English wines are booming in popularity, so it will pay – eventually – to plant a vineyard, says Robin Hutson.
By the time you read this, we will be in the middle of English Wine Week. And my, don't they, the winemakers and us, the lucky consumers, have something to genuinely celebrate these days.
At the Pig hotels, we started suppressing Champagne in favour of quality English sparkling wine by the glass in 2014. We now sell tens of thousands of bottles a year of award- winning English wines and we are super-proud of the quality and the relationships with our local vineyards. Of course, this completely fits with our 25-mile buying ethos and the involvement of these passionate producers in our much-valued supply chain.
I am delighted to see that many more establishments are, like us, promoting the virtues of English wine and finding how intrigued and knowledgeable our clientele are. Now don't get me wrong, I love a good glass of Bollinger as much as the next person, but let's face it, there has been some pretty nasty, cheap, industrial French fizz masquerading as ‘house Champagne' in the past couple of decades.
Let's face it, there has been some pretty nasty, cheap, industrial French fizz masquerading as ‘house Champagne' in the past couple of decades
Now that the English wine scene has developed and matured, we are beginning to see real craft and expertise in the vineyards and wineries in the making of still wine too. The success of these wines clearly starts in the vineyard. No longer are the ‘out of fashion' German varietals growing in the vineyards of Sussex, Kent and beyond; we now see (among others) noble grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, names our clientele are much more familiar with and are ultimately much easier for us to sell.
Anyone who has visited the vineyards of Champagne or Northern Burgundy will recall the great emphasis placed on the ‘terroir' of vineyards as a critical factor to success, the ‘je ne sais quoi' in the creation of these famous wines. The chalk and flint soil to non-experts looks like an inhospitable bed for nurturing the precious vines that create the complex, sophisticated, often racy wines. Those similar vineyard characteristics lie at the heart of many English vineyards.
The reason I am particularly excited about the developments for English wine is that a little over a year ago we planted two acres of vineyard at our new hotel site at Madehurst in the South Downs.
Inspired by the likes of Simpsons and Chapel Down for their fantastic Chardonnays and Hush Heath, Gusbourne and Danbury Ridge for their silky Pinot Noirs, we have planted two clones each of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. We are now in our second summer for the vineyard, we have made our shoot selection, and the vigorous tendrils of the vines are finding their way onto the trellises. It's all incredibly exciting!
I am now going to have to show patience though, as at best we may see fruit to harvest in the autumn of 2022, and only some months after that will we get to sample our first glass.
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