THE biggest surprise from meeting vineyard owners in East Anglia yesterday is that I have been drinking Essex wines for years without realising it. It turns out that East Anglia – and Essex in particular – is a huge exporter of grapes to familiar vineyards such as Chapel Down and Camel Valley. Some estimates suggest that the multi-prize winning New Hall Vineyards alone accounts for around 25% of bottles sold in the UK. Whether this is a slight exaggeration or not, it is clear that East Anglia is a hidden hero of the UK wine revival.
So, it is no great shock to learn that East Anglia walked off with more gold medals and trophies than any other region in the English Vineyard awards this year. Thus far the region has been happy to hide its success behind a barrel as its two dozen or so vineyards have been able to selll pretty well all they make either locally or to the big boys down south. Now this is changing. Yesterday’s tasting for trade press prior to a very tasty dinner at the delightful West Street Vineyard at Coggeshall, Essex vineyard was the start of a move to project its image to the rest of the world. Unsurprisingly in these circumstances I was impressed with the standard of the wines we tasted especially the Bacchus based whites from New Hall, Giffords Hall and Lavenham Brook. The 2012s – stocks of which, surprise, surprise, are already running out – are inevitably less mature than the 2011s but most of the visitors were well pleased. There were some very nice sparkling wines as well such as New Hall’s English Rosé 2010 which may have helped its owner Piers Greenwood to be voted English Wine maker of the year. East Anglia is hoping to get the region designated as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) under EU rules based on how well the Bacchus vine grows in a region which claims to have a very low rainful. This could be very important in selling abroad particularly in the Far East.
West Street is one of the few vineyards in the country to sell other English wines as well as its own so I took the opportunity to buy a sparkling white from Leeds based Leventhorpe in Yotkshire and a Renushaw Hall Madeleine from Derbyshire – the first time I will have tasted wines from either county.
Meanwhile, one has to take one’s hat off to the vineyards of East Anglia which have been hiding their qualities for far too long.
Victor Keegan @BritishWino @vickeegan
Brian Edwards and Sarah Bell
It is not often I have the chance of visiting a vineyard with no less than 430 different varieties of vine on display. But yesterday was the annual open day for Sunnybank Vine Nursery run by Sarah Bell and Richard Stow. It is home to the National Collection of Vines spread in neat formation across 0.4 remote hectares in rolling Herefordshire countryside facing Garway Hill, once owned by the Knights Templar.
I had the pleasure of being shown around by Sarah who bought the vineyard in 2008 knowing very little about vines. She has learned fast, helped by Brian Edwards, the former founder-owner (above with Sarah) , who joined us walking up and down between the rows commenting on the pros and cons of every vine within sight. I couldn’t help asking them what vine they would recommend for would-be amateur wine makers wanting to avoid complications (who could I have been thinking about?).
Interestingly, from all of the 430 varieties around them they both chose the same two: Seyval, which “ripens right up to Yorkshire” for white wines and Rondo (“early ripening on any site”) for red.
Some of the 430 varieties
Other tips – Don’t even think of trying to grow the claret grape Cabernet Sauvignon in the UK (though Cabernet Cortis is a fair English substitute for it). Shiraz is no good in the UK either. Seiggerrebe can make a good wine but is a small cropper Triomphe d Alsace is effectively disease resistance.
Sarah, whose day job is in the software industry, finances the vineyard by selling roots and cuttings during the dormant season (November to March) from her website www.sunnybankvines.co.uk
Follow me on Twitter @BritishWino
First, because Chapel Down – for it is they – make good multiple prizewinning wines in a charming backwater of Kent. I am already a regular buyer. Second, it is rather nice, dare I say romantic?, to own a tiny bit – actually a very tiny bit - of one of our oldest vineyards in the midst of the Great British Wine Revival.
OK, there’s a third reason. The perks. If you buy a minimum of 2,000 shares – which cost me less than £400 a couple of weeks ago (excluding dealing costs) – you get a mouth-watering 33% reduction on the ex-vineyard price of their wines plus a 25% reduction on meals at the Swan restaurant attached to the vineyard.
Which is one of the main reasons we made our first visit yesterday. Four of us shared a £20 cab ride from Headcorn station ten miles away. We were not disappointed. Chapel Down, despite being one of the largest vineyards in the country has managed to retain an intimacy which others, such as the admirable Denbies in Dorking, are in danger of losing. Battalions of vines fill neighbouring softly undulating fields, laden with sumptious fruit from this year’s bountiful crop so neat they may have been manicured.
