A Rose by Any Other Name Would Taste as Sweet
It’s perhaps not usual to wet the baby’s head with a dessert wine (imagine how sticky that would be!) but when a visit to see my brother-in-law’s new-born daughter in Nottinghamshire took me close to Eglantine Vineyard, it didn’t seem like such a strange idea. Eglantine, named after the Eglantine or Sweet Briar rose, produce England’s best known and most-recognised dessert wine, North Star.
The current 2011 vintage won a gold medal and the Stefanowicz Trophy for the most outstanding sweet wine at the English & Welsh Wine of the Year Awards, and silver at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2013. Made from 100% Madeleine Angevine by talented winemaker Tony Skuriat, the grapes are grown, literally, in the back garden of the Skuriat’s house in Nottinghamshire, close to the Leicestershire border. Grapes grow in the front garden too – this is serious winemaking on a domestic scale.
Our visit started with Veronica Skuriat showing us around the vines, where Tony was busily pruning. The vineyard was originally planted over 30 years ago but there have been many changes and adaptations over the years and the selection of grapes grown on the 4.5 acre site now includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier alongside the Madeline Angevine and Seyval Blanc, plus a few experimental plantings of other varieties. The grapes are vinified in a small on-site winery. Grapes aren’t sold on to other producers; the crop goes only into Eglantine’s own production. As with most other wineries though, wines are produced for other local growers and this will soon include Tony and Veronica’s daughter who will deliver grapes from her own 8 acre vineyard.
The present winery (a new one is being built to the rear) has a charming mix of old and new equipment squeezed into it – a much coveted old Italian basket press, shiny new 600 litre stainless steel tanks, a machine to tighten the musulet on sparkling wines and an industrial scale screw-capping machine from a Scottish whisky distillery. Best of all is a homemade gyropallet, a wooden crate on a hexagonal base which holds 300 bottles for riddling and is operated by placing a foot on the base and rocking it into different positions. Veronica is clearly proud of her husband’s innovations and achievements in what is obviously a shared endeavour to produce the finest wines from their home soil.
From the vineyard Veronica invited us into the house for a tasting, where we sat at the dining table with proper tasting glasses and bottles of the three available wines. First to be opened was the Aurora Borealis rosé 2009, named after a rare appearance of the Northern Lights that year. Made from Seyval Blanc and some now grubbed-up Cascade vines, it had a fine pale salmon colour and enticing scent of red summer fruits. Next was the 2011 red, a blend of Rondo and Regent in a light style, and then the North Star. Only 2,000 bottles (double the usual output) were produced from grapes frozen after picking to concentrate their sugars. Rich and viscous with bold acidity to keep it fresh tasting, this is a wine that can’t fail to impress with its length and depth of flavour. It comes in an attractive, tall, 37.5cl bottle, which was labelled and individually boxed to order in the Skuriat’s hallway.
With the best English sparkling wines now beginning to compete with those from Champagne, it’s gratifying to see an English challenger to the ice wines of Germany and Canada.
And the baby? My suggestions of Rose or Madeleine as a name have sadly gone unheeded. She’s called Dora-Jane, and she’s a sweet little thing.
Update 2018: The vineyard alluded to in the mention of Tony and Veroinica’s daughter is Helenka Brown’s Hanwell Wine Estate, now well on the way to producing their first sparkling wine and in the meantime offering vineyard tours and a wide selection of craft workshops with their sister company Rural Antics.
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