The inaugural Ripley Grape and Grain - a rip-roaring success!

A perfect summer day out - 10 June 2017

I strolled on to the site of the first Ripley Grape and Grain festival at about 10am on a glorious summer morning, unaware of the delights In store. Having only become aware of the festival via my Twitter feed (@carrie_cot) I'd planned to attend specifically to hear presentations from local English Sparkling Wine producers Greyfriars and Albury Organic and attend a tasting or two - but I was regaled by a plethora of brightly coloured stands, gazebos and tents filled with local produce from artisan brewers, bakers, butchers, ice-cream makers, distillers, organic veg, sweets, street food... and almost every kind of English epicurean treat I could imagine.

So... where to begin? A late breakfast, perhaps? Drawn by the irresistible aroma of sizzling sausages I followed my nose, only to be side-tracked when I spied the familiar "G" of Greyfriars Vineyard: I simply had to go to say hi   And of course I wasn't going to turn down an invitation to taste their award-winning English Sparkling wines and get the latest on their new 'cave' and tasting venue - of which more later. 

My personal highlights of the festival: -

Not your average Sparkling English Rosé...


Pewley Down Vineyard has only one acre - and produces only one wine - but it is a fine exemplar of English Sparkling Wine. Ripley Grape and Grain 2017 showcased the release of Pewley Down's limited edition of only 2500 bottles. Pewley Down's 2013 harvest of Rondo, early Pinot Noir, Schomberger and Bacchus grapes has been blended to create a luscious vintage sparkling rosé wine, where the ‘traditional method’ secondary fermentation in the bottle after aging on the lees for 18 months before disgorgement, has allowed the wine to develops its unique and distinctive character.  

The renowned Hans Schleifer has advised many of the new English Vineyards and Pewley Down is no exception. The Grapes of the 2013 vintage were expertly pressed, fermented and bottled by the guys at Bolney Estate and the resulting wine has 8g/litre acidity and 8g/litre residual sugar. Of course it is ideally suited to oysters and fine shellfish - it's maybe a little light for smoked salmon- but on a glorious day one could do a lot worse than drinking it on its own. Ideally suited to a celebratory event, engagement, wedding, anniversary or naming ceremony, perhaps. I bought two bottles, my biggest purchase of the day; and in the subsequent sudden English Summer heatwave it has gone down an absolute treat.  There is only limited availability so I highly recommend it - remember; when it's gone, it's gone! (at least, until the next vintage is released, which is months away...)
Address   Pewley Down Vineyard,Guildford, Surrey, GU1 2HF

Please note, the vineyard is not open to the public. See website for wine stockists

On developing the exceptional quality of English Wine

Mike's talk was entertainingly informative - I'm sure that even an expert would have learned something new (and I'm learning but not an expert yet). Some key take-aways: -
Champagne is all about uniformity, marketing and celebrity endorsements but English Sparkling Wine is still romantic, still experimental. Considering the singularity of its geology, Surrey produces many different wines, each of unique character. English Sparkling Wine has long held its own in blind tastings against the best that the Champagne region has to offer - and now an English  Bacchus from Norfolk has beaten off the competition to be crowned Best Still Wine in the World.
Production of English Wine is increasing year on year - for example, Greyfriars has just finished digging a cave to store 3,500 bottles. However there is still a long way to go as English Sparkling Wine is currently selling 4million bottles annually compared to 100million bottles of Champagne. 
Also worth considering: Gin production from start to bottle can take as little as 6 weeks. Vintage English Sparkling Wine made by the Traditional Method need a minimum of 9 months on the lees and it can take 3 years to be ready for sale. That's a shedload of money tied up in stock. Well, I do love my Gin, but I'm definitely prepared to wait for the extra time it takes to make my favourite wines.
Twitter:  @greyfriarsvine
Address:  Greyfriars Vineyard, The Hog's Back, Puttenham, GU3 1AG
Tel:          01483 813712
Wines available from the Vineyard shop and from Cellar Wines, Ripley
See website for details of tastings, tours, vineyard shop opening hours and other stockists 

