By Liz Findlay
This week (19th – 27th June 2021) is English Wine Week. You may think that the burgeoning wine industry we’re seeing across South-East England is a very recent development. Many vineyards have become highly successful, winning international acclaim. Wine production however, has its beginnings here hundreds of years ago. In Kent, Romans had vineyards planted extensively across the area by AD250. After the arrival of Christianity, monks were often expected to maintain themselves including the production of their own wine. In Rochester, for example, the Benedictine monks owned a piece of land, now called “The Vines”, where they had a vineyard. The rule by which the monks lived was pretty strict as regards their daily activities. Although sometimes there was an opportunity for relaxation; it is interesting to note that their only recorded measure which had any flexible interpretation was that attributed to liquid, known as an hermina!
Fast forwarding to the present day Kentish wines are experiencing a spectacular renaissance. Why is this? Well, it’s partly due to the “terroir”. Indeed it is this landscape, along with particular grape varieties, which is so crucial to the character of the wines produced here, combined with excellent growing conditions and chalky soils similar to the Champagne region of France. It is also the passion and devotion of the producers, often family units, which drives their determination to produce award winning wines.
Today there are over 50 vineyards in Kent with over 1000 Hectares (2470 acres) of land currently under cultivation – a massive growth since the first commercial vineyard was established with 9.3 Hectares (23 acres) of vines at Biddenden in 1969.
Every Vineyard Tells a Story
Just outside the historic town of Tenterden, is the beautiful “ Chapel Down” vineyard, producing a range of still and sparkling wines. They have won numerous prestigious awards and are suppliers to top end restaurants, as well as being an official supplier to no 10 Downing Street! Facilities for visitors include a two AA Rosette and a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant. Also on offer is a tour of the vineyard and winery, plus a tutored wine tasting.
On to Staplehurst where, in 2001, Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn acquired the 400-acre estate surrounding their house and established a vineyard known as “Hush Heath”. Their wines have been very successful winning awards and they supply prominent outlets including the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. Time spent here is a delight. Perhaps a walk around the estate followed by tastings accompanied by a platter of cooked meats and cheese. All set in a very stylish building overlooking the vines.
Burnt House Farm, “Chartham Vineyard”, owned by Dr Roz Waller and her husband Richard Goodenough, is an eco-friendly family concern close to the historic city of Canterbury. Following their initial plantings in 2013, they won their first Gold Medal, a sparkling Blanc de Blancs from chardonnay grapes harvested in 2016. A smaller scale vineyard, situated in a very attractive rustic setting, with roots going back to wine production in the 13th century.
From Benedictines to Bond
In 2017, the French Champagne house Taittinger bought land and planted its first vines near Chartham for a new venture into English sparkling wine. The first bottle will be ready in 2023.
By coincidence, close by is the delightfully named village of Pett Bottom, where Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, frequented the local hostelry. Bond is famously associated with Martini; however he also had a penchant for champagne, in particular Taittinger. In “Casino Royale ” , while dining with Vesper Lynd:-
”If you agree,” said Bond, “I would prefer to drink champagne with you tonight. It is a cheerful wine and it suits the occasion–I hope,” he added. With his finger on the page, Bond turned to the sommelier: “The Taittinger 45?”
Enjoy! What better way to pass a day in The Garden of England than to visit a vineyard or two?. Experience the wine and the glorious landscape. Perhaps taking the memory home in a bottle of Kentish sparkling. What to pair with these super wines? Maybe some Kentish cheese? Ah, well that’s for another day…
For more information on Kent’s Vineyards visit https://www.kentvineyards.com
Liz Findlay is SE England and London Blue Badge Guide based in Canterbury