Beacon Down Vineyard interview  by The English Wine Collection

Beacon Down Vineyard interview by The English Wine Collection

Beacon Down

Vineyard interview

Welcome to the English Wine Collection’s Vineyard Focus. To begin can you provide some back ground information on yourself and the team at Beacon Down Vineyard?

Beacon Down vineyard occupies 18 acres of the beautiful High Weald near Heathfield in East Sussex in England.  A designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the vineyard is set on gentle South East facing slopes with stunning views over to Eastbourne and the South Downs.  We, Paul and Alice, planted two fields on the site with 10,000 vines in May 2015, which have thrived on the sandstone slopes and Sussex sunshine.

We met whilst working on Whitehall as civil servants, and living in Camberwell, South London. After a period of reflection about ‘what the future may hold’ we started to look around for a new career or venture. This included some serious (!) consideration about being a furniture maker or maybe a landscape architect but it was on holiday in 2012 we really had one of those ‘what if’ conversations. We had heard about the exciting English wine scene and thought we should look into it.  So on our return we went and studied for our WSET L2 at the West London Wine School, and Paul went to Plumpton for 2 years to study viticulture and winemaking as well as get some valuable practical experience.  We used all that insight and more to find a lovely plot of land and planted the vines, setting up the vineyard from bare fields.  It was a busy time - we had our first son Oz in 2013, Paul graduated from Plumpton in 2014, we bought the land later that year, planted in May 2015, moved out of London a month later and had our second son Rex in late 2015.     We run all aspects of the vineyard - growing and tending to the vines, selling and packing up wine for delivery, leading the tours and providing picnics from delicious Sussex produce.  We employ Matt, who lives locally, and who comes in 1 – 2 days a week to help out in the vines; and at harvest we have a good contingent of local volunteers and paid pickers who ensure the grapes are brought in whilst having some fun and a tasty lunch.

Beacon Down vineyard english wine

What has been the inspiration to plant an English vineyard and to make English wine?

We got more interested in wine when we decided to put together a ‘Wedding Wine list’ for our wedding back in 2008, and ended up with about 300 bottles of wine!  We started to learn more about what makes a good wine and where a good wine comes from, rather than just enjoying the drinking of it.  It was when we were looking for a new challenge a few years later whilst living and working in London that we had the idea of working in the wine industry, not necessarily planting vines and making English wine ourselves, but as so often one thing leads to another and following the practical course at Plumpton we found ourselves driving around the South East looking at parcels of land that might have the potential to flourish, and in summer 2014 we found a lovely 18 acre plot and went for it. Some English wines we had tasted in the preceding years really had surprised us with their quality and texture so we felt it was a viable, if a little mad, career change!

How long has there been a vineyard at Beacon Down  and why was this location chosen to grow vines?

We established the vineyard in 2015 from bare fields. From our learnings at Plumpton, we selected the site.  It has a lovely South/ South East facing slope to provide good frost protection – we do not take on any active frost measures in the Spring - and drain the sandy-clay soil, and some excellent hedges that act as natural windbreaks. It is a good size for a commercial vineyard (18 acres) and shape meaning an efficient planting scheme and operations, with its buildings in the centre.  Being on the south facing slopes of the High Weald, there are lovely views across to the South Downs and the sea some 30km away. On a summers day it is truly a magical place.

Beacon Down vineyard the English Wine Collection

How many different types of grapes do you grow for your English wines, how big is the vineyard?

We grow 5 varieties and currently have 6.25 acres under vine. We have Pinot Gris, Bacchus and Riesling for our still wines; and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for our sparkling.  We plan to expand in the next couple of years, and will probably just extend the current varieties rather than adding anything new.

Where do you see Beacon Down fitting into the English Wine industry, what’s unique about what you do?

Our Riesling is pretty unique, as we think we’re the only vineyard to make a still Riesling. We first made a Kabinett style in 2018 by stopping the fermentation early and leaving the natural sugars (45g/l) in the wine, which ended up at 8.5% alcohol.  It was really well received and even featured on Alan Titchmarsh’s ITV’s Sunday Morning show ‘Love your Weekend’, and also fared really well in an international tasting held in Tasmania. Since then we have made it again, and in 2020 we made a slightly drier Riesling (c20g/l) that we fermented in an oak barrel with oxidative techniques which has taken things in a different and interesting direction!  This really suits a food pairing, especially desserts.

We like to let the grapes express themselves and so predominantly focus on single varietal wines, hence each of our 5 varieties have a wine all to themselves.  Our sparkling wine range currently comprises a Blanc De Noirs (Pinot Noir), Blanc De Blancs (Chardonnay) and Rose de Noirs (Pinot Noir).   It is enjoyable when we share our wines with our guests and they are surprised by just how different the wines are, and it adds to the educational element - it also means there is a wine for everyone!

Beacondown English wine The english Wine collection

With your impressive range of English wines is there room for more, any plans to produce new wines?

Notwithstanding our interest and focus on single varietal wines, which will continue to be our core range, we are about to release a limited bottle run of ‘Cuvee XXI’, a mix of our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Previously we have also combined the Bacchus and Pinot Gris to make a blended white wine which was very well received and may make a return one day.   Blending is of course an integral aspect of winemaking and we are excited to be adding the sparkling Cuvee XXI to our collection.

There is such a wide choice of wines available from around the world. If you had to pick a wine other than your own what would it be and why?

Alice would choose a Macon Villages, it is fresh but luxurious whilst its acidity and range of flavours give it great flexibility to pair with food.  Paul would choose a Fleurie, for its silky texture its perfume and general wonderfulness!

What features do you have at the  vineyard and winery - if we came down to visit what can we expect? 

When you visit you get a lovely warm family welcome, generally we are all there – the two of us, our 2 children Rex (8yrs) and Ossie (10yrs) and Dudley the Pointer (2yrs).  The vineyard is very much a family affair.  You will enjoy a lovely day out as most of our tours start at 11am, we then have a tasting of all our wines and an extensive picnic at about 1pm, with the option to stay and drink in the views and he sunshine alongside a glass of our wines through the afternoon. At the moment we are more of a warm (and dry) weather vineyard but have plans to build a cellar door with farm shop and café in 2024-5, which will add a few more reasons to come and visit us! 

To find out more and to see the English wines click here.


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