A Vineyard Fit For a Queen
I’ll say this about Anne of Cleves. She might not have been England’s most beautiful queen, but she did pretty well when it came to acquiring lands for future vineyards. She kept her head as the fourth of Henry VIII’s six wives and at the time of the annulment of their marriage in 1540 received not only the manor of Nyetimber in Sussex but also Great Park in Essex, now home to Bardfield Vineyard. The vineyard, along with Great Lodge house (on the site of the former keeper’s lodge) and the Grade I listed Anne of Cleves barn, sit in a charming part of north Essex countryside beloved of artists such as Eric Ravillious and Edward Bawden, who lived nearby.
The 2 acre vineyard was planted in 1990 and is lovingly cared for by owner Rebecca Jordan, her husband Alan and vineyard manager Claire Kohlis. Claire, a solicitor by training, caught the wine bug while visiting New Zealand with her Kiwi husband and on returning to the UK signed up for a horticulture course at Capel Manor college in Enfield, north London. After graduating and a couple of gardening roles she landed the perfect job in April 2013 – looking after the vines at Great Lodge. Following a period of a few years when the vineyard wasn’t in production, Claire is now nursing the vines back to full health and optimum yield. Progress has been impressive – Claire’s first vintage in 2013 saw Bardfield’s two Bacchus wines win Silver at the East Anglian Vineyards Association Wine of the Year awards.
Visiting with my wife and two children, we were given a warm welcome by Claire. We were soon joined by Rebecca, whose family have farmed the estate since 1907, clutching a couple of bottles of wine for the fridge. After introductions and relaxed conversation we set of for a leisurely tour, accompanied by Claire’s Dachshund, Veena. When visiting a vineyard with children it’s always great when there is something – a trail, quiz, fish pond or small dog – to keep them entertained.
The vineyard is planted with around 80% Bacchus and 20% Reichensteiner. Where the latter was growing poorly is has been grubbed up in the last couple of years, leaving just a few half rows. New plantings in 2015 are planned, however, for the production of sparkling wines. The final decision on what to plant has yet to be taken, but is likely to be Seyval Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Chardonnay would be the obvious first choice for fizz but could be a challenge to grow here and besides, Seyval can produce some excellent wines. Bardfield have produced a sparkling wine in the past, from 100% Bacchus, but it is sadly no longer available – I’d like to have tried this unusual wine.
One of the reasons for the new planting is the desire to be able to serve estate-grown sparkling at weddings held at Bardfield. Weddings play an important role in plans for the property. A green oak shelter has been built in the beautiful garden of Great Lodge to host ceremonies and the barn has been recently renovated for receptions. The first of these was held successfully at the end of October for 70 guests, although the huge timber-framed barn can accommodate up to 200. Guests can explore the woods and lakeside paths and soon there will be ‘glamping’ too, so that they can stay on site in style.
The Anne of Cleves barn will also be used to house facilities for vineyard visitors when Bardfield opens more fully to the public in 2015. The vineyard has been open for some occasional pre-booked group tours during 2014 and was previously closed, but with the upgraded facilities will in future be open 1 day a week for cellar door sales and a twice-daily tour and tasting, plus garden and vineyard tours and tastings for groups by appointment and weddings on just 25 days per year.
By the time we had finished our tour, the two bottles were nicely chilled. First was the Bardfield Bacchus, which, despite the name, also contains a dash of Reichensteiner. Balanced, medium bodied and with impressive length, this is a soft, not too floral expression of the Bacchus grape. The second wine, the Anne of Cleves Bacchus, is the same blend but sweeter, certainly into the medium-sweet category. There is no winery on site and the wines are expertly made at New Hall, also in Essex, by Piers Greenwood, crowned Winemaker of the Year in 2013.
With its combination of heritage, hospitality and award-winning wines, Bardfield is a great vineyard to visit and the perfect venue at which to get married – for the first, second, third, fourth, fifth or even sixth time…
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