Why you should try wine produced in Berkshire’s vineyards
PUBLISHED: 10:06 18 August 2020
There’s nothing better than a refreshing glass of wine on a summer’s day. We spoke to the producers on Berkshire’s vineyards, who take us on a journey from grape to glass… | Words: Sandra Smith
Of all the repercussions for which this year’s lockdown has been responsible, a change in our drinking habits is one that was, let’s face it, inevitable.
A glass of your favourite tipple in the pub? Off to your favourite restaurant for dinner and a bottle (or two)?
It seemed like an eternity when such social outings were off the menu yet, whether you’re once again a regular at your local or taking advantage of the weather for a spot of socially distanced drinking at home, our thirst for wine is as strong as ever.
With the UK’s consumption now topping that of our European neighbours, wine has never been more fashionable.
No longer limiting ourselves to across the Channel or New World varieties, however, the reputation and palatability of English varieties is on the rise, with a number of vineyards in Berkshire spearheading their popularity.
“This land is perfect, south- facing with a 7% or so slope, which is just right for the sun,” says Mark Darley, whose award- winning All Angels’ sparkling wines are shipped around the world.
The terroir – environment and habitat – at his Enborne vineyard was a crucial factor in his purchase of the land 10 years ago. “Our terroir is superb,” Mark continues.
“Drainage is quite good because of the sandy loam soil and we’re at the right altitude (120m) for growing chardonnay.”
The ex-lawyer, who has deer fenced his vineyard to allow fallow deer to continue using ancient routes that cross his land, recognises the changing weather patterns that have helped fellow growers. And their expertise.
“We have outstanding wine makers in this country,” enthuses Mark. “Our next step is to open a tasting room, offer vineyard tours and develop a still wine to be placed in high-end clubs and restaurants and have it discovered by people.”
In nearby Hungerford another young business, Winding Wood Vineyard, produces up to 6,000 bottles a year. Co-owner Christopher Cooke is mindful of the revolution in English sparkling wine. “Our cool climate conditions are perfect,” he states.
“And we have the same geology as Champagne.” The grape varieties grown here are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier and, although vines require intense canopy management in order to deter disease (mildew is the biggest problem), sprays are kept to a minimum.
However, there’s no controlling the weather and, despite heated wires running along the fruit wires creating a halo of heat, “the unseasonal frost in May caused huge devastation, but you have to roll with the punches and we had six good years on the trot.”
Harvesting at Winding Wood, a military style operation with grapes from 3,000 vines handpicked in one day, takes place at the end of October when the grapes have acquired the necessary level of sugar content and acidity.
Once loaded into plastic fruit crates, grapes are transferred to a wine press with the juice going into a steel tank to ferment for six months before bottling. This boutique vineyard then exports to Scandinavia, the US and China, while also selling through local wine merchants.
But it isn’t only this section of Berkshire where vines are flourishing. Over in the north-east of the county Stanlake Park Wine Estate is managed by Natalia Pezzone and Nico Centonze, who fell in love with the area when they moved here 18 months ago.
Nico’s industry experience dates back to his childhood when he helped on the family vineyard. They settled in Berkshire, Natalia explains: “Because we like challenges and making wine in countries with marginal climates. The UK was always on our bucket list.”
Stanlake is both a vineyard and a winery, producing their own wine (annually averaging 25,000 bottles) plus bottling wine for other vineyards, too.
Nicola is adamant that English wine is benefiting from climate change both at home and abroad. “Some areas are getting too hot and then the wine tastes too strong, like jam,” she says. “Our white wines have a refreshing acidity. When people know what to expect they are not disappointed.”
Their shop, popular with those who want to support local producers, has continued to remain open throughout 2020 and wine tours, when allowed, offer an educational experience.
As wine consumption in this country proves, our love of this iconic drink shows no sign of evaporating, lockdown or not. And while our tastes used to favour more traditional wine-growing regions, English vineyard owners are intent on increasing their market share.
In fact, according to Christopher Cooke, wine, and the business of selling wine, can only get better. “The future of English sparkling wine is tremendously positive,” he enthuses.
“You can’t sell something unless it’s good and we can beat the French with quality of product. I’m optimistic wine production will be a prosperous industry here in a few years.”
And if that isn’t a good enough reason to buy some of the country’s best home-grown wine right here in Berkshire, I don’t know what is. Cheers!