Wine around the Downs
This is English Wine Week and here in the South Downs we’ve got a lot to celebrate. Our (usually) sunny and (supposedly) warming climate, together with favourable soil that closely resembles the Champagne region of France, has produced an explosion of wine making in West Sussex in recent decades.
With both classic sparkling wine varietals such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and grapes for still wines such as Bacchus and Rondo, all thriving in the Sussex Weald we couldn’t be more spoilt for choice.
So in English Wine Week, why not take a tour of our local vineyards. Almost all offer tours and tastings, and you can usually book the tours and buy the wines online. If you can’t make it in person, then take a ‘virtual’ tour and treat yourself to a bottle from each one!
Nyetimber is probably one of the best known wine makers in the area, with vineyards in West Sussex and Hampshire. Owner and CEO, Eric Heerema’s vision from the start was to rival the best wine in the world, including Champagne. Nyetimber’s winemaker Cherie Spriggs believes that what distinguishes an outstanding wine from a good one is precision and attention to detail in every part of the process, every day. It seems to have paid off – in 2016 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC), they were awarded the English Wine Producer of the Year.
Snapping at their heels, are the wines of Wiston Estate at Washington. Owned and managed by the Goring family since 1743, it was only in 2006 that the first vines were planted on the Estate, after Harry Goring succumbed to the lifelong ambition of his wife, Pip, to plant a vineyard . Under the direction of winemaker Dermot Sugrue, Wiston Wines were chosen by Decanter magazine experts to be amongst the sparkling wines and Champagne that most impressed them in 2016.
Down in Halnaker, near Chichester, The Tinwood Estate is also making a name for its wines on land originally purchased by a Dutchman to grow lettuces. Ten years ago his son, Art Tukker, found a much better use for the land and has planted almost 100000 vines on his 65 acres of chalky, flinty soil. And if you happen to indulge a touch too much on your tour, then you could always stay in one of the three luxury lodges on the Estate.
The wines of the Blackdown Ridge Estate near Haslemere are the result of the vision of owner, Professor Martin Cook, who has lived on the estate for 20 years. A passionate wine-lover, Martin was inspired to create his vineyard when an Italian family friend and winemaker suggested that the beautiful south-facing slopes of Blackdown would be perfect for growing vines.
Stopham Vineyard, near Pulborough, specialises in white wine production from hand-harvested grapes grown in a vineyard next to the River Arun. Director of Winemaking, Simon Woodhead, came into winemaking after a career in design for a Formula 1 team so presumably applies the same precision and attention to detail in his winery. Stopham’s debut 2010 vintage (a still dry white, pinot blanc) is stocked by Raymond Blanc’s fashionable Le Manoir au Quat’Saisons restaurant, and was served to the Queen and Prince Philip on the royal barge during their golden wedding anniversary celebrations
Just up the road from Stopham are Nutbourne Vineyards, a family run boutique wine producer of award winning still and sparkling wines. Owned by the Gladwin family (who know a thing or two about fine dining and catering), the winery is headed up by consultant Wine Maker, Owen Elias, several times winner of the UK Wine Maker of the Year. One of the pioneers of wine grape growing in the UK, the Estate now produces between 40000 and 60000 bottles a year.
Coming back East along the A272 you’ll find Upperton Vineyards at Tillington. First planted by Andy Rogers in 2005 with 800 trial vines initially for still wine production, additional vines for high quality sparkling wine were subsequently planted and there are now 32000 vines at Upperton. The vineyard is now a family affair with son James as Vineyard Manager and daughters Heidi and Sarah joining to help visitors understand and enjoy the wines.
With such perfect soil and a growing industry in the area, it’s no wonder we are now seeing the emergence of micro-vineyards such as Trotton Vineyards near Rogate and Coldharbour Vineyard at Pulborough. The former send their grapes to Simon Woodhead at Stopham for the winemaking and the latter use the skills they first honed at Nyetimber.
It’s an exciting time West Sussex wines and we looking forward to supporting them all in English Wine Week 2017.