The wines of East Anglia – full of character and of characters
I had been planning a visit to West Street Vineyard when a kind invitation arrived from Jane Mohan herself to head up to Coggeshall for a tasting of East Anglian wines, so I couldn’t resist.
In order to best explain the evening, I need to go back there in my mind to let events unfold so I’ll take you with me, if that’s ok…
The first sight of the Wine Barn in the dark is a welcoming glow from a bright contemporary interior tastefully decorated for Christmas in quite a Scandinavian style – recollections of Holmfirth Vineyard come to mind, albeit this is on a grander scale. Let’s make our way downstairs to a function room where 4 local producers stand behind tables with bottles of their wares.
At the first table is a very unassuming couple from New Hall Vineyards in Essex and an array of bottles labelled in a homespun style; they would fit in perfectly at a farmer’s market. Well, let’s taste the wine, that’s after all what we’re here for. A sip of their Signature (Ortega, Siegerrebe and Pinot Gris) reveals a deliciously fresh and interesting wine and I can tell from others tasting with me that their expectations are exceeded, too. What a pleasant start to the evening. It’s getting a bit crowded here at the first table, so after a bit of a chat with Piers & Shelley Greenwood who are here with Darryl Kemp, the vineyard’s general manager, let’s move on a bit.
Who is that over there in the corner? It’s Derek Jones from DJ wines in Suffolk. Let’s go over for a chat… What a nice man and look at those attractive liqueurs, made with local raspberries or strawberries and looking perfect for a kir anglais. His Monk’s Mead looks interesting too, I must definitely come back to taste when I’ve tried the drier wines.
Now on to Shawsgate Vineyard and Winery with father and son. They suggest starting with a taste of their 2011 Bacchus. Of course I know that Bacchus wins lots of awards and it’s great that there’s a grape that’s getting known in English wines. To be honest, though, Bacchus isn’t a favourite of mine, but let’s give it a go… What a revelation, it’s delightful. Very popular in Indian restaurants apparently, which makes absolute sense. Apart from farm gate sales, Shawsgate wines are sold via a distributor, to be served on cruise ships amongst other places. That leads to people then seeking the source of the wine and the story sells. Definitely a vineyard for English Wine Lovers to visit; their vineyard trail and experience days sound like just our kind of thing.
But what’s that going on over there? The lady in the bright pink jacket and stunning silver necklace is Jane, our host. She’s got BBC Look East to cover the event. Let’s act normally while she delivers a confident piece on East Anglian wines live to camera.
The last of the tasting tables is Lavenham Brook. Meet Denise, who manages the farm, Nick who owns it and Denise’s husband, stockman Chris – they have beef cattle too. Another bunch of friendly people and a degree of banter which suggests a great working relationship. Here they have 10 acres of Bacchus and Pinot Noir. The vineyard was only established in 2003, but is already producing award winning wines, including yet another approachable, yet interesting Bacchus. What is it about East Anglia that’s totally changing my view of this grape? I guess it must be something about the climate…
There are more people around now… Jane offers a tour of her enviable cellar of English wines, which includes some old friends, such as Sharpham and Leventhorpe as well as lots of other interesting wines we’ve yet to try. Then we meet the vivacious Linda Howard of Giffords Hall, who’s not part of the formal tasting but has a couple of bottles with her. How lovely to meet another Madeleine fan! Definitely lots to talk about another day… Her love of the Madeleine Angevine grape is demonstrated beautifully in her rosé, which has just a hint of rondo for colour as well as flavour. She also offers a taste of her delicious and award winning… you’ve guessed it, Bacchus.
Upstairs for dinner, where the secrets of the Bacchus are, at least partially revealed. Seated opposite me is Piers Greenwood, who we met earlier with his New Hall wines. Turns out, he’s a combination of Heston Blumenthal and an alchemist and responsible for making the majority of Bacchus wines we’ve tried this evening. He’ s just won 2013 Winemaker of the year at the UKVA English & Welsh winemaker of the year competition. He’s just told me one of his secrets actually, but I’m not going to pass it on, I’m afraid…
So that’s it, a lovely dinner and all too soon time for the evening to end. I’m so impressed with Jane’s dynamism and her generous promotion of local wines in this delightful setting, there weren’t even any of her own wines on show today. I’m planning to meet a friend there for lunch before Christmas and am now looking forward to it even more.
The wines of East Anglia clearly have a lot to offer and I can see that it’s going to be lots of fun to explore them properly next year. If you live a bit nearer than I do, several of them have wine sales and other events on the weekend of 6th & 7th December – definitely recommended.
Update March 2018
Lavenham Brook is no longer open to the public or producing commercially available wine.
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