The Isle of Wight (and Red) Wine Tour

Isle of Wight Vineyard

Adgestone on a good day

It rains on the Isle of Wight; I remember a sentence that explains this: “There is no dry season in England”. And so it was that a typically murky day in June on a short holiday in the Isle of Wight, I came to visit the island’s only two remaining commercial wine producers: Adgestone and Rosemary Vineyards. These have in common that both are on the East of the island, which probably helps protect them a little from that wet South Westerly wind everyone is familiar with on the South coast; they benefit from South facing slopes on clay, silt, and sandy soil, which provides good drainage (especially useful in a place with no dry season); and, being maritime, a relatively moderate climate.

Adgestone is the dream project of ex-Chartered Engineer Russ Broughton. His sanguine

Adgestone Medium White

Adgestone Medium White

recounting of his story provides a cautionary tale for those attracted to the romance of wine production. “It’s not a retirement job, you work seven days a week; I’ve had one day off in the last 3 years.” But he’s happy, especially when the labelling machine misbehaves, as he can fix it himself (the wine world is full of troublesome gizmos like this).

 

When Russ took over the place

More Medium White

More Medium White

the vines had been abandoned since the 80s, but he revived the mainly Seyval vines, some of which were 48 years old. His Dry White is predominantly Seyval, and appropriately named: it showed the typically neutral character of the grape, with a hint of white melon nose, but a slightly unripe citrus palate. The Medium White (mainly Phoenix, some Bacchus and Orion) was more interesting, with a tangerine and riper melon nose, and only 4g/L of residual sugar. Blush (Regent, Schonberger) was a delicate flower, with hints of ripe strawberry, a bit of a red fruit cordial, attractive. Finally,

Full Bodied Red

Full Bodied Red

the Full Bodied Red, made from Rondo. I often ask myself why English wine producers bother to make red, but the answer is always that it is their best-seller, and anyone with a vague interest in money should remember the adage “Give the people what they want and they’ll come”, allegedly said at the well-attended funeral of the reviled Louis B. Mayer. It was light and fruitsome, but, without food to soften it, a little harsh.

Like many English wine producers, Adgestone have converted the farm building into very comfortable rooms; only two, but this is a small operation.

Rosemary Vineyards seem more focussed on

20160615_111646

Isle of Wight Distillery

their liqueurs; their Elderflower wine, an infusion of Elderflower in dry white, was beautifully floral and fragrant, with just enough sweetness; lovely. Their sprits from the Isle of Wight Distillery were perhaps the most interesting, though: Wight Mermaid gin, with coriander and rock sapphire was beautifully floral and dry, the Rock Sea Vodka fresh and intriguingly savoury. Apple Pie Moonshine, a blend of vodka, local apple juice, cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar had a warming charm to it. Their wines reminded me of why I started this with a sentence about the English climate; and their fizz, the one I was most interested in, was not available for tasting. Maybe it would have made me change my mind?

Is the Isle of Wight the best place in England to own a vineyard? Maybe Russ Broughton’s words from his page on his website will give some insight into prospective vineyard revivalists:

  1. Am I an experienced commercial wine maker?….NO, well, I say no, but I was bought a home brew kit at Christmas when I was 19, so lets not write that off just yet.
  2. Do you understand the complex art of successful viticulture?….. Had a nice rose growing up my wall in Chandlers Ford, but..well, probably a no again!
  3. Good customer skills and ability to run a small commercial kitchen?… OK, had a life working on machines without faces, but I make a mean curry!!! … Its another no isn’t it?
  4. Fancy buying something that was a part of the whole English Wine revival. A vineyard that was so good in the 70’s it held the enviable Gore Brown trophy for English wine. Having the opportunity to feel alive again every time you wake up??….Hell yes, I’ll learn the rest, where are the papers!!

 

Visit to Sedlescombe Vineyard

Sedlescombe

Sedlescombe Vineyard on a beautiful November 13th

Yesterday’s visit to Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard must have been well viewed by whoever is in charge of the weather, as we had a day of uninterrupted glorious November sun; a little chilly, sure, but as clement as we could have hoped for. I know that Oscar Wilde has said that “Conversation about the weather is the last resort of the unimaginative”, but it is important if you compare the appeal of a rain-soaked tramp through a sodden English vineyard (which had been my experience up till then) to the pleasant autumn glow of “the awesome countryside of the Sussex High Weald”, (to quote Bill Green of Slow Food, my fellow organizer) that we got yesterday.

Sedlescombe

The lovely Susan with her vines

Our hosts Irma and Susan were welcoming as anything, and the tour and tasting were well appreciated. We even managed to fill the coach exactly (not an easy task, with people joining and cancelling right up to the evening before), which made it as cost-effective as possible, and went back with the coach clinking occasionally from the purchases of various member of the group.

Not everything was perfect, though. Our coach driver had had his mobile stolen the evening before (by someone in a party of rugby players he was chauffeuring, of all people; shame on you)! Still, we got there using alternate navigation (my phone), with the customary detour down a wrong turning, which, I feel, adds spice to all successful vineyard visits!

Lunch

Animated discussion, a feature of every good lunch

The tour around this tiny artisanal organic, and in part, biodynamic vineyard was charming, and instructive, but it was the tasting which surprised. I know several of the wines well, and have, on past tastings, found them bright and alive, full of vibrant, lively fruit, balanced by moreish ripe English acidity. Yesterday the wines tasted OK, even good. Nothing wrong, sure, they all had a harmonious, and pleasant expression, but I found them a little flat, and muted. Even the Sedlescombe First Release, their inaugural biodynamic wine, seemed to lack the clarity of citrus fruit compote I found on previous Wine Tastings. This was the wine that introduced me to the estate. The first time I showed it at a biodynamic wine seminar I was presenting last year, it blew everyone away with is exuberant quality; yesterday it was appreciated.

Perhaps here is the answer: I am no die-hard zealot of biodynamic viticulture above all others, nor, infectious though it is, do I share Doug Wregg’s or Isabelle Legeron’s unequivocal enthusiasm for ‘Natural wines’, but I am certainly very appreciative of natural ways of making wine like biodynamic, and organic, and I do have a little booklet called “When wine tastes best. A biodynamic calendar for wine drinkers” in my office. Consulting this today, I find that yesterday was a root day, all day. Root and leaf are the days in the biodynamic calendar on which wines are supposed to taste flatter, while flower and fruit days invigorate aromas and flavours.

So there it is: The biodynamic calendar really is the new wine drinker’s bible! As a scientist

Bottles

So many bottles, so little time!

by education, I will say, though, that I am impressed with this empirical endorsement of the calendar. Ideally I would have arranged the visit on a fruit or flower day; practicalities like Slow Food’s calendar also have to be taken into account, though, and yesterday was the day decided on. At least the 13th didn’t fall on a Friday; who knows, that might have caused other problems.

I still consider Sedlescombe Vineyard’s wines to be some of the best around, and we had a fantastic trip and superbly hosted  tour of an unique English vineyard. We learned about organic and biodynamic viticulture, and more than we were expecting about biodynamic wine tasting. The calendar tells me Advent Sunday, the 27th November is an especially good fruit day. Let’s go to Sedlescombe again then and see the difference!