Wine and the UK used to have a strictly purchaser/enjoyer relationship. We didn’t make wine because the climate wasn’t right. Until some clever person noticed that the climate in certain parts of the country – specifically, Dorset; Kent; and Sussex – was very similar to the climate in temperate wine making regions in the New World. The floodgates, after some initial scepticism from those who heard about the projects, were opened: and now those three counties are synonymous with wine production. Indeed, British vineyards even produce the UK equivalent of champagne.
In Sussex, the watchword for wine production is “organic”. Quality control has been one of the bugbears of wine production in every country the drink is made in: from France (which famously uncovered serious contraventions of its wine purity laws in recent decades) to the States, issues have arisen from time to time that have underlined the difference between good and bad grapes and methods of production.
Organic production of grapes requires a certain level of soil management. In order for crops and foodstuffs to qualify as organic, the producer is banned from using certain herbicides; pesticides; and plant growth hormones – and may not introduce artificially genetically modified strains of crop into the equation. He or she may also be beholden to conduct traditional land management techniques, for example by using compost and scientifically created topsoil to provide the nutrients the vines need.
The creation of wine is a science and an art. Indeed, wine enthusiasts would claim, with some justification, that to engage in true scienceis to engage in art: and so wine making becomes an art of the palate, in which the agglomeration of factors that produce first the grape and then the drink is carefully juggled to deliver the desired effect.
It is important to give the grapes the right amount of sunlight (which can be tricky in the UK, though easier near the coast, which is why so many of the British vineyards are in coastal counties); and to ensure that the soul in which they grow is correctly mineralised. You can’t simply add mineral to vineyard soil and hope that this will lead to optimum grape growing conditions – rather, you have to have the soil there naturally to start with. This is another reason why UK vineyards are so localised to specific areas.
The British tourist trade has begun to enjoy the fruits of these pioneering vintners’ labours. Vineyard tours take enthusiastic tasters on a journey through the winemaking process, usually ending with a tasting session. One or two enterprising vineyards, for example the Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard in East Sussex, have even begun operating clubs that give UK wine enthusiasts a closer tie with vineyards – the opportunity to help with harvests, for example, or to plant and grow the grapes themselves.
England’s garden counties, and its famous coastal counties, are beginning to be defined by more than simple holidaymaking. Now, there are industries growing up there that produce products for enjoyment by the whole country. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that that gives every holiday destination another string to its bow.
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