The next vineyard on the Bentley Flying Spur tour was the Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex. They are another family run business, who have been experimenting and developing English wines for many years. They are also one of the first, started back in 1972 by Janet and Rodney Pratt. Rodney became interested in producing wine whilst studying Chemistry and Engineering in Germany, spending his spare time learning what he could from German vineyards. He later became a rubber trader in the City and used this to finance his true passion, to create an outstanding range of English wines, at a time when few would even consider the possibility. Now of course they are stocked in Bibendums, Waitrose and Marks and Spencers, amongst others.
The vineyard itself is host to Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and other German varieties such as Reichensteiner (white), Schönburger (red) and Würzer (white) and these are used to create a variety of interesting wines which in 2012 won them the UK Wine Producer of the Year at the International Wine and Spirit Competition.
It is Rodney and Janet Pratt’s daughter Sam Linter that runs the company now, together with her daughter Charlotte, ably assisted by wine maker Liz Garrett and an excellent team. We were greeted by Charlotte who proceeded to show us around the 39 acres where she grew up and played amongst the vines as a child. Charlotte was an excellent host and tour guide, with great knowledge of the vineyard and the wines they were producing. It is fairly unique for England to experience a vineyard tour with the grand daughter of the founder, a history and pedigree to be proud of!
The estate uses both the vertical shoot positioning at the Foxhole vineyard and the Sylvos trellis system on the 18 acre field. Both are excellent at keeping the air flowing over the berries to avoid any damp or mildew and to get the maximum possible sunshine. Powdery mildew is always a problem in England due to the damp weather, so aeration is essential to keep the berries dry. The soil is typical of the this area, a mixture of clay and sand over rock, which keeps those roots growing long and deep, ideal to obtain the best grapes. All the picking is done by hand over four weeks and they wisely keep some of the wines back in reserve, so they can always produce a good selection in case of a bad year. It is a hard balance to keep, as you forsake sales in the short term, but it is a good long term strategy to prevent a poor summer ruining their output in any given year.
They have recently built a stylish new vineyard café with a lovely first floor balcony overlooking the vines. We were lucky enough to have caught them on a beautiful sunny day, so we sat out on one of the balcony tables to sample their different wines in this gorgeous English country setting. We started with the Blanc de Blancs 2010 which is lightly sparkling, smooth with a lovely flowery flavour and length. Having warmed up nicely we then tucked into the Pinot Noir 2014, which had a light woody flavour, with a hint of cherry and light balanced finish. Next we supped the Pinot Gris, very fragrant and fruity with a rich apple, pear finish. Last came the Cuvée Noir 2011, a sparkling red wine that was a surprising revelation, something quite different, with creamy rich flavours, the lightness balanced by the bubbles to give it a fruity red berry finish that went down very well indeed. The Cuvée Noir really should be tried, I would recommend ordering one of their mixed cases and spending a delightful evening or lunch with your own tasting session.
This family run vineyard has stood the test of time, spanning three generations and they are now very much coming into their own as British wine looks set to take off. Different statistics estimate that around only 2% of wine consumed in the UK comes from English vineyards so there is a large untapped market out there. The future looks very rosy (or Rosé) indeed for Bolney Wine Estate that promoted English wine when few were listening.
They are clearly appealing to a discerning crowd as whilst we were there our Flying Spur was joined by a Maserati and a Porsche. It could have been the South of France in September looking out over the rolling hills, dotted with vines and quaffing a marvellous sparkling red as the sports cars pulled up to buy their crates of wine to take back home after a hot summer.
I would highly recommend a visit to the vineyard for a tour, or simply to try the wines on the balcony. Bolney are the dark horse of English wines as they have accumulated a lot of experience of their terroir over the years and are constantly experimenting wth new grape varieties, seeking to innovate in the burgeoning British wine market.