It all started 6 years ago. One summer’s evening we were on the front lawn sipping sun downers and gazing out at our sheep as they contentedly nibbled grass in one of our paddocks when Robert made the famous throwaway remark: instead of grazing these sheep perhaps it would be more rewarding to plant a vineyard.
And so on that day in 2012 the die was cast. The following year after much information gathering and soil testing we did indeed plant a boutique vineyard. Roll on 6 years we are finally on the cusp of releasing our first vintage of English fizz — Winding Wood Sparkling.
Labour of love
Friends often remark that, after this total immersion, we must now know a lot about the subject; we normally retort on the contrary with the old saying: the more one learns the less one tends to know about a subject. That is definitely the case with viticulture and wine making.
“Never wander into the vineyard
without a pair of secateurs”
If we had known then the blood, sweat and occasional tears of frustration involved in the process I wonder if we would ever have set out on the journey to produce the very best fizz we could from our vines. Both of us had hung up our professional ‘boots’ — Robert his dentist’s drill and yours truly the monotony of publishing deadlines — and after 40 years of hard work we were looking forward to taking things a little easier. Not a chance as it turned out. The new hobby has become all-consuming with 250 days a year spent in the vineyard. Along the way we have met some delightful and passionate wine growers in England, shared valuable information and the odd calamity, and joined an exclusive club of vineyard owners who firmly believe England can produce the very best sparkling wine to match that from Champagne. The major awards from blind tastings speak for themselves
We have deliberately resisted expansion and remained small, with just 3,000 vines in two small fields of pinot noir and chardonnay. The goal is low yield yet high quality. Every vine is subjected to continuous scrutiny and exacting canopy management throughout the growing season to ensure the grape bunches are healthy and free of disease. As our wine makers continue to impress upon us, they cannot make good wine out of poor grapes. For sure, with every year of production we become more in tune with our vines, knowing how to control their desire to run amok and shoot for the sky. That is the pleasure. All of the vineyard work is done by hand by us, come rain or shine, with a little bit of help from green-fingered volunteers. At the end of the day the back may be sore but there is nothing more satisfying than looking out at our vineyard and seeing the results of our toil.
“If you want to make a small fortune out of owning a UK vineyard… then best start with a large one.”
One of the advantages of being small scale is that one can experiment with the latest technologies without breaking the bank. One of the major worries of growing grapes in a cool climate is the likelihood of spring frosts that can devastate young vine buds. Having seen heated wires protecting the vulnerable buds on an experimental few rows at Ridgeview in Sussex we decided to install wires throughout the entire vineyard. When the temperature drops to below zero, a thermostat automatically switches on the system transmitting 20 degrees of heat through the vine cane creating a halo of protective warmth against the frosty air. We have tested it and found it good to minus 4 degrees. We believe we are the first in England to install this revolutionary system throughout the entire vineyard.