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Pop a bottle of Sussex for English Wine Week 2024



Roebuck Estate

Wine lovers rejoice as the annual English Wine Week pops its cork once again from Saturday 15 June, writes Nick Mosley.


My, how the English – and for that matter, Welsh – wine industry has come along over the past decade. With around 950 vineyards growing grapes from Cornwall to Kent and from the sunny south coast to North Yorkshire, the industry is thriving.


Compared to the Mediterranean and many regions across the central belt of Europe, our spectred isle has been challenged by a too cool and inconsistent north west European climate but there is plenty of evidence that England has historically been a wine producing region in the past. A couple of millennia ago, the Romans were definitely not shy to plant vines around their towns and villas. But the ‘Little ice age’ put pay to wine making in England due to a significant drop in temperatures in North Atlantic regions from 1300-1850.


Following a couple of centuries of hiatus, English grown and produced wine only took a serious leap forward in the 1950s with the first commercial vineyard – Hambledon in Hampshire – planting Seyval Blanc. It’s probably fair to say at the time that based on the climate at that time, it was a good bet to focus on hybrids and traditional German varietals as perhaps whilst not to everyone’s pallet, they did offer consistency. And to be fair, those vines are still producing pretty good Bacchus, Riesling, Dornfelder, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.


English wine’s true renaissance started in the 1980s, taking advantage of a marginal increase in temperature and notably – the realisation that much of the south of England sits on the same limestone ridge that starts in the Loire region of France, runs through Champagne, and finishes on the South Downs. There’s no doubt that a fair number of individuals who’d made a bob-or-two in the City of London and enjoyed holidays in Tuscany or Provence also saw an opportunity to live-the-dream.


In more recent years, the industry has got a lot more serious with talent coming from all over the world and considerable investment from some of the most renowned wine houses including Taittinger and Pommery from France and Freixenet from Spain. This demonstrates confidence that England is becoming a world-class wine producing region.




Pinot Noir grapes on the vine at Pommery's Pinglestone Estate

"As the fastest growth sector in UK agriculture, the expansion of the English Wine Industry is hugely exciting, providing more local jobs and attracting overseas interest.”, said Will Perkins, head winemaker at Pommery’s Pinglestone Estate. “Ensuring that the qualitative bar is not lowered during this period of growth is vital for the longevity and acclaim of the industry on a domestic and global scale."


The hills of the South Downs themselves offer typically poor agricultural land with shallow soils – better for grazing livestock than growing crops. But perfect – with the right change in climate – for growing the grapes that include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier that seem to stand alone or combine perfectly to make mighty fine traditional method sparkling wines.


Much like myself, vines like to be stressed. A happy vine is not a productive vine in terms of fruit. You’ve got to treat them mean to keep ‘em keen.


But growing vines is one thing. Making wines that people want to buy is quite a different matter. Since 1988, Plumpton agricultural collage has offered various degree courses – from bachelors to PhDs – in viticulture, oenology and wine marketing firmly establishing Sussex as the home of English Wine. Across the two counties we have more commercial vineyards than anywhere else in the UK.




Henry Butler of Butlers Wine Cellar in Kemp Town Village, Brighton

Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a wine list at any independent or chain restaurant in the south east of England that doesn’t feature at least a couple of locally produced wines. They aren’t always the cheapest but the quality – driven by talented vineyard managers and winemakers who are slowly but surely establishing an ‘English style’ – and the marketing that has placed wines from our our small corner of the globe in fine dining restaurants from Sydney to San Francisco are second-to-none.


It would be remiss to not mention the unfailing support of independent wine retailers in their support of the emerging industry. Henry Butler from Butlers Wine Cellar in Kemp Town Village, has undoubtably been the biggest champion of Sussex wines for as long as I can remember.


“In the past month or so, we visited several Sussex vineyards including Breaky Bottom and Bee Tree,”, said Henry. “I must say the general quality levels have been great. English Wine Week really helps by shining a light on our wonderful local producers – get out there and enjoy it”.


