Winewyse Press Articles

Wine Tourism Comes to Sussex

Richard Esling - Monday, May 28, 2018
Wine Tourism Comes to Sussex

Wine Tourism comes to Sussex


For those of us fortunate enough to live in the beautiful, sunny counties of Sussex, it is impossible not to be impressed by the number of vineyards popping-up at what seems to be ever-increasing speed. From the far west of the region around Chichester, right across to the east near Rye, vineyards now form an integral part of the Sussex landscape.
Sussex is now widely regarded as producing some of the best quality sparkling wine in the world, with an increasing number of still wines, from varieties such as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, also vying for attention. Not only has the quality of English wines increased exponentially, but the quantity is following the same path. Estimates show that the current production of around 5 million bottles per year is set to double in two to three years’ time, as the recently planted hundreds of thousands of vines come into production. Other estimates believe production may be as high as 30 million in another ten years, which by comparison, equates to the number of bottles of champagne imported annually into the UK.

But don’t believe that any of this comes either easily or cheaply. As Simon Woodhead, winemaker at Stopham Estate, near Pulborough, said “Our biggest challenge is the weather. Apart from the annual problem of frost, global warming has also caused a lot more rain, and rain at flowering time in June, is a disaster for yield. If it rains during Wimbledon finals week, we know we have trouble”.
Such is the development of the English Wine Industry, that a group of eight producers of English wine have recently joined together to form Sussex Wineries. One of the main criteria for membership of the group, is that the producer must have a winery. As the prime focus is on tourism, it is important that visitors can see not only where the grapes are grown, but how and where the wines are made.

The key objectives of Sussex Wineries are to promote Sussex as a wine tourism destination, to communicate what makes the region so special and build awareness of Sussex as a producer of award-winning wine. Locally, the Wineries can work with tourist boards, food and drink promotion, nationally with UK promotional bodies and also highlight international tourism of our region. The group was formed to collectively promote high quality wines made in Sussex.
“Sussex Wineries is the ideal platform to collectively encourage consumers to discover all that Sussex has to offer, with regards to our wines, cellar-doors, tasting rooms, winery cafés, vineyard accommodation, wine tours and experiences,” comments Sam Linter, MD of Bolney Estate. “Whilst we all have our own unique range of wines, individual stories to tell, and distinctive cellar door offerings, collaboratively we will widen our appeal as a region and increase the attractiveness of offering to include the full range of tourism attractions,” she continued.

The idea is to also help the English Wine Industry as a whole, by building awareness of Sussex as a wine region locally, nationally and internationally. This will in turn attract visitors from all areas. The demand is definitely there, since only last week, I had a request from Norway, through my own WineWyse website, for recommendations on visiting English vineyards. Other counties in the south-east are also forming collaborative groups, such as Kent and Hampshire and this will inevitably help develop processes and quality to the benefit of all. The English Wine Industry itself is maturing, not just the wines.

The members of the Sussex Wineries group are Stopham Estate, Bolney Estate, Bluebell Vineyard, Ridgeview, Rathfinny, Oxney, Albourne and Wiston Estate. The first Sussex Wineries Weekend is planned to take place between 15th and 17th June, with many different events planned at each winery. Details can be found on the individual winery websites and an overview on the Sussex Wineries site. A great opportunity to enjoy all that Sussex has to offer, with vineyards set in some of the most stunning countryside of Europe, the fascinating production methods to discover and award-winning wines with which to toast our local winemakers. And when it comes to Wimbledon Finals week, pray that it doesn’t rain – not just for the tennis! 

The Love-Hate Relationship with Chardonnay

Richard Esling - Monday, May 21, 2018
The Love-Hate Relationship with Chardonnay

Chardonnay is perhaps one of the most mis-understood of all wines, which is somewhat ironic as it is produced in virtually every wine-making region of the world. Sometimes it is forgotten that it is actually a grape variety as opposed to a wine, although many wines carry the name of the grape variety on the label. Hence part of the confusion. The oft heard expression which I have mentioned in past articles “I hate Chardonnay but I love Chablis”. The latter is, of course, also made from pure Chardonnay, but it may not say so on the label.

The Chardonnay grape variety is very adaptable as wine grapes go, hence its widespread use around the globe. Since World Chardonnay Day falls this week on Thursday 24th May, time for a little probe into the ins and outs of wines made from it. There are a host of different styles of wine made from Chardonnay and a great deal of variation in quality. Virtually always made dry, the flavours can vary from austere, mineral wines with high acidity, to full, fruity, opulent wines with soft tropical notes.

A great deal of this variation is due to climatic influences, with a wide spectrum of flavours and aromas developing dependant on where the grapes are grown, from cool climates to warm. Soil type has another big influence. combine both of these with the fact that Chardonnay is a very ‘oak friendly’ grape variety and you have an almost infinite number of wine styles. By oak friendly, I mean that the wines can react very well to both fermentation in oak barrels and maturation in oak once fermentation has finished. Flavours are lifted and enhanced by oak treatment, together with an increase in structure and complexity.