Lunch at the Swan above the shop – filled to capacity on a September Tuesday – was delcious for me though two of my companions couldn’t finish their Dover sole which they thought was too salty and dry (and were given a rebate by the manager). This was washed down with a Chardonnay from their nearby Kit’s Coty estate which was a joy to drink though expensive with quite a steep cash markup on the price of a bottle in the shop below (as if I should care as a shareholder with a 33% discount!)
Chapel Down is one of the best managed vineyards in the country but their shares as the FT and others have pointed out are risky as they are as much a bet on the weather as the company. But buying a small number of shares is a no-brainer – as long as you like their wines. My purchase of the minimum number to qualify for the perks (2,000 shares) cost me £395 plus £46.98 in commissions and charges. This is money that would otherwise be sitting in a current account at near-zero interest. After one visit to the restaurant and the purchase of one bottle of Pinot Noir I have already recouped the dealing charges and if I continue to buy their wines (and count the money I save through my 33% discount as a return on my investment) then Chapel Down shares will have one of the highest dividend yields on the stock market irrespective of what happens to the share price (though it has risen over ten per cent since my purchase a few weeks ago). If you don’t fancy shares the most cost-effective way of buying Chapel Down wines is through the Wine Society (recently voted Decanter wine merchant of the year for the third year running) where they are significantly cheaper than buying from the vineyard.
Bride Valley Vineyard, Dorset, grower of classic grapes for sparkling wine
From Victor Keegan’s new book Alchemy of Age published this week
What makes Champagne go full throttle
Is secondary fermentation in a bottle.
This is an invention without which
Sparkling wine would be mere kitsch.
And who made this spectacular advance?
In folk law, a monk, Dom Perignon of France.
But wait. hear Christopher Merrett’s scientific view,
Which he wrote in a paper in sixteen hundred and sixty two
Without any mock Gallic piety,
He told the newly formed Royal Society
He’d invented this huge oenological advance
That let wine ferment in bottles first,
That were strong enough not to burst.
Britain’s gift to an ungrateful France -
It created that country’s strongest brand.
So, let’s raise a glass in our hand,
To a great man’s invention from afar
And drink to the Methode – not Champenois
But Merrettois. Let all by their merrets be
Judged that the whole world can see
That however we may be thought insane,
We gave the French – for free – Champagne
You can buy Alchemy of Age here
Posted by Victor Keegan
on July 07, 2013
A defining feature of the UK economy in recent decades has been the policy of successive governments that it doesn’t matter who owns our industries or sporting activities as long as the action stays in the UK. The Government didn’t care that all the banks in the City were foreign-owned, that our airports were owned by the Spanish, our mass car manufacturers by the Japanese, Germans and others. Likewise our football teams and newspapers.
There was even a name for this policy which I first heard in Japan over 20 years ago: the “Wimbledonisation” of the economy. At first I thought this was a reference to my football team, Wimbledon, as in plucky players punching above their weight. But they explained it was a tennis analogy. It didn’t matter that a British man never won Wimbledon because London hosted the tournament and shared in the huge revenues and prestige that the tournament brings. The same argument has been used to justify all the other sell-offs from utilities to football teams. But now we are on new ground. Andy Murray has become the first male to win Wimbledon for 77 years and may have brought the era of Wimbledonisation to an end.
Maybe the seismic plates were already changing and Murray merely reflecting them. The last two consumer products I have purchased were both made in the UK, a Rasberry Pi micro computer (designed in Cambridge and production recently switched from China to Wales) and two G-Tech vaccuum cleaners made in Worcester. We are in the midst of a startling revival of our domestic vineyards led by our sparkling whites winning global prizes against Champagne and other makes. What is happening?
It has always been on the cards that physical factors like rising prices in China and the fact that increasing automation reduces labour costs as a proportion of final output would one day shift the centre of gravity of manufacturing back towards the UK. Anecdotal evidence I have been hearing from businessmen about the advantages of having plant nearer home was confirmed in a recent survey by Business Birmingham and YouGov. It revealed that 51 percent of companies surveyed plan to boost production capacity in the UK. Almost a third of senior British manufacturing decision-makers who currently use overseas suppliers say their business plans over the next five years include sourcing more components from the UK.and nearly two-thirds (56 percent) of these say hiring more staff is likely.
Doubtless if this happens the Government will try to take the credit but the evidence is that if anything it is happening despite official policies that have led to banks refusing to extend loans to businesses, particularly smaller ones. It would be silly to credit Andy Murray with any manufacturing revival except that he has shown that, with determination and grit, it really is possible to bring it all back home.
