West Street Vineyard, in Coggeshall, is where I have toiled with my family for nearly a decade, but it is only a small part of the growing vineyard community in East Anglia. There are now over 90 commercial vineyards in our region with more vineyards being planted every year.
Well, why? – I hear you shouting. What makes East Anglia so special? Don’t vines only do well in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire? It is true that it was two Americans, Sandy & Stuart Moss, who planted Nyetimber in 1988, 10 years later they were picking up the trophy for Best sparkling wine in the world. Their undoubted, world-beating, astonishing success-focused the attention of the trade, the press and consumers on sparkling wines from England. This is not the story in East Anglia. The English wine industry is a story of two halves. In East Anglia, we really do make lovely sparkling wines, but quietly & with little fuss. We have focused more on making some stunning white and rosé wines and, in some vintages, some pretty drinkable reds (but this is more difficult – global warming certainly helps). In 2017, Winbirri vineyard in Norfolk won the coveted best in show at the Decanter World Wine Awards. This had never been achieved by an English Vineyard. So, the best white wine in England comes from a vineyard in East Anglia. Calm down Hampshire and Kent, the East Anglians are on the march!
Winbirri is not the only vineyard to win accolades in international competitions; there are countless in East Anglia including my own, which has won bronze medals for my white. It’s no secret that I am hugely competitive about my wines and I won’t be hanging up the secateurs anytime soon; we want to see gold. The East Anglian story is one of focus on making wines that are delicious and great with the wonderful food sourced in our region. They are wines that people like & enjoy – and they get sold to wine lovers in East Anglia. No wine nation exports what their locals really like – it is their best-kept secret. I am sure you have discovered on your journeys through France, Spain or Italy, the joy of stopping off at a little vineyard, meeting the family behind the vines and enjoying a glass of their precious vintage.
It is the same story in East Anglia. We are a collection of family-run vineyards – out in all weathers enduring the winter pruning in freezing temperatures. Waiting with trepidation to get through the spring where one frost means that you can kiss goodbye that year’s vintage. This is where we are this year – 2020 has spilt burning oil on very troubled waters. The anxious wait through budburst -as one hailstorm or heavy rain burst can damage the precious flowers from which the fruit develops. Through the summer where there is always something to do from summer pruning as you try to arrest the vines from meeting up across the aisles; without careful management, the manicured, trellised vines resemble an Amazonian jungle in days. The mowing, the continued fight with the endemic diseases of our damp, humid climate threatens the fruit if you let up for a moment. From bud burst to harvest, the life of the vineyard is one of fretful anxiety - most of which is out of your control. Mother nature dictates how the vintage will be that year and every year. The relief is heartfelt when the crop is in and on the way to the winery – the job is done for that year. A few short months off from vineyard labours until the cycle is repeated.
It is a little mad, but all vine growers are a little mad; you have to be to remain sane. We all put our trust in Mother Nature, whether this is in the great wine regions of France, the warm and increasingly parched vineyards in Australia, or the high-altitude vineyards in the high Andes in South America. Great wine starts in the vineyard and therefore is at the mercy of the elements.
The wines of East Anglia reflect the place in which they are grown. Large open skies and low undulating hills. Vines grow on a mixture of clay, flinty and chalky loams in the driest, sunniest climate in the country, which is the key to the success of the wines in this region. Cool damp summers increase disease pressures in the vineyard as well as dampen any hope of achieving lovely fruity flavours which give wines their individuality and spark. Hence the development of a wine style in East Anglia of fruity light dry wines - white or rosé - which are fun and easy to drink.
A well-kept secret it may be, but this Friday its #Englishwine night from 7:00 pm. Please join us with a glass of your local wine from a vineyard near you and enjoy the wines from East Anglia. While we live through these dark times, a glass of wine brings back memories of summer evenings past; of laughter and jollity as neighbours and friends get together for an impromptu BBQ. These times will come again but, in the meantime, please enjoy a glass with us on Friday.