Well it’s now over 20 years since Brightwell Vineyard was planted as one of the early experiments in reviving the English vine industry. That experiment has now grown into an annual production of 30,000 bottles, with demand exceeding supply. But still we get the question – can you ripen grapes in our temperate summers?
Yes, is the definite answer!
The right varieties of grape, grown on the right soils, and with the right knowledge of how to treat the vine along with expertise in winemaking has made English wine some of the best in the world. In a Sparkling wine tasting by Masters of Wine in February, 5 English Sparkling wines beat famous champagne (Moet et Chandon Brut Imperial) with an English blanc de blanc taking 1st place (There were no countries scoring in the top 30 other than Champagne and England (NZ Cloudy Bay Pelourus was 36th). This type of success is now repeated each year in competitions such as the Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine Challenge where English wines have won first place trophies. How do our cool climate wines beat Champagne in competition? Simple really – Champagne is also a cool climate in a cool part of France, and these cool climates give more delicate flavours than hot climates which give big alcohol. England is not dissimilar to Champagne and Burgundy in climatic and geological terms.
However one thing the English Wine industry lacks is volume. Last year the UK produced over 3 million bottles (only the 3rd time this volume has been achieved in the last 10 years). And with vineyard planting on the increase this number may top 4 million by 2020. However, this does not even make 1% of the annual consumption of wine in this country!
Like many vineyards of its era (late 1980s), Brightwell was planted with mainly German varieties initially, which were guaranteed to give us ripe grapes in our cooler climate. However, as we have discovered that more classic varieties can ripen here, we have planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and others. This is due to the realisation that these grapes do very well in our cool climate, and we use them to make classic style Sparkling wines. We can’t grow Cabernet Sauvignon because they won’t ripen fully, but Chardonnay, Bacchus, Huxelrebe and Pinot Noir will not only ripen, but also give us a complex mixture of fruit sugars and acids that produce crisp, refreshing wines with a delicate complexity and fresh fruit flavour. (Note New Zealand was also mainly growing German grape varieties until the 1970s when they realised that they could be more adventurous).
Grapes have been grown in this country since Roman times but with the climate change event that started in the 14th Century, cooling the climate, and then the dissolution of the monasteries (the universities of their age which taught many of the craft industries) by Henry VIII in the 1500’s, vineyards went into decline. Finally the reign of Oliver Cromwell banned alcohol (and everything else that was fun, including Christmas). So growing grapes and wine making ceased in this country (despite the bottle fermented method of making Sparkling wine being invented in England by Christopher Merret at this time – and then copied in Champagne).
The resurgence of vineyards in England started in the 1960s with hobbyists and retired folk ‘having a go’. Through these ‘pioneers’ the realisation came that grape growing and wine making was possible in this country and that it was not climate that denied us a wine industry but historical circumstance. Now, with the proper equipment and well trained viticulturalists and wine makers, England is proving that it can produce quality wines.
The first plantings of vines at Brightwell Vineyard were made in 1987, and the early harvests were sold to larger producers and into a co-operative. In 2000 the vineyard changed hands and adopted its parish name of Brightwell. Following restoration and significant replanting, the vineyard now produces 4 still white wines, 1 rose, 1 red and 1 Sparkling Chardonnay wine. We have competed our wines internationally and are proud to have received Gold and Silver medals in European contests in France. We are now the largest vineyard in Oxfordshire and are planning further development. We hope you will visit us during the year to see the progress of a unique and growing enterprise in the parish.
So, come and try our wines to see for yourself whether ‘we can do it’ in Brightwell. Our wines are sold at the village shop, but also here at the vineyard on Fri, Sat and Sun 12 – 6pm. You are also welcome on one of our vineyard tour days: the last Sunday of every month, May – Sept, at 3pm. See our website http://www.brightwellvineyard.co.uk/
for more information.
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