Aug

1

Ridgeview

By mthomas

I went to a couple of tastings last week including the launch of Delamotte 2002. A very drinkable Blancs de Blancs from one of the oldest Champagne Houses best known for its connection to Salon. It retails at just over £30 (Corney and Barrow) and is a lovely special occasion fizz. Despite such continental distractions, I seem to be blogging about English sparkling wine (ESW) a lot at the moment. This is partly due to being UK based and having lots of family in the south of England but I think it also reflects the way in which ESW is moving from a relatively niche position into the mainstream. Vineyards are well established and attracting international investment. The product itself  has proven quality and it has been reclaimed as solidly ‘English’ because Dr Christopher Merret was the first to record the addition of sugar in sparkling wine production. I love Champagne but I am also increasingly enjoying ESW and its success in blind tastings. I am also loving the shenanigans over what it should be called.

Given the above, I decided to stop in at Ridgeview in Sussex on the way to a family gathering near Lewes. Despite having a serious cut on his arm Sales and Marketing Exec Oliver Marsh kindly showed me around.  Ridgeview concentrates on the traditional triad of ‘Champagne grapes’ and has an interesting range of wines (website here) and all are sparkling. They have invested in some serious kit and are awaiting a disgorger that should speed up production. This is a good thing as they are running out of reserves due to their popularity. I really liked the ‘Knightsbridge’ a Blanc de Noirs (pictured right) but this was out of stock and we had to track down a bottle tucked in amongst the cider and perry at Middle Farm near Firle.

The current debate regarding the implementation of a generic name for ESW is a healthy statement of intent but probably doomed to failure. Interestingly, one suggestion, ‘Merret’ , was copyrighted by Ridegview owner Mike Roberts and is used for a friends of the vineyard club. Other suggestions include Bretagne which sounds a bit like a bad 70s marketing strategy (Pomagne), Albion (Brighton and Hove, not West Brom) and Lancelot (French import). All seem flawed and, as I write this, I like the simplicity of ESW but  guess any committee decision is likely to be a complete ‘camel’.

BTW the image at the top of this blog is of course of Thomas Thornycroft’s wonderful statue of Boudicca by the Thames near Westminster.  Cast many years after his death it is instantly recognisable and uses her proper name not the Roman corruption Boadicea. The people suggesting Boadicea (Decanter September 2011 page 9) as a generic name for English fizz should be ashamed of themselves given its Italian connotations. Long live Boudicca!

May

31

Breaky Bottom visit

By mthomas

2009-05-25-wine-labels-067Going down to my family’s house in East Sussex for the Bank Holiday weekend gave me the opportunity to meet with their friend and neighbour Peter Hall. Peter has been making wine at Breaky Bottom for over 30 years and produces excellent English Sparkling wine. A recent trophy sat in his kitchen as testament to his success with the classic trio of fizz grapes as well as Seyval Blanc which he is committed to due to its compatability with the Terroir. He spoke passionately about the long process leading to a realisation that this was the wine he should be making at BB.

2009-05-25-wine-labels-068Breaky bottom sits in an idyllic valley in the South Downs.  Like many vineyards, the huge effort involved in maintaining this is often invisible to the casual visitor. Peter gets up at 3am and does most of the work himself. He has overcome flooding and other challenges that many would not. He deserves the success he is now enjoying.

We sat with Peter and his lovely wife Christine around their kitchen table drinking 2005  Cuvee’ Brian Jordan and Kir Royale (buy here). The Sparkling Brut showed what can be done in the South of England and is testament to his belief in Seyval Blanc.

2009-05-25-wine-labels-061The Kir Royal was a perfect balance of his fizz and homemade Creme de Cassis, decidely fun and not at all ‘naff’. Kir Royale is often out of balance when mixed casually in bars and restaurants and by taking it seriously Peter has produced something to be celebrated. It is unsurprising  that it is hugely popular at weddings and strikes me as symbolic of how the union of two things can be greater than the sum of the individual parts. 

Peter spoke warmly of family and friends. His French grandfather, and other relatives, who influence his world view and also of his friendship with Andrew Jefford (whom he clearly misses whilst he is on sabbatical in Australia writing a definitive guide to wines there).

I have offered my services at his next harvest as I can think of little better than spending a day at Breaky Bottom enjoying the Terroir, contributing to the next cuvee and listening to him recount rakish tales.