Tright here had been three weeks of rain, and the normally pale soil was darkish and moist beneath my toes, however nonetheless the neat rows of mottled vines at Chapel Down vineyard have been picturesque beneath the cloudy skies. It might sound a shock, then, that vines in a rustic with such climate may produce one of the completely crisp wines for a heat summer season’s day.
The vines have been Bacchus, a grape of German origin which discovered its house in England. In Germany the grape ripens with a decrease acidity, however in Kent the naturally cool local weather produces a grape of upper acidity, creating one thing altogether extra attention-grabbing – fragrant, fruity and excellent with asparagus.
But it surely’s glowing wine the place the English local weather and land – terroir, maybe – actually comes into its personal. It was glowing wine which put an finish to the “joke” that has all the time been English wine. And up to now 5 years or so, the indicators of change within the English wine trade have led some to imagine not solely that the jokes are over, however that we’re on the genesis of a model new wine area – and that’s one thing you don’t see fairly often.
English – and Welsh – wine has, for therefore lengthy, barely been regarded in any respect. That is regardless of 50 per cent of the world’s Masters of Wine being British. We’re much more probably to purchase a bottle of French champagne or Italian prosecco, the place the proud traditions of winemaking return tons of of years. We’ve even let within the “new world” wines, often having fun with these from California, New Zealand and Australia. We import wine in from in all places, and but only a few individuals have even a lot as tried a wine from English soil.
On a go to to the Chapel Down vineyard in Tenterden, Kent, I discovered that English wine was about to embark on an thrilling path, free from the chains of custom – a clean slate on which to do attention-grabbing issues and attempt to do one thing totally different. I learnt that perhaps it was about time we began to totally embrace English wine.
“All of those wines are crisp, recent, gentle, delicate,” says head winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire. “In case you’re on the lookout for the thread that goes by way of all of our merchandise, that comes from our land and our local weather, it’s that sense of freshness. That’s what winemaking is about. It’s about attempting to disclose the utmost potential of your soil.”
Donaghy-Spire found wine when working in eating places as an adolescent. Stuffed with a need to know what was behind the label, he started to learn and located that there was a lot extra to wine than he had realised. He enrolled on a viticulture course at Plumpton Faculty, and spent a while in France and South Africa earlier than returning to the county of his start to make wines with Chapel Down.
“A winemaking area is barely born as soon as, and it’s occurring now,” he says. “If I went to go and work in Champagne, I don’t assume I’d be afforded the alternatives that I’ve right here. I wouldn’t be afforded the latitude of kinds that I could make. We’ve bought a clean web page and we’re writing it now. I’m not going to be so grandiose and smug to say we’re answerable for it, however we’re enjoying a small half in that, and that’s sensible. Not many individuals get to be current when a wine area is born.”
Not tied down by 350 years of custom, just like the wines of Champagne, conventional technique English glowing wine – which is the perfect type England makes – has a level of flexibility which makes it the younger, thrilling, upstart in opposition to Champagne’s distinguished older gentleman. For instance, Chapel Down now makes use of darkish glass bottles that are virtually black to have a look at. This stops the standard of the wine being affected by UV gentle within the bottle. Champagne will all the time use inexperienced, as a result of they all the time have. Likewise, the bottles at Chapel Down use particular handled corks, in order that the wine can by no means be corked, and that it’ll age at a recognized price.
Innovation within the English wine trade isn’t simply restricted to new methods. As soon as upon a time, the thought of creating a chardonnay in England was maybe extra laughable than producing a champagne-beating glowing wine. However Donaghy-Spire needed to attempt to do precisely that utilizing Chapel Down’s finest winery, Equipment’s Coty, firstly as a result of he loves chardonnay, and secondly as a result of he thought it is perhaps attainable. The product? An oaky, wealthy, fruity bottle. Chapel Down sought a chardonnay that would tackle one of the best that Chablis needed to supply and, in 2020, the 2017 classic received a gold Decanter World Wine award.
Frazer Thompson, the CEO of Chapel Down, is a fast-talking man filled with vitality, particularly when speaking about English wine. He frolicked as the worldwide model director for Heineken in Amsterdam and had a stint at Whitbread earlier than that, however when he was given his first style of English glowing wine in 2001 he not solely misplaced a wager with a pal, he ended up throwing his profession completely behind the Kent vineyard, realising that one thing particular was about to occur. Since then he has spent the previous 20 years spearheading English wine and inserting Chapel Down proper on the forefront.
