Ditchling: Capital of English Sparkling Wine Country?

Ditchling - the capital of English Sparkling Wine country?

The pretty village of Ditchling, on the border between East and West Sussex, has to be one of the biggest hotspots for English Sparkling Wine - I struggle to think of another village in England which has as many vineyards within a mile or two. I believe there are now at least five in the immediate area, with three very much up and running, one having recently been re-planted, and at least one, possibly two currently being established.

Gate at the entrance to Ridgeview's vineyard.

Ridgeview is of course the grandfather of them all (see here for details of my visit there) and the best known. Their vineyard is closer to Ditching Common than Ditchling proper, just under 2 miles north of the centre of Ditchling. According to The Great British Vineyards Guide they have 6.48 hectares (16 acres), but also use grapes from partner vineyards elsewhere.

A glass of Ridgeview at The Bull Inn, Ditchling.

Selection of wines from Ridgeview available at The Bull Inn.

As you might hope being on such hallowed ground for ESW, at least one of the pubs in Ditchling - The Bull Inn - serves some of the local wine, and according to the wine list they've had a relationship with Ridgeview for fifteen years.

Sign for Court Garden Vineyard, on the outskirts of Ditchling.

Next we have Court Garden, Ridgeview's closest neighbour, situated on the northern edge of Ditchling. GBVG puts them at 6.8 hectares (16.8 acres). As noted in my recent prestige cuvee tasting I was intrigued to find pineapple notes both in Court Garden's Chardonnay dominant Classic Cuvée from 2014, as well as in Ridgeview's Single Vineyard Blanc de Blancs 2014 and it was tempting to think this was an expression of their shared terroir.

Court Garden's Classic Cuvee 2014.

It's possibly relevant at this point here to draw a line between the above two "North Ditchling" vineyards, and the remainder below, which are to the south of the village. This may seem like a ridiculous distinction for such a small area, but take a look at the British Geological Survey and you'll see there's a belt of greensand running to the  north of Ditchling, whereas the other cluster of vineyards, right at the foot of Ditchling Beacon, are on a belt of chalk. There is much debate in the wine world on whether soil types really have that much influence on flavour of the grapes (here's a good article on the subject), and I tend to lean more towards the opinions of more scientific and sceptical minds of experts like Stephen Skelton, but on some level I love the notion that there could be some distinct concept of terroir between North and South Ditchling.

Black Dog Hill's shop / tasting room in the centre of Ditchling.

So, heading south of Ditchling, and our third vineyard is Black Dog Hill. I'm slighly unclear on the exact location of Black Dog Hill vineyard. GBVG places it almost at Westmeston to the south west of Ditchling, whereas Google Maps has it close to where Beacon Road (which heads due south out of Ditchling) meets the wonderfully Tolkien-esque named Underhill Lane. Looking at satellite imagery I think it is probably the vineyard directly adjoining Plumpton's Ditchling vineyard, roughly half way in between where GBVG and Google Maps place it, on the north side of Underhill Lane. Black Dog Hill also have a shop / tasting room in the centre of Ditchling (pictured above). Although, alas, it wasn't open on the Friday lunchtime in April when I was passing through.

Black Dog Hill by candlelight, which helped to highlight both the wonderfully fine bubbles, and the smudges on this wine glass.

I'd discovered Black Dog Hill's wine towards the end of last year, and had really enjoyed it - providing some much needed cheer on a dark, cold winter evening. I recall it having wonderful bubbles, being very elegant and well balanced, and generally an absolute pleasure to drink. I was pleased to discover that the much celebrated Dermot Sugrue was their winemaker. What a busy chap he must be!

Plumpton Colledge's Ditchling Vineyard.

Wooden posts for the trellising system, seemingly removed in favour of steel posts. Something else Stephen Skelton feels strongly about!

Fourth is Plumpton's College's Ditchling Vineyard. GBVG has this as 1.82 hectares (4.5 acres), although Plumpton themselves cite 2.5 (just over 6 acres), and this was replanted in 2018, with classic sparkling wine varieties, but dates back to the 1970s, and is in fact the oldest of all the vineyards in the Ditchling area. I had heard about this vineyard occasionally on my viticulture course, although the practical sessions for the course are held at Plumpton's other vineyard (Rock Lodge, near Haywards Heath).

Newly established vineyard at Park Barn Farm seen in February 2019.

Another picture of the newly established vineyard at Park Barn Farm.

From a previous walk earlier this year in the Ditchling area I passed a fifth Ditchling vineyard which appeared to have been recently established, close to Black Dog Hill and Plumpton's Ditchling vineyard, again on the north side of Underhill Lane, but immediately to the East of Beacon Road. This is marked on the Ordnance Survey map as Park Barn Farm. This doesn't seem to be listed on GBVG, but Chris Foss told me it is a new vineyard called Chalk House, managed by one of his former students, Luke Spalding. They don't seem to have much of a web presence yet, but I did find this page from the design agency who designed their labels, which suggests they may have made their first vintage in 2018:
Chalk House is a new vineyard based in Ditchling at the base of the South Downs. They are currently growing their first crop, expected to be ready for harvest and bottling by Autumn 2018. They will initially be offering two-to-three different types of wine.
I also found this page on Geograph.org.uk showing the construction work in May 2016.

A possible sixth Ditchling vineyard at Wick Farm on the slopes of Ditchling Beacon?
The new planting at Wick Farm.
Finally, could there be a sixth? On my recent walk, after passing Plumpton's vineyard I saw what appeared to be another newly established vineyard, to the south of Underhill Lane. This is marked as Wick Farm on the OS map. I couldn't find any information about this one on the web. Chris Foss said that Black Dog Hill were expanding to another site nearby their current one, so it seems likely that's what this is.

See the above vineyard locations on a map.

I'd love to hear more about these new vineyards in the Ditchling area, please get in touch if you have any information - you can find me on Twitter at drjohnhawkins, or please leave a comment below.


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