Blackdown Ridge Estate - Wines from the highest point on the Sussex Weald


I spent some time with the lovely Lucinda Colucci of Blackdown Ridge Estate between talks in the big tent. Lucinda manages marketing, having previously assisted vineyard owner Professor Martin Cook in an academic capacity. Lucinda brings a refreshing honesty to the business of marketing the wines, no hard sell, instead enthusiasm and encouragemen, knowledgeable but never patronising. 

I was joined for my tasting by John Mobbs of Great British Wine, another of the guest speakers whom, like Mike Wagstaff, I had first met at the UK Wine Hour Live event in January 2017. 

First we tried the white Single Estate Bacchus 2013, followed by the red, Single Estate Blend of Rondo and Triomphe D'Alsace from the 2013 harvest. Both are of similar quality to many top English still wines (and are currently on special offer on the website - bargain!)

But the 2014 Primordia Classic Cuvée is really something special. It's complex tasting, beginning with citrus and mellowing to orchard fruit (with the tiniest hint of marmite). Surprisingly one discovered more subtleties and complexities with each taste. John Mobbs has subsequently written a detailed review on his website in which he describes the wine in greater detail. But, put simply, I loved it.

Blackdown Ridge vineyard is a little further away but I will be contacting Lucinda at the earliest opport to arrange a tour and tasting.

Sales, tours and tasting details are on the website:  


History - and why there are no short cuts when making Aged Sparkling Wine

"Good wine is made in the vineyard" - it depends on the grape.
Bruce began with a History of English Wine, starting with the Romans who grew wine locally wherever they went (back in Roman times, I presume, wine didn't travel well). Once the Romans had departed, wine production reduced as the population in the Dark Ages preferred beer and mead. But in 600AD St Augustine revived wine production and consumption began to grow. Then, Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine and her dowry was all the Vineyards of Bordeaux and much of the Loire (which must go some way to explain the English love of wines from the two regions). But, when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries English Wine production again went into decline and an outbreak of Phylloxera in the 17th century pretty much finished off the industry until a revival in the 1930s. But the big breakthrough began at Nytimber in the 1990s with their groundbreaking English Sparkling Wines.
A couple of little known facts from the Tyndales - The English developed Champagne (but I won't tell the Champenois if you don't...) and created the Champagne bottle in the 1600's. In Tudor times, coal replaced wood for burning in furnaces as the wood was needed for warships. The higher temperatures generated from burning coal enabled glass blowers to produce the stronger glass needed to contain liquid under pressure.  And, in the past 10 years English Sparkling Wine (ESW) has won more top wine awards/prizes than any other region, including Champagne.
High CLANDON vineyard is on the chalk of the Surrey Hills, with only 1 acre of vines. The team works very hard to produce the good grapes needed for great wines. Each year is a vintage, hence the proportions of the 3 Classic Cuvée grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) changes from year to year.
"If the grapes aren't good enough for your cheeseboard then they aren't good enough for your wine" quote from English Sparkling Wine expert Hans Schleifer.
Bruce described the winemaking process: the first stage Vin Clair has the elderflower scent of the Surrey Hills. After 6 months initial fermentation it is bottled with sugar & yeast for its second fermentation under a crown cap and laid down (on the lees) for 5 years. The longer it's kept under pressure the finer the mousse i.e. tinier bubbles. Once the lees is removed (disgorged) the final dosage is added, then the bottle is laid down for another 6 months and is then, finally, ready for sale.
High Clandon has a glass barn for tasting by private appointment. Its Celebration Cuvée, currently on sale, is from grapes harvested 7 years ago.  High Clandon is also making its name in Wine Tourism - the International Wine Challenge has High Clandon and Denbies as its 2017 finalists. I'm definitely going to visit soon to check out the accommodatio and hopefully take a lesson in sabrage from Sybilla.
After the talk I took the opportunity to taste both the High Clandon Rosé and Celebration Cuvée, courtesy of Cellar Wines. I discovered that aged wines are indeed smoother and more balanced, just as Bruce described them. The higher price tag reflects their superior quality. However, if ever there was a wine for a truly special event, this is it. I recommend you push the boat out and try it at least once - and if like me you fall in love with it, start saving now to buy it for Christmas - or start writing to Santa Claus!
High Clandon Estate Vineyard
email: or telephone 01483 225660.
See website for details of tours and tasting. 
Wines available from Cellar Wines, Ripley - See website for other stockists.