The times of the English winemaking hobbyist of the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies have been over. Thompson made Chapel Down a critical and modern enterprise for the twenty first century and launched a crowdfunding marketing campaign to each elevate cash and democratise winemaking, with shareholders even receiving a 33 per cent low cost on the wine. It was one of many largest ever crowdfunding campaigns, elevating virtually £4m in simply 21 days. English wine is increasing, and, reflecting this, Chapel Down at the moment are seeking to elevate an additional £6.8m by way of Seedrs, permitting individuals to affix within the Chapel Down’s story, assist it develop and really feel part of this thrilling second in English viticulture. Thompson believes that there’s by no means been a greater time to be concerned in English wine.
“All of the circumstances are there,” he says. “The germ that lights it’s normally somebody who’s nuts, fairly frankly, somebody who is ready to take these dangers. Individuals who can see the identical soil as Champagne, and assume: ‘I’ll give it a go’.”
Thompson factors to the terroir of southern England particularly – “terroir” is a French phrase that refers to a winery’s particular mixture of soil, location and weather conditions. It’s additionally a phrase Thompson believes now wants an English equal. Firstly, Kent and Sussex have a uncommon chalky soil, because of the chalk ridge stretching east to west, the identical terroir that’s discovered 250km – because the crow flies – additional south in Champagne, France. Southern England is roughly 1.5C colder than Champagne. Nonetheless, international warming for the reason that Nineteen Seventies has elevated temperatures by roughly 1.5C.
“You place these two stats collectively and you might be mainly taking a look at an an identical terroir to Champagne within the Nineteen Seventies,” says Thompson. “I’m not going to prejudge what an knowledgeable would say about champagne, however most point out that one of the best champagne ever made was largely within the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies. It might be a dream to be thought of alongside champagne, and the proper preconditions for that trade exist.”
That is one thing wine knowledgeable Oz Clarke agrees with. He informed me that, for therefore lengthy, individuals simply didn’t imagine good wine could possibly be made in England. They seemed round and noticed the chilly, bleak and changeable climate and couldn’t see how England may presumably produce wine that held up in opposition to the climates of France, Italy and Spain.
“However our climate’s getting higher,” Clarke informed me. “Everybody can see that in the way in which we’re going to seashores generally as early as Might or having a picnic as late as September. So, when somebody like me says ‘it’s now heat sufficient to develop grapes’, they assume ‘in fact it’s.’”
Oz Clarke has lengthy, and brazenly, supported the English wine trade. His common TV exhibits and writings are proof of this, and his most up-to-date ebook is just referred to as English Wine. He has adopted the trade from the very starting, again when just a few individuals determined within the Nineteen Sixties, Nineteen Seventies and Eighties that it would simply be attainable to develop grapes and make good wine in Britain. However, he says, it wasn’t till the late Nineteen Nineties and early 2000s that small batches of extremely good, award-winning English wine began appearing – he names Nyetimber, Bridgeview and Breaky Backside particularly.
The standard of English wine is now recognized. English glowing wines – particularly these made at Chapel Down reminiscent of their Brute – have received worldwide gold medals and best-in-class. English wine is now turning into a definite area from the remainder of the world in its personal proper. Grasp of Wine Richard Bampfield informed me that as a result of the English local weather actually is on the northern excessive for grape rising, the wines are marked by notable freshness and purity of fruit, and the glowing wines have an depth of flavour not usually discovered elsewhere.
Thompson says that English wine isn’t just an attention-grabbing, area of interest factor anymore however is turning into a giant trade. “Final yr our glowing wine gross sales have been up over 50 per cent,” he says, “and champagne gross sales have been down 22 per cent. If we have been a champagne model, we’d be effectively inside the highest 10 within the UK. I don’t know the stats, however I think we’d be nudging Bollinger ranges.” In the meantime, the UK wine trade as an entire produced over 10 million bottles final yr.
So why don’t English individuals drink English wine in the identical approach Italians drink Italian wine, French individuals drink French wine, and the Spanish drink Spanish wine? These items take time, Clarke says. We’re solely originally and, for therefore lengthy, the UK has had all the world to select from. And whereas 10 million English bottles might sound like quite a bit, the UK alone drinks 1.7 billion bottles of wine a yr. Clarke believes, nonetheless, that Brexit and Covid are altering the methods we predict.
