BOLNEY VINEYARD INTERVIEW
One of the largest producers of English wine, Bolney have been making wine since the 1970's. In this English vineyard interview we chat with Sam who tell's us it's a family business that's thriving!
Hi Sam, welcome to The English Wine Collection's vineyard focus feature. Could you provide some background on yourself and the team at Bolney Wine Estate. What did you do before English Wine?
My parents established Bolney Wine Estate in 1972, when they bought Bookers Farm. My father had always wanted to have a vineyard, ever since he was an engineering student in Germany and lived with the local winemaker. We grew up around the vineyard and have spent most of our lives in and around Bolney. I trained as a hairdresser, before studying wine at Plumpton College and taking over the winemaking at Bolney in the 1990’s.
You must have some of the oldest vines in England, has the vineyard changed much since the first plantings?
As I mentioned, Bolney was established in 1972 and is thus one of the forerunners of the modern English Wine industry. We originally planted mostly German grape varieties, as everyone did back then. However, much has changed over the years, with the vineyard being increased to the present 40 acres, with more vineyards coming on stream soon. We were the first to plant Pinot Noir and now also have Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Bacchus, Rondo and Dornfelder vines. The average age of the vines is around 12-15 years. We also have a wine contracting business, where we make wine for vineyards across the south East.
How/why did you get involved in the world of English wine?
We were born into the industry, with my parents setting up Bolney Wine Estate in the 1970’s. Living near Plumpton College, the only institution in the UK offering wine making qualifications, it was natural for me to get involved.
What is special about the specific ‘terroir’ at Bolney Wine Estate?
Bolney Wine Estate is situated on a hill called the Butting One Hundred, mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Our soils are predominantly Upper Tunbridge Wells sand over sandstone bedrock, which are heat retentive and well-draining. The proximity of the Estate to the South Downs, combined with a low altitude and surrounding woodland, helps to shelter the Estate from the dominant wind currents from the South West.
Tell us about the wines Bolney first started to produce, when did it all start?
Bolney started producing still wines back in 1972 mostly from German grape varieties such as Muller Thurgau and Reichensteiner. Nowadays our premium still wines (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Bacchus) are some of our signature wines. The Pinot Gris won single varietal and Wine of the Year at the 2017 UK Wine awards.
No-one was producing sparkling wines back in the 1970’s. We now produce around 50% still and 50% sparkling and produce white, rosé and red in each style. Our premium Blanc de Blancs is a regular award winning wine and we also produce a Cuvee Rosé, which is a sophisticated wine, made from Pinot Noir. Last year we introduced two new sparkling wines into the portfolio. A Classic Cuvee and a Blanc de Noirs.
We produce 120,000-150,000 bottles per year depending on vintage and this will increase to 300,000 by 2021
What’s your go to favourite wine?
My passion is Pinot Noir, which is partly why our signature wine is our still Pinot Noir. We treat it very gently, fermenting the juice in small 500L bins and hand punching down. As with all our wines, we want to bring out the varietal characteristics of the grape variety with fruit balanced by the fresh English acidity.
Do you think Champagne and Sparkling wines are comparable?
At Bolney we aim to produce English Sparkling Wine and we do not try to copy other styles. We prefer fruit driven and fresher styles, which display the varietal characteristics of the grape varieties. We age the wines accordingly, with lighter fresh styles, such as our Bolney Bubbly only spending 12 months on lees, to retain the freshness. Our premium Blanc de Blancs tends to be aged for longer to develop more autolytic flavours, but also retaining the balance with the acidity and the natural fruit flavours of the Chardonnay.
If you could pick ‘the perfect pairing’ for your English wines, what would they be?
Our wines are very versatile and we want them to be drunk with food, but also to stand up well as an aperitif.
Our Bacchus works really well with hard cheeses, seafood, such as prawns and also fish such as sole.
Pinot Noir matches superbly with roast chicken, but also roast pork.
Our sparkling wines match well with a range of foods, with the Blanc de Blancs excellent with oysters, while our Cuvee Rose works well with berry desserts and afternoon teas. Our Cuvee Noir, red sparkling is especially good with BBQ meats and game.
Despite the soaring popularity of English wines, the majority of the world is still unsure where to start. What would you suggest to a first time buyer of English wines?
Our still wines are extremely popular and it is important to ensure that customers taste the wines to experience the quality of English still wines in conjunction with the sparkling wines.
Bacchus is now the third most planted grape variety in England and we think it has great potential, given its winemaking versatility, the fresh, fruity flavours and food matching qualities.
English Pinot Noir is also showing well and can be an alternative to other styles, with the fresh English acidity, balancing the summer fruits and cherry flavours.
In sparkling our Bolney Bubbly is light, fresh fruity and fun and is an excellent party wine and aperitif. It is also made from non-traditional grape varieties (Reichensteiner, Muller Thurgau and Chardonnay) and offers something a bit different to the wines made from Champagne grape varieties.
Our Blanc de Blancs is a sophisticated wine, but with freshness and varietal fruit to the fore and balanced with lees ageing and citrus acidity.
English wines are generally more expensive than their European counterparts, do you feel this is justified?
English wines are produced in a high cost environment with expensive land, labour and materials. They also tend to be hand made products from smaller sized producers, who do not benefit from large scale economies of scale. Hence we need to ensure that quality is high and we retain that focus to produce premium wines of high quality. We feel that these wines are competitive with wines of similar quality.
Anything else you think we should know?
Bolney Wine Estate has a super café, which overlooks the vines and provides excellent breakfasts, lunches and drinks. We open as a wine bar on Friday evenings with themed nights once a month.
We also run tours and tastings throughout the year and are keen to both educate and inform our customers on Bolney Wine Estate and the history of English wine.
English Wine tourism is a growing business and Bolney Wine Estate is at the forefront of this movement.
Thank you Sam for providing such an in depth English Vineyard interview!
To find out more and buy the wines that Sam has been discussing CLICK HERE