Last week I had the pleasure of taking a wee trip down to the Bolney Wine Estate, located in the heart of Sussex and around 13 miles in-land from Brighton. Despite the amazing English summer weather, (if you’re a duck!) we had a fantastically warm welcome from the guy’s there who were celebrating the opening of a new Cafe & wine tour shop that is well worth a visit if you are in the area and fancy a classic British cream tea. The cafe is open Wednesdays-Fridays (8am-4pm) and they run tours of the winery 3 times a day on Wednesday, Friday & Saturday.
The estate was established in 1972 by Janet & Rodney Pratt and was then known as Bookers Vineyard with just 3 acres of vines. Over the years this has grown to 39 acres and the wine is now made by Samantha Linter, daughter of the founders and a graduate of nearby Plumpton College who seem to be churning out some of the U.K’s top oenologists.
English still wine as you can imagine is no way near reaching the heights of quality found in other classic wine growing regions, which is not surprising as we are at the very limits of the northerly wine making world (Zone A). However, due to shared knowledge, advances in science and technology and better education, today’s wine makers have never been so well equipped to make the best possible wine from the grapes they harvest.
But as we all know, great wine is made in the vineyard not the winery, so we are left to the mercy of the weather each year, and aim for good vineyard management while the vines slowly age giving us more concentrated fruit. Climate change may help somewhat in giving us temperatures not seen since the middle ages but I have a feeling that due to this being a man made problem rather than just a temperature spike the increased rainfall caused by global warming may cancel this plus out somewhat. What is clear is that we are now making incredibly drinkable everyday still wines that can give a huge amount of pleasure and there have been many times of late that I have enjoyed a bottle of English Bacchus (Bolney’s is ace!) over things like kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s always better to consume local produce rather than something that has had to travel from the other side of the planet.
Michael Bublés – The Rise & Rise of English Bubbles
Sparkling English wine is a completely different matter, we are making some incredible sparklers that are more than holding their own on at international level. Sparkling wine has had one hell of a year in 2012 and seems to be going from strength to strength, this has been spurred along by events like the royal wedding, queens Jubilee and Olympics giving a sense of national pride & something to celebrate. There has also been plenty of positive press on national T.V such as Hairy Bikers (episode 11) and most prominently on The Apprentice (episode 9) when the teams where tasked to market English Sparkling wine rather hilarious results.
These program’s will have done a great deal of good to raise the profile of English sparkling wine but is still in a market place that is dominated by one of the world’s greatest and most fiercely protected brands – Champagne. There has been plenty of talk within the trade about a generic name to market our sparklers under such as Britagne (pronounced-Britannia) or Merret (relating to Dr. Christopher Merret) but no one will agree so it is unlikely either will be widely adopted. But a term already in use by many of my friends – ‘Michaels’, after another British treasure and worldwide super star, Michael Bublé! We could even just call them Bublés in a sort of posh version of cockney rhyming slang, (just a thought!). According to The Duchess of Cornwall it ‘is champagne’, which while not geographically true (your about 800km off my dear!), you can see where she is coming from with regards to quality.
There is a full Bolney’s wines here and below are my top three picks from their range.
Bolney Estate Blanc De Blanc 2007 £25.99
This really is impressive stuff and proved it recently by winning the Gold Outstanding Medal at the International Wine & Spirits Challenge, one of the world top wine competitions. Made from 100% Chardonnay this has a very appealing nose of meringue and whipped cream with a touch of lemon, the palate has a fine acidity that reveals itself on the length and refined, sumptuous grapefruit & lemon fruits. 91pts.
Boney Estate Bacchus 2011 £15.95 (Cellar door)
Bolney make one of the U.K’s best examples of Bacchus, a grape variety that is a crossing of (silvaner x Riesling) x Muller Thurgau, unfortunately they don’t make a huge amount (around 600 bottles). This wine is like a bit like a Kiwi Sauvignon that has been dialed down a few levels (just below a Loire Sauv) but manages to keep some really lovely herbaceous notes along with grapefruit and lime fruit with a softer acidity. 89pts
Bolney Estate Foxhole Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011
This may be a rather straight forward wine but is a good example of cold climate Pinot Noir, cherry fruit with good clarity and a nice lick of spice. Would be perfect, lightly chilled on a hot summer’s day with the BBQ hissing away in the back ground. 88pts
The estate also make a sparkling rosé for Waitrose called Sirrius that is widely available and a great introduction to their bubbles. For something a bit more off the wall they also produce a sparkling red wine (you heard me!) called Cuvée Noir that is worth a try and a good example, if that sort of thing floats your boat.
Bolney also make wine on the behalf of other vineyards, one of which is the (in)famous Château Tooting, not really a vineyard in the traditional sense, rather a wine made from grapes grown in and around South London gardens & allotments by keen amateurs who want a couple of bottles to call their own!
So there you are some very good local vino & a great place to visit not too far out from London, drop by and check it out.