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England's Hidden Vineyards: A Visit to Nyetimber

Naturally, I love champagne. It’s my favourite aperitif, my favourite accompaniment for food and on special occasions I have Perrier Jouet Grand Brut with breakfast (PJ is the lightest most elegant bubbly around). So what turned me on to English? Eighteen months ago I found myself in a vineyard just forty minutes outside of London. The vineyard is Denbies in Surrey and their sparkling wine tastes so good, it is served at society weddings all over the country. My imagination was captured by what other wines we Brits could produce and that’s when my journey into English sparkling wine began. Put simply, it slips right down.

Stop what you’re doing right now and go to www.nyetimber.com and sign up to their mailing list. Nyetimber are, in my view, the most prestigious and best mainstream producer of English sparkling wine. English wine, you scoff…well scoff no more! In April, at a prestigious wine tasting in Paris, Nyetimber Blancs de Blancs 2009 was tasted alongside a number of prestigious bubbly types and 13 of the 14 panel members thought that Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs was Champagne. Yes that’s right, a tasting by actual French people! If you still don’t believe me, go on the Waitrose supermarket website and you will see this stuff sells for £35 a bottle. If that doesn’t make it credible, nothing will.

Do you find champagne sometimes a little too sugary? Or a little too sharp or acidic. If yes, you really must try Nyetimber as I know many champagne loathers who quaff it like juice. Apart from my sofa, my favourite place to drink Nyetimber is the Gilbert Scott bar in the King’s Cross Renaissance Hotel. If my obsession with English sparkling wine is old news to you then get yourself up to Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume in the Lake District. They serve the first ever vintage of Nyetimber (1992) by the glass.

But how, you ask, can wine be produced in cold grey England? Well thousands of years ago, the South East part of England was joined to France. So actually we share the same soil in these parts as some of the classic wine making regions. But it’s not enough to have the right soil, sadly climate change has also played a role. Our weather is now warm enough to generate an excellent grape yield for the September harvest. At Nyetimber, their commitment to viticulture is second to none. You don’t see Moet et Chandon or Dom Perignon having a sabbatical because the grapes weren’t good enough. But in 2012, the wine makers at Nyetimber decided the fruit was not good enough for our esteemed palettes and they did not produce one bottle. This is an absolute hallmark of quality.

If you want to have the pleasure of visiting the Nyetimber vineyard, with a tour and tasting led by the award winning winemaker Cherie Spriggs you will have to work for it. Nyetimber open their vineyard for only four days each year. You will need to book yourself in and places are limited. Aren’t you pleased I told you to sign up to their mailing list now? The tasting takes place in their beautiful tasting barn and I can assure you that the pourers are very generous! Wine boffins are all about this winery that lies hidden in our beautiful countryside and I sat alongside guests from Europe and America who had travelled over specially.

My secret tips are as follows:
1. Save your pocket money for the cellar door prices! They are amazing and we bought so much that the brand ambassador had to drive our booty to the car in his golf buggy.
2. If you really want to show off, buy the magnums, it actually makes for better ageing for the wine as there is more air.
3. Do get there early to take in the views from the absolutely breathtaking reception barn. All light beams and suspended parasols, you really are at the most exclusive vineyard in the UK.
4. Dress code: country chic, wellies not required but flats preferable.

To make a weekend/boozecation of it, check into the cute Five Bells Inn and visit Nyetimber as well as the vineyard opposite called Nutbourne. The wines here are also lively and full of character. By train, go from London to Pulborough (1 hour and 10 minutes) and the vineyard is 10 minutes by taxi. So there you go, that’s practically a booze cruise, and all in England’s green and pleasant lands. My fave’s the rosé, if you’re asking.

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