Harvest time comes to East Sussex
It always fascinates me to hear comments floating about in one or two quarters of the wine world, to the effect that English Sparkling wine is sometimes looked on as a ‘hmm yes, the English, what do they know about wines?’
But let’s bear in mind that producers, despite being at the mercy of the English weather, often keeping the winemakers on their toes, making them work harder; for years now, have been coming up with some truly amazing and award winning wines.
Bluebell Vineyard Estates nestled in the hamlet of Furners Green, started out as a hobby 10 years ago. Armed with knowledge and love of the land and a passion for wine, Bluebell founders Barry and Joyce Tay made it known that they would set out to make award winning wines, and they’ve achieved this in under a decade, with a small, but dedicated staff of 10.
You can’t help but feel, in the presence of Kevin Sutherland, originally from New Zealand, the resident winemaker, that you are with a pioneer. No airs and graces, but a solid, honest hands on approach to his wine-making know-how. Sometimes you can’t help but feel that there could well have been some experimentation along the way, but how else would they achieve their and I quote ‘unapologetic English style: wines that are hand-crafted, high in quality and bursting with fruit character’. But here is an English viticulturist who has a passion for his wine, no less dedicated and enthusiastic as his European counterparts, in his means to produce what will hopefully become, an award winning sparkling wine. His approach is fascinating to see, key decisions running on the edge of what the weather and microclimates allow. But these are skills honed after many years at Bluebell, each year producing outstanding results on the peripherals of the northerly 50th degree of latitude!
Bluebell Vineyards, home to premium quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Seyval Blanc, grown across 25 hectares in total with 100,000 vines planted, I really did think we had our work cut out for the day!
So, as we were all set for the harvest, there was a fun and laid back approach with Kevin and Collette, PR and Marketing Manager, showing us the ropes, of how to cut the grape bunch, how to remove any defects, and off we went. We started collecting these beautiful grapes assisted by Collette and the vineyard team supervising us whilst we harvested and on hand to answer any questions we had about grape growing and wine making. I must say that the row of vines that were our mission for the afternoon, the Pinot Noirs, the grapes looked beautifully healthy, the vines all well-trimmed, leaving the fruit literally, ready for the picking (and yes, hands up, for the eating too!)
Once some of the rows of Pinot Noir were picked, the baskets were collected by Kevin and his team, and off they went to the pressing machine, ready for us to taste the fruits of our labour, and what a marvelous experience that was! The whole winemaking experience was supplemented by a tour around the facility, guided and explained by Collette. And at the end, we finished tasting their fine bubbles, starting with the Hindleap Seyval Blanc 2012, the Hindleap Classic Cuvée 2010, the Hindleap Brut Rosé 2011 and last but by no means least, the Hindleap Blanc de Blancs. I have to say that the Rosé was my personal favourite, for the simple reason that it was not what you expect, standing up well to other Rosés I’ve tasted and critiqued before. It’s a beautifully complex wine with a full mousse and creamy texture, delicate fruit and attractive autolysis and a savoury finish. A superb aperitif; but also I feel great with lobster, scallops, smoked and poached salmon.
Myself having spent many childhood holidays amongst the vineyards of the Douro valley, I sensed and witnessed in the air and among the people, the anticipation of the coming harvest, the culmination of the hard toil on the terraced, schisty landscape, it was almost a mythical time of year. At this present moment in time, here in England, it’s still a ‘process’, something that has to happen to make the wine, but slowly and surely, I do believe with the enthusiasm and passion that has gone into making Bluebell Sparkling wines, who have a philosophy of cooperation with other English Sparkling wine producers, the ‘harvest’ will become part of local and national tradition, and hand down to future generations, the passion, belief, the myth, of wine making.
By Armando Pereira