OXNEY VINEYARD INTERVIEW
Hi Kristin, it’s great to have you here on our English Vineyard focus feature. To start could you provide some background information on yourself and the team at Oxney Organic Estate. Why is there a vineyard at Oxney, where did the idea/inspiration come from? What drew you into the world of English wine?
Most events and developments are a series of decisions and accidental good luck and the vineyard was absolutely a mixture of all of that! My partner and I decided to invest in some land and started buying a series of farms around the Rother river valley in 2009. Looking for diversification and a focus as I was coming out of my career in public relations and a passion for wine the vineyard seemed like an obvious decision. We touched base with a number of experts and we had land that was ideal for growing grapes – and the first vines went in in 2012. We are very lucky - the area has a couple of other notable vineyards – for instance Chapel Down and Gusbourne – and is ideal for growing grapes.
The small idea to try our hand at growing grapes started in 2011 during a trip to France. Travelling the west coast in our VW Campervan and of course stopping by some amazing vineyard the small seed was sown. I made contact with the Soil Association (who certify our organic status) and they put me in touch with Stephen Skelton who has worked with us to today. We are, after planting another six hectares this May, now the largest organic vineyard in the UK. Quite a development from the first few acres planted – madly by hand by friends and family – in May 2012. The development of the vineyard has been organic – we have made a step forward every year – planting additional fields, developed a winery, building up the extensive list of vineyard equipment required, installing our own riddling and disgorging equipment so we are totally self-sufficient from the grape to the label, now building a winery extension, becoming more approachable for tours and visits, building our own very special shepherd’s huts in the vineyard. It has been quite a journey.
Oxney Vineyard has decided to produce Sparkling wines which are organic. What was the inspiration behind the idea, this must through up some challenges?
When we started to think about farming the decision to be organic was made before we even started to look for land. To be organic you have to believe – it is incredibly hard and expensive – and you have to do it for the right reason. Organic viticulture does not use herbicide and has a very limited and natural disease control regime. This means that you have to be super vigilant and spend a lot of effort out in the vineyard. Our current focus on sparkling was made because we wanted to make the top product you could make in this very marginal cold climate region, which is sparkling wine. We also have had – through unfortunate weather related events – low yields. Low yields mean amazing quality and flavour concentration but also means that running the business is tricky – and a solution is to make a high end product with the best margins you can.
As you know the terroir of a vineyard is key to producing wines. What would you say are the specific characteristic of Oxney’s wines, how are they driven by the terroir?
The feedback we get about our wines are always about fruitfulness and purity, yet body and approachability, even though the wines are ultra dry. Fruitfulness comes from our very protected site. In the winter it means we are a bit of a cold weather magnate. In the summer we are producing super flavoursome and ripe fruit. The words natural and pure are often words used by customers and experts and this is the end result of our approach to wine making through to viticultural practices. It is a fascinating question!
Key to enjoying wines can be to find ‘the perfect pairing’. What have you found are the best pairings for your wines?
All our wines are very much food wines. We have made award winning still wines in previous years so that goes without saying maybe – but the same applies to the sparkling. They are not the ultra fresh profile associated with many English wines but have a roundness and approachability which makes them a great wine with food. We had fish and chips from our local the other day - after a hard day with the whole team trellising, what can be better – and we had a glass of Classic 2015 with it. The Classic won a gold in the WineGB competition in June which made us very happy. I can guarantee that it goes well with fish and chips. It is lovely as an aperitif too of course.
You have shepherd’s huts on site. If we came to stay what can we expect?
What attracted us to the farm where the vineyard is located is its history. The farm was in the Doomsday Book, it is an old fashioned farm with lots of fields, hedgerows and old oaks, all on slopes leading down to the Rother River. With the development of the vineyard, and having also developed some old barns on another part of the estate into holiday accommodation we realized how amazing it would be to stay in the vineyard, literally amongst the vines. We had our favourite carpenter build the huts using reclaimed material and oak from the farm and they are stunning. The huts are – as shepherd’s huts are – small but include a double bed, small kitchen, bathroom and a private garden. In the spring you will be surrounded by a few sheep as well as the vines! Lots of people time their stay with a tour of the vineyard. And the area has a lot to see and do – and amazing restaurants and not to mention great beaches!
There still seems to be some hesitation by consumers when purchasing English wine. What would say to a first time buyer of English wine?
I would say give it a go – you won’t regret it! The wineries of England are all bar a few very small, you will drink a handmade bottle of wine which a winemaker has spent months if not years finessing. You will also have the opportunity to get to know the vineyard personally through a visit (most of us are open for visitors). I can’t think of anything better – a high class product made on your door step.
Anything else you think we should know?
We would love to meet you! We are open for visitors (check out our web site – www.oxneyestate.com). Speaking about and sharing our vineyard, winemaking and wine is probably the most fun we have.