and production area of which Owen was happy to show us around and take us on a tour, explaining the evolution of wine from vineyard to the finished bottle. It was impressive to see the bottling process in action.
Afterwards, we were taken to the nicely laid out tasting room to try for ourselves the wines that he produces and are sold to many restaurants around the country. This tasting included the estate’s: Balfour Brut Rose and Balfour Blanc de Blanc both of which are definitely worth trying and can be bought direct from their online store.
A surprise for us was that they were also experimenting with a still cider, keeping with the tradition of the locality. A trial with some London restaurants was taking place at the time of our visit and this has obviously been successful as you can now purchase it from the online shop and very nice it is indeed!
Having had two great English producers fizz, we did not want to spoil the day by trying to visit anymore wineries. However, our experience of ‘great wine finds’ was not entirely over as calling into a local store in the village of Horsmonden we stumbled upon a bottle of Horsmonden Limney White, that we later discovered was made by Will Davenport, of which we write about in our 2013 English vineyard adventures.
Now it was off to do something completely different. Not only did this include a nature reserve and a place close to the sea resembling a strange and distant land but it also had a narrow gauge railway running through it! Well lets go!
The sun was shining and the heat was on, so what better way to indulge than with a walk around the RSPB Reserve at Dungeness. Apart from the many waterfowl that come here to swim in the lakes and ponds, and the many song birds, it also plays host to an array of butterflies and Damson Flies, we even caught site of our first English Lizard!
Dungeness is a very unique place and what better way to travel through its extraordinary countryside than by taking the narrow gauge train of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
The line was constructed in the 1920’s on the site of the closed standard gauge railway by the race drivers Captain J.E.P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski.
Artefacts from the previous railway such as old railway carriages can still be seen, previously abandoned they have been reused and converted into homes and are a unique site in the village of Dymchurch. Here, the old line used to connect with various narrow gauge lines working along the coast, of which, this particular one is actually expanding rather than eroding and can be evidenced by how far away from the sea the light houses have become.
So are we going to get back to wine??? We hear you cry! Yes, we could not end our journey without calling in on two more important English wine producers. Important due to their production of sizeable quantities of English wine and both are household names.
So it was back to Tenterden and the chance to go and explore Chapel Down.
We had booked onto one of their vineyard and winery tours and decided that we would also try out their new stylish restaurant.
The tour took us on an A to Z of wine production and enabled us to see this on a much bigger scale, which ended in a tasting that included most of their range. Anything that was not included in the tasting that we would like to try, we found that we could ask for at the counter and our request would be obliged.
Chapel Down also produce an excellent beer that goes under the name of: Curious Brew – a lager made from Champagne yeast and well worth a try!
The food in the restaurant was excellent. Kel had his with the: Chapel Down Union Red: Pinot Noir, Rondo, Pinot Noir Precoce – Dark purple in colour and had a lot of dark fruity aromas on the nose, he did find that on the palate, as with so many English reds, this soon dissipated and the finish was a tad short as there didn’t feel to be enough tannin to keep the structure going.
An enjoyable day indeed!
Denbies Wine Estate
After leaving Kent and homewards bound, we crossed the border into Surrey for our final wine visit to Denbies Wine Estate. Situated in Dorking, literally just off the M25, its history lies in a farm that once stood there in the 18th century but now lays claim to being the country’s biggest single vineyard at 265 acres.
Denbies produces quite a wide range of wines – still, sparkling and dessert at reasonable prices.
We must say that the estate is more in line with a large farm shop and function venue than a typical winery. However, don’t let this deter you from paying a visit and trying some of their wines.
We took home with us a bottle of their: Surrey Gold: A blend of Müller-Thurgau, Ortega and Bacchus – herbal, fruity, citric with elderflower aromas.
And so our 2012 English vineyard tour comes to an end. We were now convinced that English wine has an important role to play in the world of wine, something that we felt needed sharing.
After successfully hosting our first private tasting, our scheduled English fizz analysis became more of a celebratory one. However, being the “professionals” that we are, we didn’t let this detract away from our duty.
