Last week was English Wine Week, the annual celebration of our home-grown product. The Romans made wine in Britain, but for much of the time since, amounts produced were tiny. It was only in the 1950s that the first signs of a real revival began and continued in the 1980s and 90s. But in recent years the number of vineyards planted here has grown rapidly – there are now almost 500 operating commercially. More than half of those represented at a South West Vineyards Association (SWVA) tasting I attended recently had released their first vintage within the last 10 years.
The SWVA covers our most local producers and the tasting gave me the chance to meet up with some of them. Three relative newcomers to the scene are just a stone’s throw away from each other a few miles south of Bristol: I’ve blogged about Dunleavy’s attractive Pinot-based rosés before and eagerly await their first sparkling release later this year. Nearby Aldwick Court already produce a pair of sparklers but it was their still ‘Mary’s Rosé’ that particularly interested me – a crisp, fresh blend of Pinot Noir, Regent and a variety new to me: Solaris.
Tiny (2 acre) Sutton Ridge Vineyard is the 3rd of this group and their rosé, this time made with Regent and Phoenix, has just won a Gold at the WineGB awards.
Further south, near Dorchester, is another relative newcomer – the Langham Wine Estate. Again focussing on sparkling wines, their delightful appley fresh Classic Cuvee is also an award winner – this time, a Sommelier Gold. Some branches of Marks & Spencer are stocking it.
Of the longer established south-west vineyards I have a special affection for Oatley, near Bridgwater. I first met the owners almost 20 years ago when I interviewed them for a piece I wrote in the Somerset Magazine, my first published article. Sadly, all the others I talked to at the time have long since closed, but Oatley continues to thrive thanks to their loyal customers. Nearby, Smith & Evans vineyard may only date from 2008 but, in that short time, they have established themselves with some high quality sparkling wines made from the Champagne varieties – their 2011 vintage winning a Silver at the prestigious International Wine Challenge.
Over in Wiltshire, A’Beckett’s Vineyard released their first wines in 2003 but they don’t just sell wine – they have diversified into cider, apple juice and honey – and all from their own farm. Finally, Astley Vineyard in Worcestershire is one of the oldest surviving English vineyards, beginning in 1971 and with some vines planted then still producing. But, even here, things are changing with new owners taking over last year. It will be interesting to see how they develop the estate.
English Wine is not just changing – it’s also improving all the time as the number of international medals and awards prove. Do give it a try if you can – and not just during English Wine Week.
Finally, a word of clarification: I’ve seen English or Welsh wine incorrectly referred to recently as ‘British wine’. British wine is produced from imported grape juice or sometimes grape concentrate and is not recommended; English (or Welsh, if appropriate) Wine is a quality product made from freshly picked grapes and reflects the place where those grapes are grown.