Thursday, 1 October 2015

Content in Kent (The Garden of England) Day 3 (of 3)

Day three of my trip to the south east began with an early breakfast at my hotel in Rye. The evening before I had enjoyed a curry in town followed by a stop off at Olde Worlde Wines, a great bottle shop offering take out purchases and wine by the glass to drink in store. I got chatting to the locals and enjoyed a glass or three of the Barbera. This type of business is fairly new but growing throughout the UK as wine lovers seek out alternatives to the increasingly dominant supermarkets.

After breakfast and checkout I had an hour to spare so I decided on another walk around the the lovely town of Rye. If you've read the other blogs you can probably imagine what happened next. Rain, RAIN, RAIN. At least I now had a coat to protect me. To be honest this was no defence. For about the third time during my trip the weather was so bad that people were actually sheltering in doorways, including me. There is something quaint about seeing that but if you are caught in it it is horrible. Eventually I actually ran, yes ran down the high street back to my car.

Woodchurch Wines is a family business started in 2009 by Graham and Donna Barbour, with the intention of producing English sparkling wines using the noble Champagne grape varieties. After the disappointments of the afternoon before (see my previous blog) I was really hopeful of this meet up. For a start I was actually going to be meeting an actual owner of a vineyard.

My journey to the vineyard was a delight taking me back into Kent (from East Sussex) and through the beautiful towns of Appledore and Woodchurch itself which are both stunning. My sat-nav deposited me on the interestingly named 'Susans Hill' but I could not find the vineyard and drove at least a mile beyond it before I turned around and could see the vines in the distance. The entrance was simply a gate in a field, with no signage as Graham is keeping things quite low key at this stage.

As I mentioned in the first blog of my trip the phrase 'Content in Kent' came out of my meeting with Graham at his vineyard site. I mentioned the story in my first blog but it is worth repeating here. Having traveled the world on business, Graham had taken a keen interest in fine food and drink and decided wine-making would be for him. After careful consideration of many areas around the world he decided to focus on Kent for a vineyard site because he was indeed 'content in Kent' having spent most of his life there. I learnt all of this in an hour's chat with Graham at his vineyard site.

Initially we had a walk amongst the vines, hooray the rain stopped for 5 minutes, then sat and chatted as well as tasting the wines in a temporary small marquee that Graham has had erected on site. He is hopeful of a more permanent 'cellar door' at a later stage. Now the rain was hammering down again and having brought in some wine from his car Graham accidentally left his car boot open only to find it sodden when we went back out in the rain again about 30 minutes later. Sorry Graham, I did feel partially responsible!

Graham's passion for viticulture and for the quality of the wine produced shone through and I am so pleased I was able to meet him. Everything here is about the quality of the wine produced and this summer the first vintage, from 2012, is available to taste.

We started with the Classic Cuvée created with 91% Pinot Noir and 9% Pinot Meunier. A gorgeous golden colour and aromas of red berries with a touch of baked apple. The palate was creamy, with a touch of biscuityness from the secondary fermentation but utterly charming. So easy to drink.

Graham Barbour and his fantastic first vintage wines
We then moved on to the 'Blanc de Blancs' - and as the name suggests this is made entirely with white grapes so 100% Chardonnay. I am not usually a big fan of Blanc de Blancs Champagne as I often find it too heavy without the light touch of the Pinot Noir. But this was simply stunning. I can say this with absolute certainty that this was the finest sparkling Chardonnay, Champagne or otherwise that I have ever tasted. It really was. Again baked apple was present but the flavour veered more to the pastry rather than bready side. The opposite of what I expected. A magnificent wine worthy of much praise.
Left - Blanc de Blancs
Right - Classic Cuvée
Both - fabulous!

It won an IWSC bronze medal where as the Classic Cuvée won a silver but I much preferred the Blanc de Blancs. I took another glass, although I had a long drive home so had to be careful.
I thanked Graham for his time, and would like to do that again here. Your wines are superb, and this is just the first vintage.

If you would like to try them, and I highly recommend that you do, at the moment they are only available via the Woodchurch website, but Graham is working on supplying fine restaurants in the south east and who knows what else from there.

I will certainly be using them on tastings when I get the opportunity and I have a Champagne versus English Sparkling Wine evening at The Junction in Harborne, Birmingham on October 28th. More details here. Woodchurch  Blanc de Blancs will be one of the wines. I'd love you to join us.

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Until next time. Enjoy your wine.


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  2. your blog is a wonderful and inspiring thing. You conveyed your relationship with wine and even your experiences in life so powerfully over a long time. Wishing you all the best!