Digby Fine English Comes To Town
Posted by Tommy Grimshaw
On Saturday 28th September, we ventured down to the quaint and ever so English town of Arundel in Sussex. Our reason for this trip was to pay a visit to the newly opened Digby Fine English tasting room. This was an excellent chance for us to learn more about the Digby brand as well as taste their wines with CEO Trevor Clough.
The shop front is welcoming with a colourful array of flowers in bottles dressed with the striking Digby shard label (more about the label design later). Once inside the building, there is a fine balance between it feeling like a retail space and a very cosy, traditional English country house living room: something that we felt would ease anybody new to the wine scene. Alex, the tasting room manager, makes you feel at ease with an unassuming approach to conversation but with plenty of knowledge about English wine and Digby to keep you asking questions for hours. He’s another young English wine advocate which is always refreshing to see. We were then greeted by the incredibly passionate and exuberant Trevor who began to show, talk and taste us through the brand he’d created.
A hugely important thing to understand about Digby Fine English is the goal of the brand and how the wine production allows them to achieve this goal. Trevor worked as a business development consultant for a while in London and grew more and more frustrated that he didn’t have his own business to focus on. Whilst travelling in Oregon with his partner, they had somewhat of a lightbulb moment on the long driveway up to a wine estate. Having heard whispers of a growing English wine industry that was focussing on super premium sparkling wines to rival Champagne, they thought that this could be the opportunity to create the brand they’d been looking for. So, whilst they were in the states, they began to ask for advice from some of the leading sparkling wine producers in Napa. To their surprise, they were told not to plant a vineyard and not to build a winery at first if they wanted to achieve their goal, to be a leading export brand of super premium English sparkling wine. Instead, the couple came back and began work on becoming the country’s first négociant style wine producer.
So how do Digby produce their range without their own vines or winery? Through not owning their own plot of land and vines, the Digby team are free to source the best fruit that they can from all over the country. Although some people may think that the négotiant set up is reserved for lesser quality and high production wine, Digby are giving them something to think about by regimentally sticking to the principles of their premium English brand. By sourcing the highest quality fruit from multiple regions, soil types, micro-climates and people across England, surely the resulting wines are a fine cross section of England? The tasting room is proud to show off the variety of soil structures that are underneath the vines that grow the fruit for Digby.
It’s all well and good having excellent fruit from around the country, but how do you turn that into excellent wine? Here at Emerging Vines HQ we believe that it’s near impossible to make excellent wine from poor quality grapes but it is easy to make a poor quality wine from excellent grapes. Well, Digby have teamed up with the wonderful Dermot Sugrue to get around this issue. Dermot is widely regarded as one of the greatest winemakers in the country, so he is certainly more than capable of creating some fantastic base wine parcels for Digby. The next stage is key. This is when Trevor steps in to craft the blends which will become the sparkling wine ‘family’ for Digby Fine English. He made it clear that each wine has a clear role in the family but each year, the wines may well show different characteristics based on the vintage.
Flagship Vintage Reserve Brut - This wine was complex and left me wanting more and more after every sip. The nose was youthful with well integrated layers of autolysis and fruit. I was shocked to hear that it was a 2010 vintage. The palate rich but with a racy acidity that once again could trick you into believing the wine was younger than it is. The autolytic flavour builds over time and an almost honeyed flavour creeps in. The combination of the integrated acidity and a nice salinity made this wine very moreish. The more I drank, the more layers I discovered. A stand out for me in the lineup!
Non Vintage Brut - This is the little brother of the wine above. Noticeably younger, more vibrant and slightly less serious. A wine that has clearly been designed as an easy drinker for any occasion. A higher acidity is matched with a higher dosage, although these don’t stick out like sore thumbs as the fruit profiles in the wine keep everything in check. The best selling wine in the US from the Digby lineup due to its ability to pair with many of their national favourites, such as fried chicken.
Leander Pink - This wine made me smile as soon as I put my nose in the glass. I’m not sure why, it just did. Sometimes you don’t need a reason. To understand this wine, you need to understand a bit about the Leander Club. It is a hugely successful members club on the banks of the River Thames, with a focus on finding the country’s rowing elite and training them in top quality conditions. Trevor’s husband has a good affiliation with the Leander club, so naturally they wanted to work with them. The club also represents a very English tradition which is carried through in the Digby brand too. When it comes to the Leander Club, pink is the colour, so the Leander Pink wine was born. Much like the Non Vintage Brut above, this wine is designed to be an easy drinker. Fruit driven, refreshing acidity but still plenty of layers. It is easy to imagine you’re sitting on the river bank at Henley Regatta with this wine. The one descriptor that Trevore used for this wine that really stood out to me was ‘sessionable’. I’ll leave it there.
Vintage Rosé - This wine is a serious rosé, there’s no messing around here. Layer upon layer of red hedgerow fruit, held up with weighty autolytic profiles and a kick of acidity. A foodie wine that is up there with the top Rosés in the county. The long finish encourages you to take your time with this wine and enjoy every sip. If you want to impress with at a summer garden party, this is the one for you.
Now feels like a good point to explain a bit out the Digby name and branding. So let’s start with Sir Kenelm Digby who lends his name to this wine brand. He was an eccentric philosopher, creative and pirate that worked for the crown in the 17th century. After returning to England after a successful haul around the globe, ‘Sir Ken’ (as Trevor’s young son calls him) came into a fair amount of money and was about to invent something that would revolutionise the world of wine. In those days, the wine was shipped in barrels and then served in jugs. However, as many of you will know, a half full barrel of wine will oxidise quickly and spoil. So Kenelm Digby decided that he would solve this issue. The reason that wine was shipped in barrels is because glass was much too fragile and weak back then due to the temperatures that could be reached in the furnaces and the shape of the bottles. Sir Digby began experimenting with coal furnaces that could reach a much higher temperature and he also designed a punt into the bottom of the bottle for structural strength. At last, he’d worked out a suitable design. This was finished off by adding a wide rim near the top of the neck so that a piece of string could be tied and fasten down any closure that would be used. Sir Kenelm Digby invented the modern wine bottle and although the shape has slightly evolved over time, the team at Digby Fine English wanted to celebrate this great Englishman by using his name for the brand and using a triangular label to resemble that first wine bottle.
Back to the tasting room. We would highly recommend a visit to Arundel as a day out and a tasting flight at the Digby high street venue is a must. Relax, learn and drink some excellent English fizz in the heart of a beautiful and historic English town. If you fall in love with Digby then they offer a brilliant membership scheme which not only sends you wine and gives you access to exclusive events but also allows you to take full advantage of the members only room attached to the tasting room. The tasting room is very much open to everybody and is all about having fun. There is a direct train from London to Arundel, so don’t worry about finding a designated driver. Get on down and enjoy yourselves, wine is fun after all!