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Talking Wine
with Ted Sandbach - July 2014

I am still amazed by how many people are totally unaware of English wine, whether it be sparking or still. It is well recognised however by many that we have the potential for making some excellent wine but is it all a false dawn or are we here for the long term?

Let’s start with sparkling wine - undoubtedly the success story of the industry so far. In the early days non Champagne grapes were being used and the results were less than impressive. These days site selection and technology has improved and the grape varieties used are the same three that are used in the making of Champagne, namely Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Real Champagne of course can only come from the famous designated region in Northern France but we are now growing the same grapes here on very similar soils mostly in the south east regions of Sussex, Kent and Hampshire although there are some stunning examples from Devon too. The latitude is not dissimilar to the Champagne region either so, all things being equal, we should be doing it just as well!!

Recognition of some of our top producers such as Nyetimber, Gusbourne and Camel Valley wine is slow and, in the case of the French, reluctant. This is despite the fact that in blind tastings it often beats the real thing and certainly offers good value for money. The better quality well known Champagnes start at around the £33.00 mark and yet there is good vintage English sparkling available at under £30 despite small production and the tax on alcohol which I think really ought to be waived to encourage the investors and support our fledgling industry.

But what about still wines?

These seem to be looked at with some suspicion and would still to be considered a novelty if bought as a present, although a generous one as they are still quite expensive and hereby lies much of the problem. The economies of scale means that production costs are high and volumes are often limited particularly after a wet summer The key is to find a style, champion a grape and market it well -  the most likely being Bacchus or Ortega which are considered cool climate varieties. Some vineyards such as Denbies near Dorking have planted Sauvignon and Chardonnay and there are still many older plantings of unexciting varieties in the smaller vineyards.

Locally I certainly recommend you visit Brightwell Vineyard just outside Wallingford and Bothy Vineyard close to Frilford Heath. The former makes an interesting range of reds, whites and rosé with the whites, in my view, a more commercial success. They use various blends of the previously mentioned Bacchus (a Silvaner, Riesling and Muller Thurgau cross) as well as Chardonnay, Reichensteiner and Huxelrebe. The reds are from the famous but fickle Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. Bothy can certainly make some stunning wines when the weather is kind and again they use Bacchus, Ortega and Huxelrebe as well as some unusual mutations and crosses. For the reds they use Rondo and Dornfelder. 

Both these vineyards deserve a visit - they are fighting their corner and should have our support. You will learn a great deal and have a fun day out! Information is on the web.