Sussex Gin And Fizz Fest 2019
Saturday 29th June, 2019, was an absolute scorcher and after an insightful morning tour of Hidden Spring Vineyard, we were keen to continue the trend, relax and stay refreshed as the mercury continued to rise. Fortunately for us, we had received an invite to the Sussex Gin & Fizz Festival from Galia of Sussex Uncorked (an excellent English Wine themed blog, check it out if you haven't already).
The festival’s aim is to bring wine and gin lovers together with some of the finest English sparkling wine and gin producers from Sussex, alongside great live music and some delicious food. Based in Southover Grange Gardens in Lewes, the festival was split into two sections. The first section was the daytime 11am-4pm slot (which we attended) followed by an evening party session from 5pm onwards. The evening was set to have the music ramped up with booze flowing and even more people expected to be in attendance. Organised and supported by Lewes District Council, this event was not only a chance to sample and celebrate Sussex produced Sparkling Wine and Gin, but a chance to learn about these products from the very people who made them. Dragging winemakers out of their usual habitats and into a public space is a rare occasion and an eye-opening experience we would totally recommend.
For us, the hidden gem of this event came at about 3pm when Adrian Pike from Westwell Vineyard chaired a conversation between industry stars, Peter Hall from Breaky Bottom Vineyard and Dermot Surgue of Wiston Estate and ‘Sugrue’. This conversation did not disappoint. It was laid back, down to earth and had a great sense of honesty. Led skilfully by Adrian, the conversation between these two brilliant personalities covered career beginnings, wines they were most proud of and how the two first became friends (whilst sneaking outside for a quick cigarette at an industry talk) many moons ago. The discussion drew a crowd of industry professionals, knowledgeable consumers and members of public with a thirst for knowledge (and wine). This summed up the day for us. Take great English wine and Gin, delicious food and live music, plonk it in the park on a summers day and just enjoy it for what it is…none of that ponsey, ostentatious crap.
Amongst the range of wines on show in the producers tent, we particularly enjoyed the Charmat-method wines from Fitz Wine. Positioned proudly between the Carr Taylor and Bolney Wine Estate stalls, this comparatively new producer stood out as having a refreshing and fun approach to the English fizz game, bringing an approachable and easy style of wine to the market. It was so hot in the producers tent that it had to be explored in short bursts, so with a glass of Bolney Blanc de Blancs in hand, we ventured outside for some shade and food. After enjoying a Persian lamb dish and some country music, we felt prepared to brave the warmth of the tent and discover more wine. This time, we enjoyed the wines from exciting new producer, Oastbrook, based next to a castle with ambitions of offering kayaking, outdoor dining and overnight stays.
Wiston Estate showed incredibly well, as always, with their 2009 Cuveé standing out as it does every time we’re fortunate enough to taste it. Whilst we aim to taste wines from each producer on merit, we feel the consistent volume of hype surrounding Wiston is regularly justified. Breaky Bottom were also showing some of their older vintages, although due to the way Peter produces his wine (no malo and long bottle age) the wines from this producer are usually a few years older. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t guarantee a better wine, but it certainly works exceptionally well for Breaky Bottom! On a slight tangent, we also bumped into Dominic Buckwell (a wine enthusiast who is now an independent director of Wine GB) who happened to kindly put Tommy up for a night in his house during the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, 3 years ago. They hadn’t seen each other since, so we weren’t aware of his new role with Wine GB… needless to say he soon found out about Emerging Vines. The wine world is certainly a small one.
The final wine producer to visit was Plumpton, proudly showcasing their wines and also promoting the excellent courses that they offer in wine business and wine production. For anybody looking to train and study in the English wine industry, it’s worth speaking to the Plumpton crew if you see them around.
If you’ve made it this far then you’re probably wondering why we haven’t mentioned the Gin contingent yet. Unfortunately, time constraints resulted in us only being able to enjoy the wines… we did, however. hear some excellent feedback. We especially regretted not being able to taste the Seven Sisters Gin, a gin from Rathfinny Estate produced using discarded grape pressings. Tom Cat and Slake showed their two Sussex dry gins alongside Brighton, Chilgrove, Harley House and Jarrolds gin. Cabin Pressure Spirits brought along their vacuum distilled gin and generation distillers made up a great gin line up. For those unenthused by Gin and Fizz, Harveys Brewery and the Copper Top Bar were on hand to supply beers and cocktails. Essentially, there was a vast amount of high quality booze on hand, all produced in Sussex!
It was a brilliant way to spend a hot afternoon, hopefully we’ll see you there next year!
Special mention -