Its all about the terroir


In the eleventh of our series of articles describing how one couple finds their new life in Rye, they discover the vineyards of Kent and Sussex.

A world of wine.

We have been known to enjoy the “occasional” glass of wine. Yes, of course this is English understatement. Don’t conversations flow better with a glass in hand? What is fine food without fine wine? And what foreign trip is complete without sampling the local produce? In this latter regard, we have been extremely fortunate.

Santorini wine tastes slightly of salt

Visiting family in the Pyrenees, we are plied with bottles of Jurancon Sec and Bordeaux. On the Greek island of Santorini, we were treated to a tour of three vineyards, discovering that the local white wines (like Nyxtepi) do indeed have the faintest taste of salt, thanks to the sea breezes and the dew which waters the vines.

Australia has an increasingly rich reputation for its wines. On our last trip, we were particularly taken with the country’s dry Rieslings. Oz is a long way to go for a glass of wine, perhaps. Though ‘PIKES’ Clare Valley Riesling can be bought here in Rye. But of course, there is a wealth of choice much closer to home.

Hop on the Eurostar, stroll from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de L’Est, and a 45-minute train later, you’re in Reims, the capital of Champagne country.

Thanks to a friend in the business, we’ve had privileged access to the glories of the region, including an exclusive tasting at the House of Mumm and a private lunch at the House of Bollinger.

A tale of terroir.

Of course, the terroir of Champagne – the chalky soil, rolling hills and mild climate – is shared on this side of the Channel.

Coming to Rye, we were delighted to find that we live a mere spit from some of the country’s great vineyards.

Viticulture has been established in this part of England since at least Roman times and perhaps earlier. But it’s only fairly recently that English wines have established any kind of international reputation. In blind tastings, English sparkling wines have occasionally beaten their French counterparts. Most galling for the Gauls!

Not all wine is produced by hi-tech methods

With dozens of vineyards in Kent and Sussex to choose from, where do we start? Well, why not begin with the drink that often kicks off birthdays, parties, events, or just the day. Champagne.

Of course, we cannot call it that if it’s not produced in its home country. Méthode Champenoise or English sparkling or British fizz. Take your pick.

Just up the road in Tenterden is arguably England’s leading producer, The Chapel Down Winery. Its award-winning sparkling wines include Coeur De Cuvée, Blanc De Blancs, Brut, Three Graces, and Blanc De Noirs.

And where better to try any of them – or their still wines – than Chapel Down’s Swan Restaurant, which also has awards to its name.

Thirst for knowledge.
Nyetimber, from down the road in West Sussex

Still, man cannot live on Chapel Down alone; so what else is on the menu?

Over near Hailsham is Henners, another award-winning specialist in sparkling wines. The vineyard is owned and run by Lawrence Warr, who was previously an automotive engineer in Formula 1 – not the only example of budding entrepreneurs who’ve realised their dream of making wine.

West Chiltington in West Sussex is home to Nyetimber, which has been awarded English Wine Producer of the Year at the International Wine and Spirit Competition more than once.

Many of our local vineyards offer tours and tastings, and have a shop stocking local produce as well as their wines – it all helps make a day out of buying a case of your favourite tipple.

Photos: Simon Kershaw

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