Every vineyard in The Wine Garden of England has enjoyed the best harvest they've ever seen. These pictures are just the beginning of what will be a truly epic vintage.
Balfour Co-Founder, Richard Balfour-Lynn is passionate about his estate. You will often see Richard at the winery, encouraging his team and chatting to the guests. Richard and his wife Leslie planted the vines initially to produce wine in the same style as their favourite Billecart Salmon. "If it doesn't sell, we'll drink it" was the strategy, but happily it won awards and sold very quickly from day one. Now they produce a large range of wines totalling half a million bottles a year, and host thousands of guests at their beautiful cellar door in Staplehurst.
Family owned and run by the 2nd and 3rd generation of the Barnes family, Biddenden is the oldest vineyard in Kent, with vines dating back to 1969. They have about 12 varieties on site, half of which is Ortega, their signature grape. They are usually the first of our vineyards to start harvesting, and they are often one of the last to finish as they like to wait for some of their varieties to ripen for maximum sugar levels. There aren't many dessert wines produced in the UK, but Biddenden's Schonburger is an absolute must (pardon the pun).
This is Josh Donaghay-Spire, the head winemaker and also COO of Chapel Down. He's developed the range and quality of Chapel Down's wines to a world class standard. They are the UK's leading wine producer and have ambitions to establish the UK as the world's most exciting new wine region. They recently staged a blind tasting in France under the name "Chapelle en Bas", fooling 60% of locals who thought it was better than Champagne.
Domaine Evremond is the long awaited Anglo-French alliance that has been part of Wine Garden of England since its inception. Patrick McGrath (second from left) and his good friend Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger invested in land near Chilham in 2015, planted in 2017 and have been harvesting for the last 5 years. The sparkling wine is a non vintage blend of juice from the 2019-2021 harvests, and will be released in 2024 after 3 years on lees. The state-of-the art winery and visitor centre will be completed soon. This is the team from Hatch Mansfield (Patrick's wine importing business) who had a great day picking together.
The vines at Gusbourne are located on the sandy clay based just north of the Romney marshes in Appledore, and also on the chalky slopes of Goodward in Sussex. This is Jim, who runs a tight ship of incredibly efficient pickers across the two sites. Fruit ripens differently in the two vineyards, allowing the winemakers to blend to perfection. Gusbourne is known for its world-class wines and generous experiences at their Kent estate.
Nestled in the picturesque village of Barham near Canterbury, these chalky slopes lured Charles and Ruth Simpson back from the Languedoc where they had established a successful wine business called Domaine Sainte Rose. Their mission was to create the perfect English Sparkling Wine, which they've accomplished. Their award winning wines are now served on BA Business Class flights. They have also taken advantage of the warm microclimate and produced some exceptional still wines too.
Situated in Westerham, these vines are the highest planted in Kent, which means the temperature is a couple of degrees cooler. Only the finest sparkling wines are made here. The fruit ripens about 2 weeks later than most of the other vineyards, so harvest is still going until the beginning of November. The Squerryes Members are invited to come and pick the fruit, and are rewarded with a BBQ and sparkling wine. This is Sonny, working up a healthy appetite.
Our newest member, Westwell are based not far from Ashford, right in the heart of wine country. They have Ortega, Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay on chalk, with spectacular views of the North Downs, and the Pilgrims' Way runs alongside it. The winemaking is exciting, experimental, and apart from their signature Pelegrim NV, never the same from one year to the next. Their expression of each vintage is shown in a range of still and sparkling wines, including a pet nat, which have built up a loyal fanbase since their acquisition of the vineyard in 2017.
Visit your local vineyard
If you would like to visit a vineyard, they are open for tours, tastings, meals, walks, and much more. Each vineyard offers their own unique experience, so click on the pictures above to take you to their websites. Domaine Evremond is not ready yet so no links there, sorry.
If you'd like to know more about Chapel Down's incognito project in Reims, Chapelle en Bas, click here.