Alchemy at Davenport Vineyard
On a horrid cold and rainy day, I set off to Kent to visit Davenport Vineyard with Victor Keegan. We were both interested to meet Will Davenport and learn more about how he produces his well-respected wines. Having helped with the harvest at Bridewell Organic Gardens myself last season, while Victor and my fellow blogger Ian have both put in hours at Forty Hall Vineyard, we were keen to hear about Will’s contract wine-making, too.
Although the wines are all organic and indeed Davenports is one of very few Soil Association certified contract winemaker, you immediately get the impression that Will just thinks that organic growth and production is the right way to do things. The fact that his wines are organic isn’t even mentioned on the front label, so it’s no mere marketing ploy. We had a discussion about biodynamics – Will thinks there might be something in it, but he says that they already lavish a lot of care & attention on the vines; the extra time required for biodynamic processes would require an additional person in the vineyard and another couple of pounds on each bottle, which he thinks just wouldn’t be viable.
The first thing I noticed in the winery were the really small tanks. Lots of wineries I’ve been to require a minimum tonne of fruit for a single grape fermentation. Will not only has little tanks that can take half a tonne, he also some with a floating lid, so these can cater for even smaller amounts. This is just perfect for some of the smaller growers he deals with. He did try once to combine grapes from some of the really small ones in a “Chateau Tooting” kind of way, but the varying qualities of fruit and different egos just made it impossible.
I sought the low-down on the charity wines. Are these just a bit of a PR stunt for charities using vineyards as part of their work? Absolutely not, Will said that as they are single grape variety bottled and sold the year after harvest, they obviously don’t have the complexity of his wines but they are very good and he’s proud of them. As a man who believes that good wine is grown in the vineyard and the winemaker’s job is to ensure that he doesn’t mess it up and waste any of that potential, this is high praise indeed for the organisers and volunteers at Forty Hall and Bridewell.
Will planted his first vineyard at the age of 25 on land at his parents’ farm, but even so it took him a while to realise that winemaking was to be his career. It all started with university holidays spent grape-picking and grew from there. Although his fizz is very well respected, it was great to hear that he’s as much of a fan of still wines, too, and thinks, like me, that they are vastly underrated in this country, with sparkling getting all of the glory. We didn’t taste any of the still wines, but each bought some of the new Horsmonden, a blend of 5 grapes, Bacchus, Ortega, Siegerrebe Huxelrebe and Faber. Hearing about how Will blends so many different varieties to create the perfect complexity, it really did feel a bit like alchemy and his degree in Chemistry must play a little part. The only difficulty will be not drinking it for the 6 months plus that Will recommends.
Davenport’s wines are usually named after their vineyard, Limney on the same site as the winery and Horsmonden a little way a way. A previous version of the Limney was described on this blog by Hamish Anderson, sommelier at Tate as “Pound for pound, one of the best English wines.”, high praise indeed.
On hearing that Will has 4 children, I enquired whether any of them were likely to follow him into the business. So far, it seems unlikely, which I can’t help feeling is terribly sad. So many of us grow up and can’t wait to assert our own independence from our parents. It’s not until much later on in life that we realise how much of an enormous advantage our parents’ experiences can give us, if we only care to listen. As in so many things, learning about wines of the UK gives lessons in life, too.
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