So with English Wine Week just around the corner, here’s my guide to where you can enjoy tours, tastings, [food and drink pairings] and savour the bounty of Sussex’s biggest growing – and dare I say, most delicious – agricultural sector. Full details of English Wine Week can be found at www.winegb.co.uk.


Nick Mosley





Wines at Wiston Estate near Washington, West Sussex

Wiston Estate, Washington, West Sussex

During English Wine Week, Wiston will be offering free counter tastings of three of their wines in the Cellar Door shop. From Friday to Sunday the courtyard will be open serving Wiston’s award-winning wines and delicious nibbles – including charcuterie from neighbours Knepp Estate and local cheeses.


“It is really exciting to be part of the English wine world”, said Wiston’s winemaker Marcus Rayner-Ward. “So many exciting producers are creating wonderful wines and we particularly love being here in Sussex where the combination of soil and climate seems to be ideal for making sparkling wines.” https://www.wistonestate.com




Dine amongst the vines at Bolney Estate in West Sussex

Bolney Wine Estate, Bolney, West Sussex

Over the course of English Wine Week, visitors to Bolney can book onto ticketed events including an English Wine Week Dinner and Tastings in the Vines or visit the vineyard café or shop and freely wander around the vines with a picnic. The beautiful estate is located ten minutes away from Haywards Heath train station so an easy taxi hop for those without a car.


“It’s a very exciting time for English wine at the moment. The industry has been competing on an international level for some time now, but it’s still relatively ‘new’”, said Cara Lee Dely, head winemaker at Bolney. “This means there is still so much we can do to push the boundaries of winemaking in England, learning from what’s gone before, whilst emphasising the enormous amount of talent in the industry which can propel English wines even further forward, and on a global scale, too.” https://bolneywineestate.com




Rathfinny Estate near Alfriston, East Sussex

Rathfinny Wine Estate, Alfriston, East Sussex

As one of the largest single estate vineyards in Europe, Rathfinny is a genuinely impressive place to visit. With numerous food, drink and overnight accommodation options, its easy to while away a night or two enjoying the bon amie of the estate whilst enjoying the rolling views of the South Downs. During English Wine Week, they’ll be celebrating the best of the Sussex coast by pairing their sparkling wines with fresh seafood. Try Rathfinny’s seafood-friendly 2019 Blanc de Blancs with salmon parfait, prawn cocktail and mackerel rillette overlooking the vines.


“Our premium English sparkling wines are now exported to over thirty countries around the world as well as replacing champagne on many wine lists domestically”, said Amy Penfold of Rathfinny Estate. “This is creating skilled jobs in rural England, not just in wine production, but also in wine tourism in the Winelands of Sussex; something to cheer about”. https://rathfinnyestate.com




Roebuck Estate near Tillington, West Sussex

Roebuck Estate, Petworth, West Sussex

On Friday 21 June, Roebuck Estate in Tillington are hosting an extra special evening to celebrate one of the longest days of the year. Start with a leisurely tour of the vineyard before returning to their stunning outdoor tasting area where you can while away the evening sipping their vintage sparkling wines, sampling Roebuck Spritz and enjoying tasty grazing boards made by Olive and Bloom as the sun slowly slips behind the South Downs.

 

“Roebuck has grown alongside the interest in English Sparkling Wine we’re seeing on the world stage”, said Dani Whitehead at Roebuck. “Our recent partnership with the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, as the exclusive sparkling wine of the festival, shows just how exciting the English sparkling wine industry is right now." https://www.roebuckestates.co.uk




Brunswick Fine Wines & Spirits in New Road, Brighton

Brunswick Fine Wines & Spirits, New Road, Brighton

Brunswick Fine Wines & Spirits showcases local winemakers all year round, stocking more than 35 English whites, rosés, sparkling and even reds.! All their wines are produced in the southeast of England, the wine capital of the UK due to the relatively warmer climate which is more favourable for wine production. To celebrate the wonderful world of English wine, they’re offering free in-store tastings on a selection of local award-winning wines during English Wine Week. https://brunswickfinewines.com

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