Posted by Victor Keegan
on May 31, 2013
David Morris, winemaker at Ancre with a bottle of the vineyard’s global winner – a 2008 sparkling white
(Reprinted from Village News, Goodrich, Herefordshire as typical of what is happening in the UK)
There is a palpable buzz in the air even on a misty day when you visit the Ancre Hill vineyard just outside Monmouth, less than 9 miles from Goodrich. This is not surprising because Ancre recently won a prize for the best sparkling wine. Not for the best in Monmouthshire, not for the best in Wales nor indeed Great Britain. Its 2008 vintage was voted the best sparkling wine in the world in a prestigious competition in Verona, Italy in a blind tasting – which included some Champagnes – by a couple of dozen international experts. This is the biggest boost the Welsh wine industry has ever had but such was the shock it wasn’t even reported in the Monmouthshire Beacon.
David Morris , the winemaker whose parents own Ancre, takes it all in his stride. This is not surprising because he was a manager at Nyetimber when the West Sussex vineyard won the same prize in 2009 which helped established British sparkling whites as among the best in the world. He is clearly confident about the future. He thinks that Ancre’s still whites have as least as good prospects as the sparkling ones and that the 2009 sparkling is better than the prize-winning 2008 which has now sold out. He puts part of the success of the 10-acre vineyard down to its biodynamic principles and the meso-climate of this part of the Wye Valley which gets lots of sunshine even when you can see rain over the Brecon Beacons.Chinn-Chinn, a lovely sparkling white grown in the field above by the UK’s major asparagus farmer
Ancre is but the most recent star of a cluster of vineyards that have blossomed in this area in recent years. There are approaching 20 vineyards within 20 miles of Goodrich led by Three Choirs near Newent now one of the UK’s most successful vineyards several of whose wines are sold by the very picky Wine Society. Three Choirs offers accommodation and a fine restaurant overlooking its slopes and is well worth a visit. It also processes the grapes from other vineyards too small to do it themselves like the nearby Strawberry Hill which produces lovely sparkling and still wines and is the only vineyard in the country to grow grapes under vast greenhouses. Nearby also is St Anne’s in Newent whose wines can be bought from the vineyard or at farmers’ markets.
Among those closest to Goodrich are two off the Walford road to Ross-on-Wye. Frank Myers started planting 3.5 acres in the land around the wonderful Tudor mansion Wythall two years ago and hopes to be harvesting in another two years. Further on, along the turning through Coughton, Ccbrey Farm, famous for its asparagus, has set aside a few acres to grow grapes for sparkling white wine. Since the Chinn family has lived there for hundreds of years there was only one thing they could call it – Chinn-Chinn. The first vintage 2006 won a silver medal from Decanter magazine and the 2007, now available for sale, is at least as good. It can be bought from their web site www.cobrey.co.uk or tasted at the Mill Race restaurant in Walford.
Other nearby vineyards include Treago at St Weonards, the excellent Monow Valley in Monmouth, Wernddu at Pen-y-clawdd (1.5 acres) and Parva Farm at Tintern. John Boyd grows grapes on his half-an-acre vineyard st Upton Bishop which is sold to local shops and pubs like the Moody Cow. The one in the gardens of the Pengethley Hotel appears to be resting and two tiny ones at Llangrove (featured in the Village News a decade ago) have fallen by the wayside. Otherwise the area’s contribution to Britain’s viticultural revival, appears to be in rude health despite the calamitous weather of 2012 which has severely affected harvests everywhere.
Meanwhile, vineyards are creeping ever closer to Goodrich itself. One wonders how long it will be before the village itself, once famous for its cider, has a vineyard of its own.
Victor Keegan has a Twitter feed @vickeegan and also @BritishWino aimed (independently) at promoting English and Welsh wines
Posted by Victor Keegan
on February 06, 2013
Tomorrow (Thursday Feb 7) there will be an art auction in aid of CRISIS of the wonderful paintings of Kevin Fitzpatrick the cabbie artist who financed his work by learning The Knowledge and who very sadly died last year. Some of them are quite large and would look great in a corporate setting or in a large room. From time to time I have drawn attention to his remarkable paintings and installations on Flickr and Twitter and you can see from the ones in the picture how good they are.
Please come along to tomorrow’s event whether to buy or to socialise. You can view the pictures most of the day or join the event proper from 6pm until 9pm with the auction scheduled to start at 7pm. There will be a cash bar. All the proceeds will go to help CRISIS, the great charity that is hosting the event. We look forward to welcoming you at Bermondsey Project, Ground Floor Gallery, 46 Willow Walk, SE1 5SF or 15 mins walk from Bermondsey or London Bridge stations. More info Dan Keegan 07811 365 046 firstname.lastname@example.org
This link takes you to a Flickr set showing some of his artwork including the installation at Central St Martins involving cabbies taking the knowledge.