My Week in English Wine
From a fancy restaurant in the City to Plumpton College in the Sussex countryside, via one of the biggest English Wine events of the year, what a week it’s been!
It all started quite gently with a launch for the new Classic Cuvée from Hambledon Vineyard at Hawksmoor Guildhall. It was lovely to meet some more of the people behind the wine at one of my local vineyards. I had such fun disgorging and dosing my own bottle of fizz there recently. Although not generally open to the public, they are starting to run more of these events and tours and have now joined the growing list of English and Welsh Vineyards able to host weddings and other parties; a beautiful setting. Combining passion with business focus, Hambledon is increasingly one to watch among UK vineyards.
The following day, I was lucky enough to go to the English Wine Producers Trade tasting (now the WineGB Trade Tasting). This event has grown over the last few years and has reached such a position in the wine producers’ calendar that the International Wine Challenge sent their man to announce the medals for English wine from their recent competition, including an advance announcement of medals. This set the day off to a flying start with the smiles on the faces of winemakers Cherie & Brad at Nyetimber and Sam at Camel Valley so broad and genuine that the results truly were a surprise.
As part of their prize they received… a roll of stickers! These now have to be added to all of the bottles, which seems to be the only downside of winning. We were teasing Brad about how many hours he’s going to have to spend on this and about where the stickers should be placed to look best on the bottles. Sam later found a good, if slightly unofficial, use for some of his – sending his daughters to nursery with “Daddy’s stickers for being a good boy at work”. On a more serious note, the presence of these stickers on bottles in wine merchants and supermarkets will be a big boost to the industry, attracting new buyers to the quality of local wines.
The number of medals received and the subsequent reviews from eminent names of the industry created the most amazing buzz. To quote Hugh Johnson on Twitter: “A score of truly excellent English bubblies at English Wine Producers today. It had the buzz of a historical moment; something unstoppable.”
The single moment that summed up my day was on the Wiston stand – for various reasons I have been following their wines and long wanted to meet the guys and taste, so I was quite excited. As they went to pour the first sample, we realised I had a bit of wine left in my tasting glass, “Oh, just chuck it in the spittoon” they said. “But, it’s Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc!” I spluttered. It felt like that moment on Live Aid when they had to cut from one famous artist to another – no-one seems to remember who, was it David Bowie who was cut off for Michael Jackson or vice-versa?
It was an amazing day for me and lovely to meet so many people I’d only emailed and tweeted with before; everyone was so kind and welcoming. From the consumers’ point of view, I can reassure that there will be more and more excellent wines coming out – the presence of so many eminent trade buyers and wine writers will ensure that English wines reach an increasing number of wine merchants, restaurants and bars.
Another great opportunity to taste these new wines will be at English Wine Week – Saturday 24th May to Sunday 1st June. Resources to keep an eye on are www.EnglishWineWeek.co.uk for special events and our vineyards map to find a visitor-friendly vineyard near you.
As if all that excitement wasn’t enough, my friend Hanne and I went to the open day at Plumpton College in Sussex yesterday, Britain’s Centre of Excellence in Wine education. We saw the 4 big temperature-controlled cabinets that form the centrepiece of the new Wine Research Centre and, at the other extreme, learned how small amounts of wine can be made in cafetieres to facilitate comparisons. As well as microscopes and the usual equipment of a professional science lab and a small winery, it was great to see the wine sales.
To complement Plumpton’s own selection of wine, five eminent alumni, including Davenport and Bolney from the UK had provided wine. Each stand was manned not by the producer, but by students who had dressed the stands themselves and were providing samples and engaging with the visitors, a great training for a future life in wine production.
I wonder how long it will take the students to progress from the stands at Plumpton to the EWP Trade Tasting and smart launches of their own wines? Given the growing reputation of Plumpton, I think we’ll be seeing them some of them there within a few short years.
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