Sunday, July 03, 2011

West Sussex Wine Trail

Some time ago, my friend asked if we would like to join her for a hike and wine-tasting in West Sussex County, about 45 miles south of London. English wines, I asked? Apparently so. We went, we hiked, and we tasted…

Saturday morning we met the UK Adventures group at Victoria Station and made a quick train ride to the quaint village of Pulboroughs, just outside of South Downs National Park to start our leisurely hike through bucolic English countryside. For next two to three hours, we passed through gentle rolling hills and miles of endless green pasture to our final destination: The Nutbourne Winery. Relatively new to the growing English wine scene, the Nutbourne Winery grows six different grape varieties, mostly in the Riesling style white grapes: Bacchus, Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner, and Schonburger in addition to the classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, producing some 30,000 to 50,000 bottles per year.

We took a tour of the 26 acre vineyard with the owner, Bridget, who explained the traditional techniques of wine-growing and wine-making. With similar fertile greensand soil, mineral composition, and cool climate as the famous Champagne region in France, she explained why West Sussex County is an ideal location for wine production due to its south-facing, gentle downward slopes which is also protected by the South Downs. The Romans planted vines in what was then known as Britannia, but wine-making all but stopped during the Middle Ages when Britain became the largest consumer of the famous Bordeaux clarets. In recent years, there has been a revival of English wine-making in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and Cornwall
In addition to Nutbourne Winery, West Sussex County also boasts several other award-winning wineries including the Nyetimber, Ridge View, and Stopham Vineyard. This year is supposedly a great year for English wines, thanks to the unseasonably warm weather and lack of rain in late April means that vintners can pick the grapes earlier in the harvest season. However, with England’s inclement weather, it is probably too early to predict the quality of this year’s vintage as rain and mold could potentially ruin the harvest. 

Bridget is also a fan of fury animals. Not only is she the proud owner of three adorable dogs, she also lets some dozen of sheep run wild in her vineyard and even has her own alpaca farm consisting of two alpacas, two llamas, and a mixed alpaca/llama. In the photo above, they lack the thick hair as the alpacas were recently shaved and donated to a local organisation. 

After touring the winery, which consists exclusively of steel containers rather than the use of oak barrels in order to preserve the delicate flavours, we made our way back to the windmill for a late afternoon tasting in their outdoor patio area. Having never tried English wines, my expectations were low, however, I am pleased to report that the wines we tasted at Nutbourne were quite nice. We started with their signature Nutty Brut sparkling wine, produced in the traditional Champagne method, which was “superb” as one elderly English gentlemen shouted. Following that, we tasted 3 varieties of white wines: Sussex Reserve, a dry fragrant white wine with an apricot bouquet; Bacchus, another fruity dry wine with an elderflower bouquet; Hedgerow, an extra dry, crisp white wine; and ending with an English rose called Blush. Keenan and I liked the Bacchus wine and bought a bottle home with us for one of those rare balmy English evenings when we can dine alfresco.
As for English wines? I’m a fan. But as a native Californian, I’ll always be partial to my Napa/Sonoma and the Russian River wines. Can’t wait to get my hands on some Californian wines next week!

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