Tell us about yourself…
I’m Hugo Corney, 46, of Court Garden vineyard in Ditchling. I trained as a Chartered Accountant before going on to study wine production at Plumpton College. You could say I’ve gone from bean-counter to grape berry-counter.
When was Court Garden established?
Our family moved to Court Garden Farm in 1996 and initially ran it as a sheep farm – hence the picture of a sheep on the neck label of our bottles. In 2001 when the Foot and Mouth crisis hit the country, although the outbreak didn’t reach our flock, we were no longer able to sell our produce profitability due to the restrictions on live stock movements.
We opened a farm shop on site to sell directly to the consumer and this provided a financial life line for the family farm. At the time, farmers’ markets and other farm shops were gaining a following with consumers ever keener to purchase as close to source as possible and we really enjoyed the social interaction this provided. In 2005, we decided to diversify further by planting six acres of vines which has now grown to 17 acres. Our shop customers helped us pick the grapes and still to this day our grapes are picked by the Court Garden community of friends.
There must be in excess of 70 vineyards now in production in Sussex. What makes Court Garden unique?
Court Garden is special because it sits in the foot of the South Downs in the village of Ditchling, just 10 miles north of Brighton. We only use the grapes we lovingly grow at Court Garden to make our wine and this allows us to make a wine with a true expression of the mesoclimate we have. We hand pick the grapes and press these grapes in small batches within 150 metres of the vineyard. The wines are fermented under cool conditions to help retain the flavours and aromas from the day of harvest to the day the wine is enjoyed in the glass.
Is sustainability an important part of the business?
We encourage natural habitats and biodiversity around the farm, and maintain ancient woodlands and hedgerows. We have wildflower meadows, seven ponds and a vast array of wildlife enjoy lives on the farm. The close proximity of our winery facilities to our vineyard improves the sustainability of the grape harvesting and processing cycle.
There is the perception amongst some consumers that English wines are expensive. Did you make a conscious decision to keep your pricing accessible?
We have always wanted our wines to be positioned price-wise to encourage consumers to try.
Sussex is clearly renowned for Champagne-grape sparkling wines but do you think Sussex still wines are starting to find a unique identity too?
We have found that our still wines are gaining in popularity and with this they’re gaining their own identity when compared to our sparkling wines. This is in part driven by consumers enthusiasm to source local produce and also in part due to forward thinking restaurants and pubs celebrating local produce including regional wines. When on holiday abroad, it’s normal to be enjoying the local foods and wines and this excitingly is becoming much more the case in this country. Our 2015 Ditchling White – a still white wine – won the South East Vineyard Association 2016 ‘Wine of the Year’ trophy.
There is ongoing talk in the industry about establishing a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for Sussex wine. What are your thoughts on that?
This is an exciting scheme. In time as consumers continue to enjoy the wines they come across there are likely to be schemes like this forming across our country’s wine regions.
Any notable recent accolades that you are particularly proud of?
We were very excited by two gold medals at the International Wine & Spirit competition (IWSC) last year; both wines being awarded 96 our 100 points and then being short-listed for International Sparkling wine producer of the year 2021.
Is 2022 going to be a good year for Sussex wine?
At Court Garden we have had five frost events this Spring. When these events occur, the family get up in the early hours and light bougies [candles] to warm the vineyard to reduce the freezing effects of the frost on the vines buds. The vineyard is looking healthy and showing almost no signs of frost damage. We still have a long way to go in the vineyard growing season however we are optimistic that this year could be kind to us.
Can people visit the vineyard?
We are open for tours, tastings and picnics in the vineyard most Saturdays during the year. We also host private events in our beautiful Sussex barn. We are launching a ‘Words with Wine’ event on Wednesday 6th July where well known authors discuss books with a wine aspect. We also have the Brighton Singers’ performing in June and hope to have operas again in the future.
Where can people buy your wines?
Our wines are available to purchase at Quaff and Ten Green Bottles in Brighton. We have a cellar door where visitors can join a tour, have a tasting or purchase wine. We also have a online shop at www.courtgarden.com.