Wine, Romans and England
by Michael Douglas Bosc
Wickham's Sparkling Wine
When I knew I was coming to England, I thought it would be interesting to visit one of the local vineyards of Hampshire. The one I chose is situated on the rolling Southdowns of Hampshire just behind Portsmouth and not far from the place where Eisenhower, Churchill and Montgomery laid their plans for D Day. Tucked away down a typical English leafy lane, small and crammed to the gunwales with their wines but very busy getting their orders out.
As I arrived after the harvest, the machinery; de-stalker, press, conveyor belt etc., had been cleaned and was now waiting to be put away for another year. But I was able to see into the small building where the vats stood. It was a bit like being let loose in a grown-up world but without one being there. Opposite was the bottling room with its racks of bottles waiting to be labeled then racked plus boxes of their wines being prepared for delivery to customers. In a steel cage were some of the pink sparkling wine waiting their turn in the process. The staff here were very helpful and informative.
So here is a short history and story of English wine both normal and Sparkling, born out of the Romans love for it.
HISTORY OF WINE MAKING IN ENGLAND
The history of wine making in England began when the Romans arrived. They found they could grow grapes in this strange country, and as we know from history how fond of wine they were, the logical step was to make it so they did. The proof that wine was being made here by the Romans, was found during the early 1980′s, when some Roman wine containers were discovered on the site of the vineyard. It was one of the reasons why the Wickham Vineyard was created, so when in 1984 after further investigations into the suitability of the area were carried out, 6 acres of vines were planted. This has since increased to 18 acres and as there are 40 acres in a total I understand that further planting is in the planning stage.
You can almost imagine the Romans making their way towards London from Portsmouth stopping off to sample some of the excellent local wine before continuing their journey.
English history was as perverse as anything so when, as history informs us, Henry the 8th decided the monasteries had too much wealth and power he destroyed them; unfortunately in doing so the art of English wine making declined as well. But it is thanks to one or two of the aristocracy that the vineyards did not completely die out. Plus, King Charles the 2nd was hiding in this area on his flight to France - who knows - he might have tasted the wine whilst waiting for his boat and escape!
In 1984 Wickham vineyard was planted by John
and Caroline Charnley, and thus began a small but busy vineyard making sparkling wine alongside reds, whites and beer.
The vineyard is planted on gentle south-facing slopes, a necessity in the northern hemisphere. There is a large English oak tree in the centre, standing like a natural guardian over the vines. These are encouraged to grow upwards before they extend their shoots like arms which drape gracefully downwards allowing the grapes to hang like earrings from elegant ladies. This system is called the Geneva Double Curtain, which is perfect for growing vines that are of low yield, because it can increase the yield by around 50%. Having visited this vineyard when we lived in England I have memories of the grapes ripening on the vines.
As you can see from these pictures the bottling and shed is packed to capacity. The bottles waiting in the metal rack have had yeast added then a bottle cap is used to seal them whilst the process continues. They are then tipped so that the bubble can be drawn after which they are topped up, corked, labeled ready for storage and sale as sparkling wine.
Opposite this area is another building which contains the vats and other equipment for the processing of the wine, whilst outside we found boxes of wine on their pallets ready for dispatch.
There is as with all vineyards and Cellers a shop which sells their products and a wide range there is too. The red wines are just as I like them not to dry, but perfectly balanced for sipping, although I think they would complement a meal nicely. As you can see from these awards the wines are doing very well and helping to promote English wine.
I have to say that these are not handed out willy nilly, so the fact that there are 5 on the shop wall dictates that here is some fine English wine, worthy of investigation. I will add though, that since I live in a wine growing region the pleasure I get is from sipping wine. I look at it like this; if I can sit and sip a wine that is to my pallet’s liking it is good. If it is a little drier than I personally like, then drunk with a meal it will be fine. And yes, I think that Wickhams Sparkling Wine can give Champagne a run for its Euro’s.
This vinyard grows 10 different varieties of grape including Pinot Noir, Triomphe, Dornfelder, and Rondo, are used for the reds, whilst the white is made from Reischensteiner, Wurtzer, Kerner, Bacchus, Faber, and Schoenburger. The soil here is a mixture of chalk, gravel and clay, ideal for growing vines because of the excellent drainage plus mineral content, and is the same soil as the Champagne region, hence it’s perfect for their sparkling wine.
By Michael Douglas Bosc