"Send Her Victorious, Happy and Glorious"


It might have been a little early in the day for a Gin tasting but I was never going to pass up the opportunity to sample the wares of the local Silent Pool Distillery, next-door neighbour of my friends at Albury Organic Vineyard. As well as their gorgeous Gin in its beautiful bottle, the guys from Silent Pool had brought along their special English Rose Gin, made with traditional botanicals and infused with red rose petals after distillation - made especially to commemorate Her Majesty's 90th Birthday. I can only describe it as "happy and glorious" especially when twinned with Fever-Tree Elderflower Tonic. They go together like the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh - a match made in heaven. Apparently it should be served with cubed fresh pears, too.

Later that day I had planned to return for another tasting after completing my Sparkling Wine education sessions in the big tent - but the stall was mobbed. The queue was even longer than that for the ice cream seller. Plenty of people clearly agreed that an SP G&T was the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon al fresco listening to music. Fortunately the distillery isn't too far from home and is open daily to visitors so I can pop in at another time. 

Sales, opening times and further details:

Biodynamic Wine Production in an Organic Vineyard

Nick's talk on Organics and Biodynamics included another fun factoid: today is the anniversary of the day that the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous decided to give up drinking! 
There are now over 500 commercial Vineyards in the UK. Some are as small as one acre but others are really substantial; Denbies has 260 acres on a single site and Rathfinny will be 500 acres when fully planted. Current production of 5million bottles annually is likely to double in the next few years.
Albury is one of only 15 certified organic Vineyards in the UK. It sits on land rented from the Duke of Northumberland. Even the fertiliser is famous; Albury makes its own compost using manure from Laverstoke Park, ex-F1 driver Jody Schekter's farm at Loseley. Nick admits that it's  hard to be totally Organic in the UK, as the weather is against you. To avoid using non-organic compounds Nick has to be preventive against disease and maintain a living soil. The vineyard needs close attention at all times.
Why Biodynamics?
Rudolf Steiner of Austria developed the biodynamic approach to revitalise the land. It's all about the earth and the cosmos and the influence of the Moon's gravitational pull on plants, affecting sap flow. (Sadly all this new-age stuff doesn't require/involve naked dancing in the Vineyards, although you can do it just for fun!)
The biodynamic calendar is built around fruit, flower, root and foliage days, matching the phases of the moon. Today is a "flower day" according to the biodynamic calendar. Apparently the Tesco and M&S wine tasters only taste on flower and fruit days. The principles also include picking on fruit days; spraying on foliage days and planting on root days; burying cow horns full of manure in the vineyard in winter, then digging up the horns in spring, dynamising the manure in water and spraying on the vines. A similar process takes place with silica fertiliser.
Nick then listed several top wines made biodynamically, including Louis Roederer, Romana y Conti and Petillant Naturelle. Biodynami wines are stocked at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Tom Kerridge's Hand & Flowers and several other Michelin starred restaurants. Many top sommeliers in great restaurants are educated about biodynamics and buy their wines accordingly.
 *Any errors in this piece are mine and not Nicks.
I had been fortunate to attend an open day and tasting at Albury Organic Vineyard back in April and a write-up appears on another page of my blog. It's another vineyard I can highly recommend.

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