Tonight’s tipple came from The Bolney Estate, Sussex:
Bolney Classic Cuvee Brut 2007, Pinor Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay – This sparkler was a lovely golden colour with a soft pink tinge, revealing its Pinot Noir dominance, with persistent bubbles and a delicate, lasting mousse. Raspberries and apples stood out on the nose and palate accompanied by a creamy texture in the mouth. Even at 2007, we feel that this fizz is still evolving and would probably benefit from being stashed away, allowing the acidity to soften out, for a few more years yet.
We’d best get another bottle then!
Limited stock currently on offer at the Estate’s shop for £19.99.
English wine (we say English as we have yet to visit vineyards in Wales) has come a long way, especially in the past 10-15 years, having moved away from the “hobbyist” culture that it was once perceived. It also has to be recognised that overall, the English wine scene is a recent phenomena that has around 60 years of practice under its belt – not a lot then compared to our counterparts where most have hundreds, if not thousands, of years experience behind them. Yes, it could be argued that the Romans may have cultivated vines, followed by monks and finally, some early attempts to re-establish viticulture in the early part of the Twentieth Century. However, we would argue that today’s culture has it origins in the 1950’s.
So, we would like to say at this point, haven’t we done well! Not only are great wines being made but internationally award winning great wines and with this emphasis, we need to be far kinder about this produce than often we are.
We still find introducing English wines a bit of a challenge, particularly with those who claim to enjoy wine. Often, English wine is still perceived as dull, acidic, expensive and no where near to being on par with its foreign counterparts. Then there is the choice of grape varieties that often have their pedigree linked to memories of a bland, acidic oxidised wine that was often the norm between the 1970 – 1990’s – and who can blame folk for thinking this way. However, it is time to shake off this perception. Yes, there will probably always be wines that resemble this description (and this can be said for wines produced in other countries – France, for example, can produce some terrible wines as well as some of the worlds most outstanding) but we think that this image no longer has any real credibility.
Wine making and production still remains in the embryonic stages of development and with this should be seen the advantages, such as the ability to experiment. This can include anything from vineyard management, the chosen varieties, sourcing and winemaking to mention just a few. We have already seen on our travels some great thinkers and innovators that we are sure will become leading figures in the British wine industry. From here, it would be hoped that we can now begin to define our wines and terroir.
We never cease to be amazed at how good English fizz is and have tasted some especially outstanding examples on this current jaunt. White wines are also beginning to come into their own and again examples can be drawn from many producers of well made wines at reasonable prices that are on par with their European equivalents. However for us, the jury is still out on English reds. We would describe most that we have tasted over the years as “all boob tube and miniskirts” – all up front as well as low in acidity and tannins. Some recent reds do seem to be showing improvement, especially in the length and finish and we have had a good example of a Pinot Noir. Time will tell we suppose and this will not prevent us from continuing to sample and taste.
A particular bugbear that we thought could be easily remedied is that of communication between potential customer and producer. Far too frequently did we come across websites that were out of date, giving the wrong information and often omitting as to whether they were linked via Facebook or Twitter, as well as emails and telephone messages not responded to. Poor signage as to the location of wineries that are advertised as being open to the public doesn’t help create a positive impression for the growing wine tourism industry – you know who you are!
Another is price versus quality. Most wines we encountered on our recent trip came into the £10 – £25 bracket, which isn’t bad at all when you compare this to wines from around the world and we would also say that the quality often matched this. English wine production is small-scale and often includes labour-intensive practices from just a few people, this will push up prices and should be taken into consideration. However, there are still one or two producers whose pricing vis-à-vis the quality of their wines simply does not add up and this will sadly reflect on people’s perceptions and give an excuse not to buy English. It will be a hard push to persuade anyone to buy a bottle of mediocre wine anywhere from £20 to over £50, when there are such great wines at more reasonable prices from other countries that are also not from high-output, mechanised producers – come on… we can do better than this!
However bugbears apart, this should not deter anyone from searching out or becoming more familiar with English wines – it would be a real shame not to and we should be proud of our producers and the commitment that they have made to making some very wonderful wines that we can call our very own. Go get……..!!!!