RICHARD ESLING: English wine-makers must be nutty

The Arundel Wine Society supper at Nutbourne Vineyard
The Arundel Wine Society supper at Nutbourne Vineyard

England is on the extreme edge of the climatic area of the Northern hemisphere, where wine grapes can be grown successfully.

The range of latitudes for wine grape growing is 30 to 50 degrees north.

Less than 30, towards the equator, the climate is too hot and the grapes either lack acidity or stop producing sugars, which are necessary for fermentation. More than 50, the climate is too cold and the grapes do not ripen sufficiently or produce enough sugars and the vines may be killed by very low temperatures.

Much of Sussex is around 51 degrees north and thus on the limits. But, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream, combined with a small increase in average temperatures due to climate change – whatever Mr Trump says, it’s happening, only the cause is in dispute – wine grapes can be successfully grown in southern England.

However, coping with a cool climate is only one of the challenges faced by producers of English wine.

Last week was English Wine Week and a great opportunity for producers to introduce their wines to the general public, through visits, tastings and other events.

The Arundel Wine Society participated in this showcase, with a visit to Nutbourne Vineyard near Pulborough. Owned by Peter and Bridget Gladwin, the vineyard goes back almost 40 years, to 1980 when it was planted with Germanic grape varieties, all the rage at that time. Bridget undertakes most of the running of the vineyard and gave in-depth explanations of the various techniques used to produce quality grapes.

“Frost is one of our biggest problems,” she explained. “Then there is the rain causing diseases and rot, deer, badgers, foxes, birds and wasps.”

Apart from this there’s no problem.

“Except for the English weather,” Bridget added.

One of the Sparkling wines produced By Nutbourne Estate is called ‘Nutty’. Named due to its origins, it does also beg the question as to whether you have to be nutty to attempt wine-making in this country. However, when you then consider the great success of wines made at Nutbourne, alongside many others from Sussex and other parts of England, the question is already answered.

The Gladwins are passionate about their vineyard and the wines they make, both still and sparkling and this is rewarded by recognition of their quality in terms of both international awards and volume of sales. Gold medals for the Nutty Brut, silver in IWSC for the still Bacchus, demonstrate that the quality of these wines can compete with many around the world.

As I have written in previous editions of my column, the world of wine is constantly changing and no more so than at Nutbourne. With a continuous management programme, vines are being changed to those that are more in-fashion and more suitable to current tastes. Thus, many of the Germanic varieties such as Reichensteiner, are being replaced with more modern varieties such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The state-of-the-art winery is also kept current, even though some tasks are still performed by hand, such as finishing and labelling. A sign, perhaps, of true artisans with great attention to detail.

Nutbourne Vineyard is a great example of how passion and dedication can pay off, with a range of wines of which to be proud and a family business of repute.

My personal favourites from their range are the sparkling wines. Nutty Brut 2014, has notes of toasty brioche from three years ageing on the lees, together with great fruit style, enhanced by using a small proportion of Reichensteiner in the blend. £24.50 from the vineyard.

A new addition to the range, which also has great appeal, is the Nutty Wild. Made from 100 percent Pinot Noir, it is young, fresh and fruity with a delicate pink colour and dry finish. £18 at the cellar door.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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