Amidst the green and rolling hills of Dorset, you will find a very special vineyard- Bride Valley. Special in its own right with south facing sun-drenched slopes and quality chalky soil, but also special because it belongs to Steven Spurrier and his lovely wife Bella.
It feels slightly surreal to find oneself sitting in the home of one of our great wine icons, drinking his fine English sparkling wine, and talking about the future of the English wine industry, especially after wandering with him through his vines. On this beautiful sunny morning the vines were just about to flower- the improvement in the weather could not have come at a better time. Steven tells us where each of the varietals are planted- Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay- and the contrast in colouring of the vine foliage can be clearly seen in the morning light. He shows us where they have planted trees as windbreaks and wild flowers to enhance the ecosystem. We encounter a few bunny rabbits scampering amongst the vines and are serenaded by the birdsong all around us. Bliss.
After many years in Paris, Steven and Bella searched for some time for the perfect family home in England, and discovered this beautiful property in Dorset after a recommendation from a friend some 30 years ago. Although Bella managed a sheep farm here for many years initially, Steven was always curious about the soil, and often wondered about planting a vineyard. He took some of the soil with him back to France for analysis by viticulture experts, who initially assumed the soil was from Champagne! From then he always knew a vineyard on the sunny slopes of Bride Valley would do well, but it was not until 2008 that he and Bella decided to take the plunge. With English Sparkling Wine becoming more firmly established, and knowing that Ian Edwards at the nearby Furleigh Estate would take care of their wine-making, they set off for the esteemed Pépinières Guillaume vine nursery in Burgundy, where they bought their first vines for planting.
The first Bride Valley harvest was in 2011, released in 2014 to much acclaim, and sold out very rapidly. There are now over 10 hectares under vine in Bride Valley, 55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier. In 2016, with the vines maturing, in addition to the increase in planting over time, they hoped for their best harvest to date.
Spending time with Steven is strangely relaxing. No doubt the surroundings help, not just in the vineyard, but also his 17th century home and colourful English country garden. However, it is so easy just to listen- he is softly spoken and enjoys telling stories of his 50-odd years in the wine industry. The conversation naturally flows, and I find myself hanging on his every word. The maestro. How much I could learn from this gentle and modest man.
Our discourse, of course, turns to the Judgement of Paris, which Steven organised in his wine school in Paris in 1976. French wine experts carried out a blind tasting of French and Californian wines, and were astonished when they realised the top spot in both categories, Chardonnay and Bordeaux/Cabernet, went to Napa! This changed the history of wine for ever, finally giving Napa Valley the credentials it so greatly deserved. The United States government decided in 2016 to fly the US flag over the United States Capitol on May 16th in recognition of Steven, celebrating the 40th anniversary of this momentous occasion in the history of Californian wine, an industry that now contributes more than $162billion to the US economy. He proudly yet humbly shows us the framed Resolution from the House of Representatives, and the flag itself which they subsequently sent to him, beautifully folded in a presentation case.
But I digress- we are treated to a tasting of the 2013 Blanc de Blancs and 2013 Rosé Bella in the garden room, surrounded by flowers and foliage, with a view to the garden, where a treehouse and swings indicate how much of a family home this is, how Steven and Bella clearly value family time with their grandchildren. First, the Blanc de Blancs- 95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier; disgorged after 15-18 months on the lees and released for the summer three years after the vintage. With a dosage of only 8g/L, this is dry, fresh & clean with crisp acidity, lively citrus and brioche notes, a fine persistent mousse and a chalky mineral finish- a truly elegant Blanc de Blancs.
Steven’s sparkling Rosé is named as a tribute to his right-hand woman, his lovely wife Bella. The Rosé Bella 2013 is 85% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier. The deep pink rose colour results from 24 hours on the Pinot Noir skins before fermentation, and the dominance of the black grape is evident on the nose and the palate with strong raspberry and strawberry notes, with a hint of citrus from the Chardonnay; fresh, dry, and beautifully balanced with a low dosage of 7 g/L- Steven favours this drier style. The luscious long finish perfects this “English Summer” in a glass. Only 750 bottles were made of this rare English beauty in 2013; we can only hope for more in the future! The Rosé is disgorged after 15 months on the lees, and released in the autumn 2 years after the vintage, and I believe the 2014 is now available.
While we savour these excellent wines, I ask Steven what he thinks the future holds for the English Sparkling Wine industry. He feels that the future is strong, yet while all the producers are currently like colleagues working together towards the same goal, he fears that larger commercial producers may upset the balance. He states that if the owners “continue to sing from the same hymn sheet, [they] should represent the best that England can produce- then we are all friends”.
Before leaving, I ask Steven what was his most memorable sparkling moment. He pauses to think for a minute, then smiles at me enigmatically and says with a chuckle that there are “too many bubbles to remember”.
