My English Wine Fortnight
I’ve been thinking back on what I did in English Wine Week and the week after – there was such a variety of things that I thought it would be fun to share. None of what I did was by special invitation and so, although I’m fortunate to have been able to be flexible with work and spend more concentrated time doing these things, there is nothing here that anyone else with transport and a will wouldn’t be able to do.
The first Sunday I went to Albury Vineyard for their Members’ Day event. OK, so it was only open to members, but membership is open to all. The scheme is something the vineyard started up very early on and long before there were even buildings on site. This kind of scheme is great for the producer in terms of building awareness and a demand for their products and also fun for members. Our annual subscription of £60 includes 2 bottles of wine, this summer event and the opportunity to join in harvest. More than that, though, is the feeling of involvement and the events now are as much a chance to catch up with people who feel like old friends as much as anything else. There are a few other membership schemes and vine-lease arrangements out there – it’s something that really needs to be accessible, so it’s worth checking out whether any of your local vineyards offer such a scheme.
English Wine Week is during the last week of May, which is also half term for most schools, so a friend Fran and I arranged to join other friend and some of their children to the Sculpture in the Vineyard event at Bothy Vineyard in Oxfordshire We met around midday and started with a picnic on the edge of the vines. A simple, yet well-written trail for the children meant that with the picnic, exploring all the sculptures for the trail, having a cup of tea and a wine tasting, easily occupied us until 4pm; it really was a great day out. Over the summer there are a number of such events – sculptures are an annual occurrence at Bothy and at High Clandon – again the best thing it to check for vineyards near your home or holiday destination and maybe follow them on Facebook.
The following day I had been out for a business lunch and we later ended up in rather a fancy bar – I was asked to order a bottle of champagne, but on checking the list I spotted a couple of English wines. It was a pleasant surprise to have several choose from and not all the most well known brands; we very much enjoyed a bottle of Herbert Hall Brut (a vineyard not open to the public) with a little smoked salmon – a perfect late night snack!
On Friday I had arranged to meet some Twitter buddies for lunch – @cabinetrooms (worth a follow, by the way, if you’re interested in food & drink with a splash of art & gentlemanly humour thrown in for good measure). Obviously the starting point for choosing somewhere to eat is our list of vineyards with a restaurant or café. Given our relative locations, Three Choirs Wickham was the obvious answer. Although it was a bit quiet for a Friday lunchtime, service was pleasant and efficient with a delicious set-menu and a glass of their own wine, of course! The restaurant overlooks the vineyard and although we started our meal in the rain, we were able to enjoy a post-prandial stroll amongst the vines, which was most pleasant. Don’t forget to mention that you’re eating – there’s usually a discount on wines in the shop if you are.
Enjoying local wines isn’t all about rushing about, though – that evening, I was meeting a few friends for a glass of English. My friends and family are used to being served English wines, but when one of the guests is top wine educator Erica Dent of Enjoy Discovering Wine, the wine needs to be well thought out – I was hoping for something very local that she hadn’t tried before and would really enjoy. A rootle through vineyard treasure collected on my travels revealed just the thing, I hoped – Exton Park Blanc de Blancs. Exton Park is not open to the public, but when driving nearby I had spotted a sign outside their local village shop saying “Local English Sparkling Wine for Sale” and couldn’t resist stopping by to see what it was. Happily, the wine was delicious, Erica loved it too and if you go on one of her WSET courses, you just might get the chance to taste it under her expert guidance.
I expected the following week to get back to normal, but on Monday evening noticed a tweet from London Cru asking for people to help with bottling. I waited an hour or so to see if they were overrun with volunteers. That didn’t seem to be the case so I replied saying that I had no experience but would be interested to try. I was told that no experience was necessary, so agreed to give it a go. London Cru are based in Earls Court and have up to now made wine from foreign grapes, but having produced their first local wine, a Bacchus with grapes from Sandhurst Vineyard in Kent (not open to the public, but they do have accommodation), I thought it would be acceptable to help them, even though we were actually bottling French Chardonnay. It’s a small winery tucked away, but easy enough to find. They only need a bottling machine for a few days a year, so had engaged David and Phil of BevTech who brought their mobile bottling line. A little bit of instruction and a bit of waiting around while the machine was set up to bottle and label accurately and we were off! As predicted, it wasn’t difficult, but feeding this seemingly insatiable beast required quick working. We had a quick break for a tasty lunch at the pub opposite, when I was delighted to try the first bottle of the Bacchus, which had been bottled a couple of weeks earlier and labelled the day before. Gavin the winemaker was pleased with the grapes and what he’d been able to achieve with them and we all enjoyed it. Then it was straight back to work and we were done by about 4pm – 4,000 bottles filled. As a thank you the volunteers were each given a gift bag of 2 bottles – one of the Bacchus and one of the Chardonnay we had just bottled, a really nice touch. I hadn’t seen a call for bottling volunteers before, but if you want to lend a hand, see our list of vineyards that welcome volunteers all year round; the actual jobs will depend on the season, of course.
A couple of days later, I joined a group of friends to finally open the bottle of Hambledon Fizz that I had disgorged myself last summer. We’d been told that it would be good any time from Christmas onwards. A friend’s exam success was the perfect opportunity and I was absolutely delighted with the rich toasty quality which worked perfectly as an aperitif and with our paella supper. Ian brought some cheese a bottle of Eglantine North Star (cellar door treasure, of course!) We were very lucky that Jo from Kokoh Chocolate was with us and had brought a huge selection with her and insisted that we try them all. The Lemon & Pepper chocolate was the best match to the dessert wine, by the way. Fancy trying your own food matching party? Just get everyone to bring some wine and / or variations of food that might go – it’s a great way to learn as well as a lot of fun.
All in all a fun-packed fortnight with, as I said, lots of ideas for anyone, albeit maybe not necessarily packed in to such as short timescale! English Wine Week events are at www.EnglishWineWeek.co.uk. I try to share forthcoming events on our Facebook page, but really can’t guarantee to catch them all. The best idea really is to find your local vineyard on our tourism website www.WineCellarDoor.co.uk and sign up for emails from any suitable ones or follow them on social media. Enjoy your travels!
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