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Posts Tagged ‘Sparkling wine’

There are many lovely things about Sussex: fairy-tale castles; stunning cricket grounds; sheer, beautiful cliffs and coastlines.  But in my view, one the very loveliest, is the knowledge that wherever you are – East or West of this once-enormous county – you are never far away from a vineyard.

Bolney started as Bookers Vineyard back in 1972

Bolney started as Bookers Vineyard back in 1972

Sadly (due to the length of the journeys required, and with small children inevitably in tow) I have not yet been able to get to as many in the West as our native East, but last weekend, combined with a family camping trip in the new-to-us campervan, we managed to squeeze in a corker.

To tell the truth, I am not a brave camper.  And the Bongo – whilst being her very own dream come true – has been Ruth’s canny attempt to coax me ever-so-gently out of a stubborn resistance.  The resolve is definitely weakening, and it was not even by connivance that, left in charge of the campsite choice, I chose one a spittoon’s distance from Bolney Estate.  It was all just a happy coincidence!

So let me say first of all that for any reader needing to camp somewhere near Henfield, Blacklands Campsite – http://www.blacklandsfarm.co.uk – is a very welcoming place with good hot showers, a playground and a well-stocked shop!

And to add to its general acceptability to anyone with a passing interest in wine, it is a ten minute drive from Bolney Estate – one of the best-marketed wine brands in Sussex.  Their email newsletter is always jaunty and warm, and worth signing up to via http://www.bolneywineestate.com.

But wow.  I had not really been expecting the Estate itself to be so beautiful.  Diversified certainly – besides the viticultural buildings, machinery and paraphernalia there is a café, a function room and (would you believe it) a Post Office – but also incredibly manicured: the photos don’t really do justice to the way that the vines and vegetable gardens are kept.

The vines were manicured to a level that I have not seen before in Sussex

The vines were manicured to a level that I have not seen before in Sussex

We were lucky to visit on a wonderfully sunny July day, but I am sure the beauty of the site – ‘on a hill which was part of the Butting Hill One Hundred, listed in the Doomsday Book’ – would command attention whatever the weather.

When we arrived there was a group of wedding-dressed revellers enjoying what looked like a buffet lunch and a tasting.  There were folk sitting outside, relaxed under umbrellas, tasting.  And there was a busy but small staff team trying to do their level best with the assortment of paying guests and off-the-street browsers that arrived in the vineyard shop.

Amidst all this I managed to score a taste of their Pinot Gris, their Bacchus (2014), their Cuvée Rosé (sparkling, 100% Pinot Noir, 2010) and a slurp of their Bolney Bubbly at the end.  Sadly, I didn’t write notes, but suffice to say that I remember the Pinot Gris being much more mineral on the palate and less aromatic on the nose than I had expected.  Conversely, the Bacchus was much more stone-fruit and succulent – a beautiful off-dry apéritif for a summer’s day.  (I bought two bottles).

Nicely stocked shop, but the layout doesn't help staff to mingle with customers

Nicely stocked shop, but the layout doesn’t help staff to mingle with customers

The still whites were in my view significantly better than the sparkling wine that I tasted.  Not that the sparkling was unpleasant, at all, but it just didn’t have the same depth of quality.  The rosé was startlingly pale – not sure if it was bled or pressed – and had a biscuity Pinot nose, but the palate was much thinner by comparison.  And the Bolney Bubbly?  Very drinkable, but without any punchy, memorable features.

The Estate website says that they consider themselves ‘specialist red wine producers’ and I saw a still Pinot Noir and I think a sparkling red as well, neither of which I tried.

But when you go, perhaps you will, and you’ll let me know what you think?

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Hall's fold in the Downs

Hall’s fold in the Downs

There’s a vividness that you get from writing something immediately.  A clarity of lines; a sureness about the colours of a memory.  But there’s something valuable too about leaving an experience to sit for a bit.  Might we say, on the lees?

This is just what I have done with my trip to Breaky Bottom – a little treat that I had been promising myself for a good long time.  In fact, ever since I met the vineyard’s owner Peter Hall at Glyne Food & Wine Festival a couple of summers back.

The beauty of Peter’s little holding is breathtaking.  You turn off the Newhaven Road and wend your way up a farm track.  Up and up.  Past horses grazing.  ‘Come up about a mile and there’s a fork in the road.  Get yourselves over the cattle grid and you’re there.’

It says on the back of the bottle of his 2007 Cuvée Francine – the Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay blend that I took away with me – that the vineyard ‘was established in 1974 in a beautiful isolated fold in the Sussex Downs.’  It’s a perfect description.  You come over the lip of the hill.  Mustard colour fields patterned with hedges.  Sheep here and there.  And this little plot down in the dell, before more hills roll away to the sky.  Two very small, manicured fields of vines either side of an olden cottage and barns (if memory serves).  With a tyre-swing tied to a tree on the approach, and a vegetable garden, and a lovely spot to sit in the back yard.  A Hansel and Gretel cottage of English Wine.

And then there’s Peter Hall.

A raconteur, bon viveur; obvious entrepreneur.  Who dips in and out of fluent French – his mother’s tongue – as we speak about wine and travelling and how he has hardly left his pig farm-turned-vineyard in 40 years.  Only once, to Switzerland he says, to the funeral of a great Dutchman friend.  Never to Champagne – the geological and viticultural confrère of his South Downs home.

He speaks with passion about Seyval Blanc, the grape that has flourished best in his vineyard; how he knew that it would take to bubbles.

He has the commitment of the artisan to his craft – up at 4am that morning, spraying the vines, after an evening of labeling by hand.  Something which would have, no doubt, made his Burgundian grandfather proud.

The eccentric photo, with cat.

The eccentric photo, with cat.

With twinkles in the eye and white whiskers to set them off, Peter Hall seems to be a winemaker who has eschewed the razamatazz of the burgeoning English Wine scene.  He prefers an eccentric photo to a staid ‘winemaker with bottle’ shot.  There is little on the internet about Breaky Bottom save its website, and an article from the New York Times in the mid-1980s.

Still, he is not shy to name-drop, and Andrew Jefford and Stephen Skelton he counts as old friends. And he tells me that his Breaky Bottom – Old English for scrubland at the valley bottom – is the most popular wine at Waitrose in nearby, well-heeled Lewes.

My daughters were as interested and relaxed as I’ve ever known them in a stranger’s garden.  Feeding his beautiful fish in the pond; listening to stories of a girl cat called George, and tickling the farmhouse’s current feline occupant – a Bengal of exquisite markings.

My four year old enjoyed her finger-taste of the 2007 blend, and came back for seconds.  It is 55% Seyval Blanc with the rest mostly Chardonnay; a smidgeon of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for good measure.  “Lemons”, was Aisha’s firm view; not to be swayed.

The bubbles were small and soft and – at 11 o’clock on a sunny Saturday morning – a little glass of this was really quite the ticket.

And then we were on our way, so that a group of students from Plumpton College could arrive.  With stories of the summer of the Beaujolais Nouveau, and Soho and oysters and strong black coffee, and pheasants and rugby football, dancing in the mind like bubbles in a flute.

Surely there are only a clutch of people that you meet in life where the memory of the meeting seems to improve with age – like a good red Burgundy.

This was one of those.

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