“Each of this stuff have made us extra conscious of taking care of our personal. Purchase native beer, why purchase Peroni when you should purchase British? They’re promoting cheddar in Tesco, however purchase the native stuff. Individuals are an increasing number of conscious that we’ve bought to attempt to help our communities.” Chapel Down alone introduced 38 per cent improve in wine volumes within the final pandemic-struck yr, whereas direct-to-consumer gross sales have been up 467 per cent, reflecting this rising demand for English wine.
Clarke tells me a narrative of his most up-to-date tasting – the primary in-person he’s performed with a gaggle for the reason that pandemic started – and the way he described the soils, the terroir, the local weather of a glowing wine the group have been consuming. When he informed them the bottle was in reality an English Chapel Down Brute, they have been shocked, satisfied he had been talking about France, and that the wine that they had of their palms was a champagne. He says he can inform many such tales. Individuals simply have to style the wine to be offered on England’s high quality as a producer, he says.
Chapel Down’s oldest vines, these mottled, picturesque rows, have been planted in 1987. These weren’t the primary that have been planted at Tenterden – these have been planted in 1977 however not exist. The sector wherein the 1987 vines sit is simply 20 acres. To place that into perspective, and to indicate how a lot Chapel Down has grown since then, Equipment’s Coty is 100 acres, Court docket Lodge subsequent door is one other 100, Avenue Farm one other 120, with others as effectively and extra on the way in which. English wine manufacturing is turning into larger yearly. Actually, viticulture is the fastest-growing agricultural sector within the UK, and meaning extra jobs in addition to extra wine.
“The variety of individuals it’s worthwhile to handle 100 acres of winery is appreciable,” says Donaghay-Spire. “I don’t know off the highest of my head, however one particular person can handle a thousand acres of arable fairly simply, however you want an entire crew of individuals to handle 100 acres of winery, and so we’re creating high-quality jobs in rural Kent to make a high-quality product that we will all be actually happy with.”
There are downsides, nonetheless. Susie Barrie and Peter Richards are each Masters of Wine, who occur to be married to one another, and host the common Wine Blast podcast. They agree that English wine is now very top quality and an thrilling product, however add that it’s hardly ever essentially the most reasonably priced.
“We make particular kinds of wine very well – like nice glowing wine, for instance,” they are saying. “However we Brits are usually fairly price-conscious in the case of shopping for wine, and UK wine is never the most affordable on the shelf. However we’d argue it affords good worth versus its competitors at the same value level – it’s totally different, scrumptious and effectively price a strive. So, for a special-occasion wine, why not strive the UK possibility?”
Frazer Thompson says that whereas English wine is unlikely to be the most affordable, it does supply one thing else – on prime of high quality it has a way of place, a way of pleasure. At Tenterden, and likewise at different wineries reminiscent of Denbies in Surrey, guests can tour the vineyards, strive the wines, meet the wine makers, and have a meal on the restaurant. It’s, Thompson says, about breaking down the snobbishness, secrecy and thriller surrounding the trade and educating individuals and constructing a hyperlink between individuals and the land. That is the important thing to Brits totally embracing English wine, and Thompson may be very optimistic – particularly after a string of classic years stretching again to 2017. Whereas English wine continues to be small, the standard is there, and the drinkers are rising quickly. There are extra vineyards to arrange, perhaps some even higher than Equipment’s Coty has confirmed to be.
“Differentiating English glowing wine from champagne is the true problem. Discovering our personal type as a rustic will in all probability take a era, it’s solely simply beginning now,” says Thompson. “Wine is an extended sport and requires bravery such as you wouldn’t imagine. It additionally depends on an unreliable enterprise associate – God – and lots of luck. Greater than something it wants relentlessness, curiosity and fearlessness.”
It’s arduous to seek out somebody who disagrees that England is slowly turning into its personal distinct wine area, a area of fragrant, fruity, recent flavours for a summer season tipple. And whereas Chapel Down might by no means make a full-bodied crimson, its nonetheless and glowing whites and rosés are solely going to get higher. As Thompson says, we’re simply originally, and that’s the thrilling half.
On a latest sunny night, I cooked myself some asparagus with garlic and butter and opened a bottle of Chapel Down’s 2020 Bacchus and sat on my balcony. Maybe it was visiting the vines and immersing myself in English wine with Chapel Down, however for that second I couldn’t consider a bottle I’d fairly be consuming.