With the English grape harvest now well underway, Nick Mosley talks to some of Sussex’s smaller wine producers who picked up a slew of Gold medals at the recent Independent English Wine Awards.
Seemingly never a month goes by without the announcement of a new vineyard planting in Sussex. The agricultural landscape of the South Downs is changing, with both the chalky south facing hills and the rich farming land of the Weald hosting an abundance of vineyards and wineries producing both sparkling and still wines.
Last month saw the annual Independent English Wine Awards (IEWA) results announced. Now in its fifth year, this year’s competition was its largest to date, both in terms of entrants and and number of wines entered.
With a 24-judge panel chaired by Master of Wine Liam Steevenson, the consumer-focused blind tasted competition awarded 17 Gold medals and 119 medals in all.
This year, three Golds came home to Sussex: Coolhurst Vineyards, Sparkling Rosé 2016; Oastbrook Estate, Chardonnay 2020; and Woodreed Vineyard, ’Hunter’ Classic Cuvée 2018.
“That the Sussex Gold winners are all lesser-known producers is interesting,” said Alexander Taylor, founder of IEWA. “It is a fascinating indicator that the more boutique and artisanal wine producers are raising their game, and that really high quality can be found among them”.
Oastbrook Estate is located at Robertsbridge in East Sussex. Owned by winemaker America Brewer – who hails from Brazil – and her husband Nick Brewer, the vineyard was planted in 2018.
“Sussex has started to build a world-beating reputation for our sparkling wines,” said Nick. “But we are also very excited to be part of the new English still wine revolution. We planted a combination of Champagne and still varietals so we would be able to make both still and sparkling wine”.
“The Best in Completion award we received for our Chardonnay Reserve 2020 was very special for us as it was the first still Chardonnay that we have made from our grapes,” said Nick. “It was made only in a very small quantity of just two barrels. The wine was tank fermented and aged in a combination of old and new oak for just over six months before bottling”.
Over in Horsham, West Sussex, Charlie Scrase Dickens of Coolhurst Vineyards is proud of the Gold medal awarded to their sparkling rosé made exclusively from Pinot Noir.
“Our Lady Elizabeth Rosé 2016 is a very special wine that is single varietal, single vintage and single vineyard,” said Charlie. “It’s had 40 months on its lees [residual yeast left in bottle] and nearly a year on cork”.
“We strive to make a high quality product every year even at the expense of yield. Our motto is 'Limited Quantity, Unlimited Quality’”.
“The IEWA awards are close to our heart in that we are exclusively measured alongside our peers from the UK. The international comparisons – not least to our French cousins –are put aside for once”.
Robert Hunter of Woodreed Vineyard at Five Ashes in East Sussex worked alongside renowned Sussex organic winemaker Will Davenport who helped in production of their Gold winning ‘Hunter’ Classic Cuvée 2018.
“We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded a Gold medal in the recent IEWAs, especially with our debut vintage,” said Robert. “2018 was a great year for English vineyards and particularly for those in Sussex which is reflected in the quality of the wine”.
IEWA judges agreed that the ‘Hunter’ was a particularly well-balanced sparkling wine with a “vibrant nose, with floral and almond notes. Excellent mouthfeel with great flavour development. Clearly well made, and portraying 2018 really well”.
With this year’s IEWA Gold medal winners following in the footsteps of longer-established Sussex champions from previous years including Breaky Bottom, Stopham Estate and Wiston Estate, it’s clear that the county will continue to be a leading player in the English wine industry – whether in terms of quality, volume or winemaker skill – in the decades to come. And with English wines now widely available not only in independent vintners but also the supermarkets, 2021 is the perfect year to enjoy wines produced right here on our doorstep.