On an early-summer’s day, the vineyard is bathed in light. Under the shade of a wizened oak tree, lunch is served with views of the forest-flecked terroir. From an outdoor pit fire adjoining the tasting room comes a mouthwatering lunch of grilled prawns and whole barbecued lamb, and served alongside it a sparkling rosé from 2014, pale pink and resplendent with raspberry and citrus. Yet this isn’t Bordeaux or Champagne, but Nutbourne in West Sussex.
This is the 26-acre vineyard run by the Gladwin family, who own three restaurants in London: The Shed, Rabbit and Nutbourne. As well as their trademark “nutty” sparkling, they turn out a quaffable Sussex Reserve NV with hints of elderflower, a rosé and a lightly barrel-oaked Pinot Noir.
Nutbourne is one of many estates bringing this region to the fore of the English winemaking revolution. With 106 vineyards already established in East and West Sussex and many more emerging annually, the region is producing wines that often beat their Continental cousins in taste tests – and not all the obvious sparkling wines. Cracking reds are made here too, such as the Bolney Estate Pinot Noir as well as many Burgundian Pinots.
Sussex might also be edging towards a Champagne-style protected status. Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has put forward an application for Sussex wine to be awarded PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status under the EU’s Protected Name Scheme, but it remains to be seen what effect Brexit will have on this. If it happens, ordering a “glass of Sussex” will, hopes the local wine industry, become common parlance.
Whatever the result, the wines are in hot demand. The most familiar are the prize-winning sparklers, from pioneering vineyards such as Ridgeview, Nyetimber and Gusbourne. In 2010, Ridgeview’s Blanc de Blanc 2006 scooped the Decanter World Wine Award for best sparkling wine over £10, beating leviathans such as Taittinger and Piper Heidsieck. Ridgeview is also now Downing Street’s official supplier – and has been served on numerous occasions by the Queen. It is also responsible for the winemaking of the recently launched Windsor Great Park Wine. Last year the expressive almond and vanilla notes of a £40 2009 Nyetimber won favour over a £65 bottle of Billecart-Salmon Grand Cru champagne in a Wine and Spirit Trade Association tasting in Paris.
An exciting project on the horizon is Rathfinny Estate – 250 acres of south-facing chalky downland owned by former hedge-fund manager Mark Driver. The estate’s first sparkling wines will be out next year. The country’s three largest organic vineyards are in Sussex: Davenport, Oxney and Sedlescombe. The latter’s Pinot Noir-Chardonnay Brut 2013 vintage sparkling wine won a gold at last year’s international wine awards for its biscuity depths.