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English wine’s bright side
It seems barely a week passes without it being a week for something: national construction week; national giving week; national insect week; national downshifting week you name it; we've got a week for it and in truth, the majority pass me by without as much as a second thought. This week though, is the exception to the rule.
Sunday will be the last day of English Wine Week, a period that the marketing folk hope will have seen us celebrating English wines. We're talking more and more about carbon footprints and the desire to buy local, yet English wines remain for many, an anathema.
Wine aficionados continue to wrinkle their noses at the very mention of English wine and yet all the indicators are pointing those who wish to be seen as trend-setters firmly in the direction of home turf.
Once the English climate was considered too chilly but it has in recent times become warmer and more reliable. Crops are more reliable and sensible yields mean the economic proposition is more attractive. The dependence on Germanic grape varieties such as müller-thurgau and reichensteiner in the vineyard is passing and varieties such as chardonnay and pinot noir are steadily rising.
At Brightwell Vineyard, near Wallingford, owner Bob Nielsen is a man determined to bring English wines to a bigger audience. The day I visited he was upbeat about the successes of two of his wines at the Concours des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants' in France. Over 5,000 wines were tasted blind (by a French jury) and to come home with a gold and a silver medal is no mean feat.
The decision to be an English winemaker is not an obvious one and Bob, by his own admission, came to it by accident. The vineyard came with the house and we had to decide to take it on as a project or take it out altogether,'' he said.
With no background in wine he applied himself to transforming what had previously been a hobby vineyard into something much more serious with the help of a few books and commonsense.
Discipline and lots of hard work have brought Bob and his wife Carol to the point where they are producing 30,000 bottles a year of white, rosé and red wines.
An on-site winery is almost complete and the release of their first sparkling wine is due at Christmas. There is no question Bob and Carol are motivated. If we make a vineyard work here, it's a real achievement We'll have done it in a country where there is no infrastructure and no subsidies for wine producers,'' he said.
He acknowledges selling English wines isn't an easy task. "People need to taste the wines. They taste, they're surprised they like them and then they buy them,'' he said.
You may have missed English wine week this time around but maybe you'll make 2007 your year to get to know your local wines better. You can start with this week's wine club mixed case from Brightwell Vineyards.
You can see what your local vineyard is doing at www.englishwineweek.co.uk