English wine has gained steam and is chugging full throttle through the country but Sussex wines really are celebrating a well overdue recognition at the moment. It's said the recent success can be attributed to our many south facing slopes and the more temperate climate of recent years. That's not to say Sussex hasn't been producing great wine for a long time, in fact it's thought Sussex has been producing quality sparking wine for at least 2000 years. Our limestone, chalky soil is particularly suited to grapes that produce sparkling wine such as Chardonnay, Pinor Noir and Pinot Meaner. And imagine if you were to see 'Sussex' alongside the menu with the Shiraz, Rioja and Sav Blanc? Sussex winemakers are bidding for this accolade (PDO - Protected Designation of Origin) meaning a glass of Sussex will have the same status as Champagne or Bordeaux. However, it will mean that for any wine to be classed as Sussex will have to contain grapes grown in Sussex, so that will mean Nyetimber's (who produce one of the nicest Cuvees I've ever tasted) wines would be excluded as about a third of their grapes are grown in Hampshire.
With all the excitement about Sussex wine it seemed a perfect time to hop aboard a route master bus and visit a few Vineyards. Brighton Food Festival have been running these tours for a few years now, with tours usually running in April and September but me and Suzanne (Places I Eat Brighton and Brighton & Hove Independent) hopped about this one last weekend.
Giving that my tolerance for booze hasn't been great recently (hello, mid thirties) I was initially concerned about the 9.30am start and 6pm finish time but we were furnished with croissants when we arrived at the bus on the Old Steine from The Real Patisserie and apple juice from Ringden on the bus and then we had a good old introduction on arrival at Bolney so we didn't actually have our first taste of wine until noon.
I've wanted to visit Bolney Wine Estate for ages and it must have been sign when I spotted a bottle of their wine in Waitrose the evening before the tour. The estate itself is very lovely, with a gorgeous cafe (with that all important post wine tasting coffee) and even their own post office - fancy!
After our introduction and talk on the vines and in the winery (which was very interesting!) we started the tasting of 3 wines before a buffet. Wine was available throughout the food and there was time to take in a bit more of the estate and vineyard. There was also an opportunity to buy some wines at a special tour price.
We then found ourselves back on the bus travelling over to my 'hood to the brilliant Bluebell wines, which is situated near Sheffield Park off the A275 (possibly one of the most interesting stretches of road in East Sussex!).
Bluebell Vineyard Estates specialise in sparkling wines and the glass of bubbles we were given on arrival was just what we needed to perk us up after wine, food and bus journeying! After a good old pet of the three labradors milling about we were taken around the estate and told how the grapes are grown, harvested and made into wine. It definitely made me appreciate how much effort has gone into each and every bottle - it became very clear why sparkling wine is more expensive.
We then sat in a marquee in the grounds of Bluebell for tastings. By this time everyone was starting to get rather jovial and the cheese pairings from La Cave Fromage was very much appreciated.
Again, wines were available at a tour price before we headed back. All in all it was an ace day in the patchy sunshine, I learned loads about wine making and there wasn't a slightest sign of a hangover the next day.
Look out for Suzanne's piece in the Brighton Independent next Friday but I'd love to recommend the Sussex Wine Tour for anyone that's remotely interested in wine - it's a great way to get out of the city for the day and allow a lot more of Sussex into your heart. There's a wine, beer and cider tour planned for 27th June - buy tickets here. Other tours are 22nd Aug and 26th Sept.
Formally Emma Gutteridge