RICHARD ESLING: Wine tourism comes to Sussex

Inside the winery at Ridgeview Estate
Inside the winery at Ridgeview Estate

For those of us fortunate enough to live in the beautiful, sunny counties of Sussex, it is impossible not to be impressed by the number of vineyards popping-up at what seems to be ever-increasing speed.

From the far west of the region around Chichester, right across to the east near Rye, vineyards now form an integral part of the landscape.

Sussex is now widely regarded as producing some of the best quality sparkling wine in the world, with an increasing number of still wines, from varieties such as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, also vying for attention.

Not only has the quality of English wines increased exponentially, but the quantity is following the same path. Estimates show that the current production of around five million bottles per year is set to double in two to three years’ time, as the recently planted hundreds of thousands of vines come into production. Other estimates believe production may be as high as 30 million in another ten years.

But don’t believe any of this comes easily or cheaply. As Simon Woodhead, winemaker at Stopham Estate near Pulborough, said: “Our biggest challenge is the weather. Apart from the annual problem of frost, global warming has also caused a lot more rain, and rain at flowering time in June, is a disaster for yield. If it rains during Wimbledon finals week, we know we have trouble”.

Such is the development of the English Wine Industry that a group of eight producers of English wine have recently joined together to form Sussex Wineries. One of the main criteria for membership of the group is that the producer must have a winery. As the prime focus is on tourism, it is important that visitors can see not only where the grapes are grown, but how and where the wines are made.

The key objectives are to promote Sussex as a wine tourism destination, to communicate what makes the region special and build awareness of Sussex as a producer of award-winning wine. Locally, the Wineries can work with tourist boards, food and drink promotion, nationally with UK promotional bodies and also highlight international tourism of our region.

“Sussex Wineries is the ideal platform to collectively encourage consumers to discover all that Sussex has to offer, with regards to our wines, cellar-doors, tasting rooms, winery cafés, vineyard accommodation, wine tours and experiences,” said Sam Linter, MD of Bolney Estate.

“While we all have our own unique range of wines, individual stories to tell, and distinctive cellar door offerings, collaboratively we will widen our appeal as a region and increase the attractiveness of offering to include the full range of tourism attractions.”

The idea is to also help the English Wine Industry as a whole, by building awareness of Sussex as a wine region locally, nationally and internationally. This will in turn attract visitors from all areas. The demand is definitely there, since only last week I had a request from Norway, through my WineWyse website, for recommendations on visiting English vineyards. Other counties in the south-east are also forming groups, such as Kent and Hampshire. This will help develop processes and quality to the benefit of all.

The members of the Sussex Wineries group are: Stopham Estate, Bolney Estate, Bluebell Vineyard, Ridgeview, Rathfinny, Oxney, Albourne and Wiston Estate.

The first Sussex Wineries Weekend is planned to take place between June 15 and 17, with many different events planned at each winery.

Details can be found on the individual winery websites and an overview on the Sussex Wineries site.

A great opportunity to enjoy all that Sussex has to offer, with vineyards set in some of the most stunning countryside of Europe, the fascinating production methods to discover and award-winning wines with which to toast our local winemakers.

And when it comes to Wimbledon Finals week, pray that it doesn’t rain – not just for the tennis!

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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