English Wine – Danebury Vineyards
Stepping into an English Vineyard always gives us a little thrill; it’s almost as if you are entering a place that shouldn’t really exist and might just disappear with a pop of a cork. English wine is thriving, confident and improving all the time, however, and is very much on the map. The huge investment and time it takes to establish quality producing vines means that English wine is here to stay; little did we know that, in our area, there are about 80 vineyards already and almost 600 right across England. Not only that, but the quality of some of these wines is excellent and we are committed to celebrating local producers. This summer (August 2015) we were immensely excited therefore to have received an invitation to visit Danebury Vineyards, just less than half an hour away from our home in Winchester, to walk through the vines and taste their delightful English wine. We were not disappointed.
The area is perhaps best known for ‘Danebury Ring’, the site of an Iron Age Hill Fort but also as home to Stockbridge Racecourse which existed between 1839 and 1898. Many a winner trained at the stables based at Danebury House, where the vineyard is now based, and from between the vines you can spy the dilapidated Bibury Club Grandstand, covered in ivy and slowly crumbling into the soil; a rather romantic sight!
Walking respectfully through the vineyard on a beautiful August day was just blissful. Set on south-facing slopes and on free-draining chalk and flint-stone soil, the vines were planted in 1988 and cover just seven acres. The sun was warm on our backs and we took delight in seeing the grapes growing on the vine and starting to swell. Only the grapes from this small vineyard are used to make award winning Danebury wine, adding to its exclusive appeal.
The vineyard grows four varieties of grapes: Schönburger, Madeleine Angevine, Auxerrois Blanc and Rülander (Pinot Gris). All of which do very well in the English climate and are all used to create ‘Danebury Reserve’ which is described as “a taste of Hampshire in a glass”. In addition, there’s the two single varietal white wines (the Schönburger and the Madeleine Angevine) and then the vintage brut sparkling wine named ‘Cossack’. We love the delicate nature of these wines, their honesty and gentle floral flavours. We tried them with different food pairings, prepared in the vineyard kitchen that morning, and then at home.
And then, all too soon, summer came to an end and we were back again at Danebury for the annual harvest but this time we were amongst the yellowing leaves of the vines and the gentle drizzle of autumn rain. After a blessing by the local vicar, about 50 friendly volunteers dashed towards the yellow buckets and red secateurs to bring in the grapes, now plump and translucent; very different from the hard clusters of grapes from August.
Quickly snipping at the heavy bunches of grapes was extremely satisfying and seeing the crates at the end of each row fill up was a joy. Like ravenous locusts, the pairs of harvesters travelled down each row, picking off the juiciest of grapes, being suitably particular to not leave any behind. Getting the grapes off to be pressed as quick as possible was important; as we took a break to refuel on hot chocolate and chocolate flapjacks, the lorries were already being loaded with crates of grapes.
There was a collective sense of unspoken disappointment when the last vines were to be picked but spirits were soon raised with lunch and plenty of Danebury fizz to celebrate with! We got a little bit excited about a small quantity of grapes being pressed right there and then so that guests could taste the fresh grape juice very much from vine to glass within minutes.
We learnt so much over our two visits to Danebury and we hope that you too will seriously consider exploring English wine with just as much curiosity and excitement. We’re looking forward to tasting the wine made from this year’s harvest, remembering that we played a part in making it!
Danebury isn’t open to the general public but you can find out more from their website danebury.com