Sorcha & Steven are currently working together on a weekend Wine Tour to Provence for Spring 2018. If you would like to register your interest now, email Sorcha at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for our mailing list to be one of the first to know
On the 21st July this year, #ukwinehour regulars from many corners of the UK descended on London to celebrate ukwinehour’s first birthday with a live meet-up and tweet-up. After a year of online interaction on Twitter from participating in the weekly wine Twitter chat, a year of sharing wine knowledge and developing wine friendships, it was a joyous occasion to see so many of us together in one place for the first time! I founded ukwinehour because of a lack of wine Twitter Chats on this side of the Atlantic, and it has been very satisfying to watch it grow and develop. You can join us every Thursday on Twitter from 7-8 pm UK time. Although I try to host personally as much as possible, I am so pleased to have a growing group of guest hosts now. I trust these guys completely and am so impressed with the excellent job they do when they take the reins. Thank you one and all.
We are very grateful to Ben Austin and his team at the Eurocave UK showroom on Chiltern Street, London, for hosting our first live meet-up. It was the perfect place to meet and mingle while enjoying the use of their beautiful Zalto wine glasses. It was really interesting to look around at the wine storage solutions and cabinets, and also the wide array of wine accessories that they have available. Check out their website here.
A number of wines were showcased at the event. Thank you to Luca at Vinitalia for asking to join us earlier in the year. Luca showcased a delicious creamy extra-dry Merotto Prosecco which was very well-received, in addition to some “baby amarone” from Accordini, a very interesting sparkling red Ottouve Lettere della Penisola Sorrentina DOC 2015 and a white Falanghina dei Campi Flegrei DOC. We are so grateful to Luca for his ongoing support of ukwinehour and #ukwinehourlive.
Fabulous Greyfriars Vineyard in Surrey also showcased their stunning Blanc de Blancs and Sparkling Rosé which everyone loved! It’s also a great place to visit, and some of our ukwinehour regulars helped with the harvest there this year. Thanks so much to Mike and Hilary Wagstaff for continuing to support and build such an excellent relationship with ukwinehour.
The other sparkler of the evening was the stunning Crémant de Loire from Langlois Chateau, courtesy of Matt Barrère at Mentzendorff. Thanks so much, Matt & Langlois, the Crémant was the evening’s much admired representative of La Belle France.
Paul Laurie shared some AA Badenhorst’s Papegaai white blend of Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Viognier from The Pipe of Port and SWIG wine, and Andy Leach some Two Dogs, a Peacock and a Horse Sauvignon Blanc from Black Elephant Vintners. Thank you both for such interesting and enjoyable contributions.
Finally, the Sherry world was also well-represented, via Helen Highley, Sherry Educator. We enjoyed some Tio Pepe and Viña AB from Gonzalez Byass and some delicious Oloroso from Rocio Urium. Helen has since opened her own online exclusive sherry shop Sherry Boutique. I do recommend you check it out!
It was so much fun for everyone to actually meet in person, and we were so pleased that Joe Fattorini from The Wine Show could join us. He is such a great guy with some great stories to share. Sure, the ladies found him charming, but I think the boys all felt a little “bromance” for sure! Joe has been our special guest on ukwinehour and often drops in to join the chat whenever he can.
We are all looking forward very much to our next #ukwinehourlive which is provisionally planned for the 26th January 2017. It will also be held in London, as it is probably the most central place for people to access. However, we are still seeking a venue, so if you would like to host us at your venue, or know a venue that might be interested, do get in touch. You can email me at email@example.com. We are already receiving enquiries from suppliers and wineries who would like to showcase at our next event, so if you would like some exposure for your wines from Twitter’s most prolific wine tweeters then do let us know.
#ukwinehour every Thursday on Twitter, 19.00-20.00 BST/GMT
I have been recommending the beautiful wooden wine coolers made by Rob Thomson for some time now, but I thought I really should provide some evidence to back this up. Yes, they are beautiful and an asset to any wine lover, but do they really keep your wine cool? I decided it to put it to the test for this wine cooler review.
I decided to compare the temperature of wine bottles, all chilled in the fridge overnight, in three different categories – a control bottle, left on the table at room temperature, one in the wooden cooler, and one in a terracotta cooler I bought a few years ago at a Jamie at Home event. I measured the ambient temperature at the time of each reading, and measured the temperature of each bottle at 0, 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 150 and 180 minutes.
I didn’t wish to open three bottles at the same time so used an external wraparound thermometer (“Connoisseur” from Barcraft). I am unable to verify its accuracy. The scale goes up in two degree intervals so some readings, for example, fell between two readings and are given as the number in between e.g. 12-14 was recorded as 13.
The results can be seen in the table and graph below:
It is quite obvious that in the first hour especially after removing a wine bottle from a fridge that Rob’s handcrafted wooden wine cooler keeps the wine markedly cooler than either no cooler or the terracotta cooler, in fact 4° cooler than the control after 30 minutes. Throughout the whole three hours, the wooden cooler was consistently more effective than the terracotta cooler or no cooler at keeping the wine bottle cool.
After 150 minutes, the wooden wine cooler still maintained the bottle’s temperature 3°C cooler than the control and 2º cooler than the bottle in the terracotta cooler, and after three hours there was still a 4º difference compared to the control bottle.
Unsurprisingly, since wood is a heat insulator, Rob’s wooden wine cooler is effective at keeping chilled wine 3-4°C cooler than either a terracotta “cooler” or no cooler. The difference is greatest in the first hour after removing bottles from the fridge. Therefore, I will happily continue to recommend Rob’s coolers.