However, this is not always the case, and the use of oak needs to be carefully controlled by a good winemaker. Not so long ago, there was a lot of Chardonnay coming from mainly New World countries, such as Australia, where you may as well have been licking the inside of a barrel. Over-oaked, over flavoured and over here. Often oak chips were used (it still happens, unfortunately), which are far cheaper than a proper oak barrel, but the effect on the wine was to dominate the grape flavours and produce an unbalanced, unappealing wine. This put a lot of people off Chardonnay, but things have changed and these types of wines have largely disappeared.

The art of good winemaking is to achieve balance above all, and with high quality fruit, varietal flavours and complexity can also be achieved. Oak is thus not always used, but when it is, the effect should be subtle and integrated. There are some very good, straightforward un-oaked Chardonnays at entry level prices which can be great value for money. And then there are top quality Burgundies or Californian Chardonnays which are extraordinarily rich, deep flavoured and complex, commanding high prices.
For mid-range unoaked Chardonnay, a Domaine-bottled Chablis is always a good bet, though prices may be rising due to last year’s frosts. For a classic white Burgundy and a little more money, a Pouilly Fuissé is excellent value, such as Domaine Ferret 2016 at £33.40 per bottle from North and South Wines. Now owned by top Burgundy producer Louis Jadot, the wine is a very pure expression of Chardonnay, with a hint of oak to add complexity and length on the finish.

Moving away from France, the home country for Chardonnay, an Australian Chardonnay which is a far cry from the over-oaked styles, is the Robert Oatley Margaret River Chardonnay 2015. Gently oaked, it has hints of white peach and tropical fruits, with good balancing acidity and delicious, fruit finish. Perhaps one of the best regions of Australia for Chardonnay. Great value at only £13.80 from the Co-op. For a couple of pounds a bottle more, try the Chilean Max Reserva Chardonnay 2016 from the top producer Errazuriz. Made in the cool climate region of the Aconcagua Valley on schist soils, the wine has a combination of mineral flavours with intense tropical fruit. Barrel ageing for 10 months has produced a mellow, elegant wine of great sophistication. £15.10 from Sainsbury’s and Costco. 

The Changing World of Wine

Richard Esling - Monday, May 14, 2018
The Changing World of Wine

The Wine World Continues to Change

There is an old French saying, which goes “Plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose”, which roughly means ‘the more it changes, the more it stays the same’. This erudite expression can be applied to many things - such as Governments - and to a certain extent, applies to wine. Over hundreds of years, winemaking has changed significantly, with accelerated change in the last fifty years. Yet it remains an enjoyable (hopefully!) beverage made from grapes.

Back in the times of the Greeks and Romans, wine was fermented in large terracotta jars. Later, large wooden vessels were used, replaced then by cement tanks and latterly stainless steel. This last change came in with a great deal of other changing technology, which meant the temperature of fermentation could be controlled very accurately, together with many other techniques, such as cold maceration pre-fermentation, carbon-dioxide monitoring, pumping-over, etc. Whilst stainless steel tanks offer a great many advantages in terms of winemaking, some winemakers have decided to reintroduce the old methodology, at least in part, with a view to increasing the complexity, style and flavour profile of the resultant wines. Back to the future?

In Italy, for example, there is a wine Estate called Corte d’Aibo in the hills around Bologna, which ferments part of its production in large terracotta jars (pictured) and then blends this wine with that from production in stainless steel tanks. The result is a wine with greater depth, firmer structure and more ‘dimensions ‘. Another wine producer which has gone back to the ‘old ways’ is the world-renowned Chateau Pape Clement in the Pessac Leognan region of Bordeaux. Here, the red wines are fermented partly in wooden vats, partly in resin-lined cement and partly in stainless steel. The winemakers consider that his combination adds greater character and finesse than fermentation purely in stainless steel.

This chateau has also changed the way it matures its wine. Not so long ago, all the wine was matured in new oak barrels, producing big red wines with massive tannic structure which needed many years laying down before drinking. But times have changed, and people are no longer prepared to wait so long for their wines to reach maturity and nor do they want so much tannin. Thus only 40 % of the barrels are new, the remainder having been previously used for other vintages and thus giving less tannin.

Apart from the big changes brought about by technology, other changes have resulted from changing tastes in wine and to some extent fashion. We can all remember drinking Liebfraumilch, even though we may not admit to it publicly. But tastes have changed from the semi-sweet wines from Germanic grape varieties, becoming drier and more sophisticated. Changes which have happened in the New World as well as the Old.

In New Zealand, back in 1981, the most common grape variety was another Germanic variety – Muller Thurgau. Virtually no wine was exported, all of it being consumed on the domestic market. But as tastes changed, other grape varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, were planted and these wines had an international appeal. Thirty years later in 2011, only 30% of New Zealand wine was consumed within the country, the remainder being exported to markets worldwide. A big change in a very short period of time.

Fashion can also play its part in changing wine consumption, which then affects what is produced. Much of this is lead by the marketers, tapping into a perceived gap in the market which can produce big profits and creating or feeding the demand. Wines in this category are what I call the ‘Three P’s’ – Prosecco, Pinot Grigio and Picpoul de Pinet. Go back as little as twenty years or so and most people had never heard of any of them. Now it seems that they are all on every wine list in the UK! They all have their place, but their appeal is often exaggerated and there are far better alternatives at the same price.Back in the New World, other grape varieties are now being planted with great success and producing interesting wines – Albarinho in New Zealand, Pinot Bianco in Australia. Hooray for alternatives to the ubiquitous Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.