With the increasing popularity of English wines (particularly the sparkling kind), Three Choirs Vineyards are leading the way in choice, expertise and quality.
On a crisp November afternoon I visited the vineyard in Newent, Gloucestershire, and was surprised by the scale of the enterprise. Alongside the vineyard, there is also a restaurant, tasting facilities and luxury guestrooms. This is a company that really understands the opportunities of wine tourism.
Our guide for the tour was Martin, the wine making director, who had the difficult task of addressing an audience that combined everyone from amateur to master of wine. The vineyard opened in 1975 in an area that on a cold November day looks an unlikely place to successfully grow grapes but with a south-facing aspect, low-rainfall and a warm climate the vineyard has the perfect conditions. Three Choirs also had the sensible idea of spreading the risk by growing 16 different varieties which flower and ripen at different times of the year, allowing for the quirkiness of English weather. Amongst the grapes grown at Three Choirs are Riesling, Siegerrebe (a cross between Madeleine Angevine and Gewurtztraminer) and Reichensteiner. The Germanic grapes are well suited to the climate and provide Three Choirs with an exceptional choice of products. To those that haven’t tried it yet I can recommend the Siegerrebe, with its aromatic similarities to Gewurztraminer, it goes well with Chinese cuisine.
The grapes are grown on sandy soil which is held in place by the grass grown between the rows. There are also rows of trees planted around the vineyard that act as wind breakers to protect the vines and grapes from winds coming off the Welsh mountains and the vines are grown in a high trellis system to help protect them from ground frost.
Martin informed the group that this year had been a difficult harvest due to the lack of rain this year! ‘Really,’ we all chorused, where had he been during the downpours that washed-out most of July and August? But apparently this small corner of England had received less rainfall than the South East and its well known vineyards and this had meant that the grapes hadn’t swollen up as required leading to a light harvest.
In the winery, Martin explained that cool English temperatures were a benefit when it came to processing the grapes as it protected them from oxidization.
Three Choirs are respectful of the wines they make and understand when oak is appropriate and when it would over-power the traditionally fruity, aromatic English flavours and aromas. They use a mix of French and American oak.
Wines we tasted:
- Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 £16
- New Release English Varietal Wine 2011 £7.50
- Brut Classic Cuvee (NV) £11
The Classic Cuvee was light and fruity in a similar style to cava and a bargain at £11 a bottle. The New Release 2011 (released on the third Thursday of November) is a blend of Madeleine Angevine and Huxelrebe. It was floral, with citrus and melon notes, a delicious, youthful aperitif. The pinot noir, due to the cool weather, was light and fruity, full of strawberry and red fruit flavours.
I would recommend a visit to the Vineyard to anyone wanting to gain more of an understanding of the English wine industry while having the opportunity to taste some delicious wines.
Visit Three Choirs website – http://www.three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk