RICHARD ESLING: That’s 38,000 vines planted, 962,000 to go

Johann Faurie, Penny Streeter and Duncan McNeil at Mannings Heath
Johann Faurie, Penny Streeter and Duncan McNeil at Mannings Heath

Underlining the exponential growth of English wine, particularly the sparkling variety, the UK wine industry recently announced that one million vines are expected to be planted in 2017.

An astonishing number, but a little less since last week when 38,000 vines were planted in three days for the start of one of Sussex’s newest vineyards at Mannings Heath near Horsham.

A further 15,000 are planned for planting next year.

The vineyard is part of a new venture by Zimbabwe born Penny Streeter OBE, a British entrepreneur who bought the Mannings Heath site in 2016. It has been a golf club for over 100 years and the testing 18-hole Waterfall course is considered to be amongst the top hundred in the country. Penny already owns a 170-acre vineyard in South Africa called Benguela Cove and is distributing the wines in the UK from the Horsham site. With the Mannings Heath Golf Club and Wine Estate “We are on course to develop a luxury brand based on the South African wine farm through acquisition and investment in vineyards, restaurants and hotels, offering exceptional quality and service. English wine continues to build a reputation for excellence and this is the perfect time to be investing in a new Sussex vineyard,” says Penny.

Being a top recruitment professional with a company turning over in excess of £70 million, Penny has naturally put together a very capable and experienced team to run the new venture.

The vineyard manager is Duncan McNeil, who has managed the planting of the 19,000 Pinot Noir, 13,000 Chardonnay and 6,000 Pinot Meunier grape vines, with a vine planting machine guided by GPS technology.

“The overriding consideration for viticulture in the UK is temperature, more than soil type,” said Duncan.

The vineyard at Mannings Heath has thus been planted on a steep south-west facing slope, sheltered from the prevailing south-westerly winds by an area of woodland. The slope will maximise the intensity of the sun’s rays for ripening the grapes, and the gradient will also help to minimise frost problems as the cold air sinks to the bottom where no vines are planted.

Vineyard investment is not for the faint-hearted since returns are certainly not instantaneous. The first crop is expected in 2020 and the first wines ready for sale in 2023. Only sparkling wine – white and rosé – will be made, which in my opinion is the correct decision. Sussex climate and soils are ideal for high quality sparkling wines made from the traditional mix of grape varieties as in the champagne region. A new winery is planned on site, which will be overseen by South-African Johann Fourier, cellar-master of Benguela Cove. Johann brings a wealth of oenological experience to the group, as he was ‘poached’ from the renowned KWV wine making consortium.

The Mannings Heath Estate will continue its reputed golf activities with its 18 and 9 hole courses and also now has an extremely good bistro style restaurant, under the direction of a very young, but very talented chef, Nick McAllister. The Benguela Brasserie serves an inventive and well-balanced range of dishes using local ingredients and the chef excels in bringing-out the flavours of every part of the dish. Truffle, smoked egg yolk curd, crispy black pudding and foraged herbs, matched with Shiraz/Merlot from Benguela Cove, for example. And golf? And English sparkling wine (soon)?

A little bit of heaven located near Horsham!

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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