It might be just the tonic you need and will also be a shot in the arm for our local producers. Alternatively celebrate the summer solstice and English Wine Week – 19th-27th June (#WinesofGreatBritain) by ordering a bottle or two to enjoy at home.
Right across the world the pandemic has hit the wine industry hard. The UK is no different and has taken a greater blow than many might imagine. Relatively speaking wine production is still in its infancy here, and the vast majority of producers rely on the on-trade (bars and restaurants) to sell and promote their produce. With this route to market closed for extended periods, winemakers have had to think outside the box in order to survive.
One saving grace of 2020 was the beautifully warm summer and a relaxing of restrictions. This meant wine lovers from across the UK flocked to the cellar doors of our UK wineries to enjoy local produce in the safety of the vineyards. This wine tourism provided a lifeline for many and just the positive affirmation needed to encourage wineries to invest in improving their hospitality facilities.
With overseas travel still looking uncertain for a while we wanted to highlight a few of our producers to visit over the summer months. So many are located in beautiful parts of the country and you're sure to get a warm welcome and will leave with an equally warm glow knowing that you have helped our local producers.
As with all things these days, we recommend pre-booking!
CORNWALL: Camel Valley Winery, Nanstallon
Camel Valley have been producing some of England's finest still and sparkling wines since ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo and his wife Annie first planted their 8,000 vines in 1989. Set in the idyllic valley of the same name, Camel Valley has been a happy hunting ground for those wanting to explore the local area, tour the vines and have a glass of wine surrounded by vines. Guided tours include a glass of wine (for those 18 and over) and you can make a table reservation should you wish to stay longer.
Visit: camelvalley.com for more information and to book
A taste of Cornwall at home:
Elegant and eminently drinkable pinot noir rosé from the masters of the style. A distinctive traditional-method sparkling wine showing generous wild strawberries and raspberries on the palate thanks to the warm 2018 vintage, whilst also providing freshness and structure. One of England's finest rosé sparklers that's just perfect for summer.
GLOUCESTERSHIRE: Three Choirs, Newent
First planted in 1973, Three Choirs is one of the UK's oldest vineyards, and their wines have been a favourite with members for nearly 30 years. As well as their award-winning wines they also boast eight rooms, three lodges amongst the vines and a fantastic brasserie where local produce is served alongside their own wines as well as others from around the world. All this whilst enjoying some of the finest vineyard views in the country.
Visit: three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk for more information and to book
A taste of Gloucestershire at home:
Our flagship English white which we blend in person with head winemaker Martin Fowke every year is, we believe, the best its ever been in 2020. Almost perfect conditions resulted in grapes which gave aromatic white-fruit, citrus and gooseberry aromas and a surprisingly generous palate, despite the modest 11% alcohol. If you're yet to try English still wines, 2020 is the year to jump in!
SUSSEX: Ridgeview, Ditchling
Ridgeview, producers of our Society's Exhibition English Sparkling Wine, took positives from an otherwise difficult year thanks to the regular influx of visitors during the gorgeous summer of 2020. Situated as they are on the edge of the beautiful South Downs and not far from the coast and Brighton, it's easy to see the attraction of the location alone. Enjoy cold plates and picnics of local produce on the terrace overlooking the vines and keep an eye on their events page to find out what is happening.
Visit: ridgeview.co.uk for more information and to book
A taste of Sussex at home:
A deliciously refreshing introduction to traditional-method English sparkling wine. With a core of bright Sussex chardonnay giving structure and citrus-fruit flavours to the wine and extended time on the lees providing some toasty brioche notes, this is the perfect fizz to celebrate the English summer.
KENT: Simpsons Wine Estate, Barham, Elham Valley
New suppliers to The Wine Society, husband-and-wife team Ruth and Charles Simpson picked this sunny corner of Kent to plant their vines in 2014, having already set up a winery in the Languedoc. Located within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the vines are planted on undulating south-facing chalk slopes protected from the elements by ancient woodland and benefiting from being less than eight miles from the coast on three sides. The couple make both sparkling and still wines only from their own fruit and it was their Gravel Castle Chardonnay which caught our eye. The estate is open for visitors in spring and summer and they offer a number of different tasting and tour 'Experiences'.
Visit: simpsonswine.com for more information and to book
A taste of Kent at home:
Pure, bright and elegant unoaked English chardonnay from Simpsons Estate near Canterbury, Kent. Using the same chardonnay clones as found in Burgundy and planted on the same chalk bedrock which stretches under the Channel to Champagne and Chablis, this displays similar taut, citrus-infused fruity character with a generous mouthfeel from the hugely impressive 2020 vintage. Delicious now with roast chicken or some grilled halloumi burgers.
DORSET: Langham Wine Estate, Crawthorne, Dorchester
Another new producer for us, Langham Estate dates back to 2009 when Justin Langham decided he wanted to make his father's experimental vineyard into a commercial venture, planting 30 acres of vines at Crawthorne farm within the estate. Committed to making terroir-driven sparkling wines with a low-intervention approach from their own vines, Justin and his young team hand pick the grapes and ferment the wine in a winery housed in a characterful old barn right next to the vines. As well as guided tours and tastings there's an on-site café for afternoon teas and lunches, plus some really tempting themed events.
Visit: langhamwine.co.uk for more information and to book
A taste of Dorset at home:
Wine – Langham Corallian Classic Cuvée NV, Dorset (coming soon)
A classic blend of 75% chardonnay, 15% pinot noir and 10% pinot meunier with 83% of the fruit from the outstanding 2018 vintage and 17% reserve wine from Langham in Dorset. The result is a complex, rich and biscuity English sparkling wine with a fine mousse and flavours of baked pears, biscuit and citrus. Langham were crowned IWSC Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year in 2020. Ones to watch.
HAMPSHIRE: Black Chalk, Fullerton, Andover
I chose this family-run estate in the beautiful Test Valley as one of our winemakers to watch at the start of the year and am thrilled that the new vintage of their excellent sparkling wine proves this point once again. They have a brand new winery, completed just in time for the 2020 vintage and an elegant tasting room and cellar-door facility to receive visitors and the vineyards, surrounded by the river Test and wonderful countryside are well worth experiencing.
Visit: blackchalkwine.co.uk for more information and to book
A taste of Hampshire at home:
Wine – Black Chalk Classic, Hampshire 2017 (coming soon)
Elegant, perfectly balanced and pure tasting, these are the hallmarks of winemaker Jacob Leadley's skill and testament to the suitability of Hampshire chalk to making world-class sparkling wines. The traditional blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier are crafted into a wine with real structure and toasty, lemon-tinged fruit. Find out for yourself what all the fuss is about!
Read Matthew's article on English wine's history and the 2020 vintage