Bolney Estate Vineyard Visit

Following lunch at the beautiful Royal Oak in Wineham, I'd walked to Bolney to join one of the tours on their fairly comprehensive programme - they seem to run pretty much seven days a week, at least during the season, which fortunately here included April. I'd signed up for their "Taster Tour" (they run several other types - check their website for details), which included a guided tour of the vineyard and winery, followed by a tasting of five wines - three sparkling and two still.

I had a chance to chat with Daniel Ashpool, our tour guide, a bit at the start, and it seems he too had been on a wine course at Plumpton College, although in his case it was on the business side of things. He has spent a year as a tour guide at Bolney, and was just on the brink of moving on to a new role - so we had the privilege of being on his final tour at Bolney - but alas he was not at liberty to divulge what exactly he was moving on to!

We started with a vineyard tour, and most of the vines were around the budburst stage - of course ideally most visitors would have liked to see leaves on the vines, and better still grapes, but Daniel enthused about what an exciting time of year this is in the vineyard, as the vines wake up from their winter slumber and commence another season of growth.

Daniel told us something of the history of Bolney -planted in 1972 by Janet and Rodney Pratt, and now ran by their daughter Sam Lintner who is both MD and head winemaker. He then went on to deliver a crash course in viticulture, covering rootstocks, grafting and various other subjects including, of course, the challenges of vinegrowing in the English climate. In the section of vineyard we visited we saw two cultivars. First were young Chardonnay vines, in a parcel of the vineyard where they'd previously trialled Merlot, but ultimately hadn't been happy with the quality of the fruit, so had grubbed them up. Also we saw some well established Pinot Noir vines, which were interesting to me as they had very tall trunks, with crowns at pretty much head height. This is apparently the Sylvos training system, good for frost resistance, where presumably growth of the year's shoots are then downwards.

A brief tour of the winery then followed, with again another crash course in winemaking, taking in primary and secondary fermentations, malolactic fermentation, aging and so on. Nice to actually get up close to some of the winery apparatus for a change, most tours I've been on have been more focused on the vineyard.

Finally, back to the tasting room for our tasting session. Quick notes on the five wines we tasted:

Cuvée Rosé - this is a very dry, light elegant sparkling rosé, reminiscent as I think Daniel said at the time of still rosé wines from Provence. This didn't seem to be very popular on the table I was sat on. Although to my surprise most people on the tour seemed to be more or less new to English wine.

Blanc de Blancs - a lively, zingy, citrus profile, and quite a contrast from the perhaps slightly austere wine which came before it. This met with widespread approval on my table.

Blanc de Noirs  - another contrast, and I think this triplet really shows off the breadth of winemaking at Bolney. A gutsy, full bodied ESW with hedgerow fruits (plums?). This was my favourite of the three, and I bought a bottle to take home.

Also featured were their Bacchus - compared to a Sauvignon Blanc - and (if I recall correctly) their Lychgate Red (Rondo and Dornfelder). I rather skipped over these I'm afraid, wanting to spend more time with the sparkling wines, but very briefly I got a sort of flinty minerality from the Bacchus, and I find a sort of foxy quality (I'm probably misusing that adjective, but something "animaly" or meaty) in Rondo based wines which I've yet to really warm to.

After the tour I called a taxi (surprisingly good availability of taxis between here and Hayward Heath) and during the short wait sat among the Chardonnay vines a little while longer. Having been threatening to rain earlier, the weather was just starting to brighten up now, and I imagine in the height of summer with a full canopy, and despite the slightly unfortunate power lines, this would be a lovely spot.


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