Fine and unfiltered

posted by Tom Wedgery


There is no doubt that things are beginning to change. Just look at the small batch, craft gin movement that has the UK gripped by the juniper berries - people have begun to value provenance and production methods over price. The fact that shoppers now seem to relish in the fact that their latest purchase is limited production, hand-made and locally produced is beneficial for both the artisan and the person who can now boast about their newest, small batch, discovery to their friends. The days where people would nip down to their local offie/corner shop to grab a mass produced bottle of Gordon’s or loaf of Hovis are almost a thing of the past. From small artisan bakeries baking fresh sour dough to the hoards of copper-filled gin distilleries lovingly crafting their English gins, this relatively new consumer mindset has seen the rise of small, independent producers/businesses championing British produce. The trend is now also catching on the the beer industry where there are numerous micro-breweries popping up and selling their latest craft beer from their buzzing tap rooms. It’s happening all over the world and recently I’ve experienced this boom, albeit somewhat earlier, in Japan, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Bali and now cities and towns in the UK.

With wines from the UK continuously increasing in quality and quantity, we have noticed more and more people willing to find a local producer and drink local wine. Whilst their wines themselves are incomparable to English Wine, the growth of our industry has been likened to that of Oregon, who now are renowned for producing some of the worlds best cool climate wines.

One thing that we feel should be avoided, is growth that leads to large scale industrial production. The viticultural challenges presented by our marginal climate mean that the production of English wine is very much a labour of love - this is what we believe gives the Industry it’s character. It’s such a challenge to produce exceptional wines because achieving full ripeness and avoiding disease in our climate is tricky. Growers are going the distance to ensure that the fruit is as ripe and clean as possible in order to avoid less recovery work in the winery, a no-brainer really, but could this be at the cost of some character? Rapid growth has had a direct impact on many international wine regions, with producers deciding to source fruit from numerous and spread out sites. The resulting reality is one of mono-culture agriculture, where growers use ecologically damaging, synthetic sprays to crop high yields in order to keep up with the growing demand. This can put the vineyard under unnatural strain so the soil suffers, as do the vines and ultimately the wines.

There are, however, handfuls of growers going against the wind by starting from scratch and transitioning into a more environmentally conscious form of viticulture. With revitalised soils. come healthy and low yielding vines that produce quality fruit. The result is wines with a proud individual character reflective of their site, climate, variety and also the producers themselves. We believe it is vitally important to the English Wine Industry, that this value becomes a major industry focus. In order to retain the world class quality we’re becoming noticed for, it is important to innovate and push towards a form of viticulture which takes the bigger, environmental picture into account. Maybe we should take care of our young English vineyards and protect our fragile ecosystems by ensuring sustainability is at the top of the agenda.

By interviewing a selection of progressive producers and growers, this ‘Fine and Unfiltered’ series will explore the many (some certified and some ‘less regulated’) ways of working towards a healthy vineyard. Of course, there are many alternative approaches in the winery too and throughout this series we will speak to the producers who really strip it back and go against the ‘wine making by numbers’ approach. The wine makers we have spoken to are making a conscious effort to ensure their wines reflect the health, quality and characteristics of their vineyards or those which they source from. It is a pleasure to see so many producers who simply want to create the best possible wine they can, using a little as possible in the way of help in the winery, highlighting the true unadulterated potential of our climate whilst staying true to variety and environment.

Stay tuned to hear the insights of a range of innovative English winemakers we interviewed as part of a small and on-going series about sustainable viticulture and wine making.