As the nation gets ready to celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, and the shops fill up with street party essentials (crown shaped napkins, union jack garlands etc), I have found my own way to the Jubilee vibe by revisiting Woodchester Valley Vineyard & Winery.
No flag waving paraphernalia here – but nowhere better showcases the indomitable British spirit than a British vineyard.
There are few places on Earth where vines grow beyond 30-50 degrees latitude so British winemakers face numerous obstacles. They are all ever so slightly crazy for making wine their living. But against the odds, by dint of hard work, exhaustive research, pioneering innovation and entrepreneurial ambition, they are now making world class wines.
9th May 2022 was a beautiful if breezy spring day for my visit and I was excited to see how Woodchester were getting on.
Despite the combined challenges of two much less productive harvests in 2019 and 2020 and the pandemic, Woodchester Valley continues to stride onwards and upwards.
At the vineyard, the new vines just planted when we visited in 2019 at the top of the slope (possibly the highest altitude vineyard in England) should this year produce a decent crop. Frost seems to have spared the vineyard this year. The vines are budding forth and flowers are starting to appear.
Recent excavation to improve winery access showcases the soil profile here – i.e. very little topsoil atop honeycomb hued Cotswolds brash which gives way to chalky limestone. Fossils abound – I took one home!
The tasting room has doubled in size, with beautiful views across the valley, blossom laden trees in the foreground, and a gorgeous limestone floor. Catering facilities have improved; an oven was delivered while I was there. More car parking is being created to accommodate ever increasing visitor numbers.
In the winery, there has been more investment in new barrels, now bearing Woodchester’s own branding, and the finished products are now poured into rebranded bottles with elegant stylish labels designed by Neil Tully of Amphora.
Woodchester’s wines are now found in fine dining establishments including Clayton’s Kitchen in Bath and Adelina Yard in Bristol, while Harvey Nichols sell their Bacchus and Pinot Noir Rose as part of their own label range.
Comparing vintages of some of the wines we tasted in 2019, (to read about this click on this link: https://winetimeevents.com/2020/07/09/woodchester-valley-aspirational-winemaking-in-the-heart-of-the-cotswolds/ ) the still white blend Culver Hill 2019 (again a 3 way split of Ortega, Seyval Blanc and Bacchus) was for me more Bacchus influenced than the 2018 in that the nose was very elderflower with Cox’s apples, peach and lemon aromas, and the palate showed pronounced gooseberry character, and a little tartness which balanced well with its fruity exuberance. A delightful English summer garden wine at 11.5% abv. The 2018 had similar charm but seemed more floral with grapey lychee notes.
The 2020 Bacchus is zingy with laserlike focus. A zesty wine alive with gooseberry, lime and elderflower framed with a steely backbone. This vintage was yield challenged by late frost, wind at flowering which impaired fruit set, and hail. But what fruit there was, was good, evidenced by the wine’s long finish. The 2018 from the bountiful and near perfect vintage had more creamy weight and stone fruit notes possibly evidencing riper fruit, though the abv was 11.5% whereas the 2020 is 12% so maybe I am wrong about that!
The Orpheus Bacchus 2017 we tasted in 2019 was impressive, so comparison with the 2020 was eagerly anticipated. This is made using carefully selected grapes from their oldest and most favourably situated Bacchus vines, and some of the wine is barrel fermented. If the Bacchus is a chamber orchestra of top notes, the Orpheus is more of a symphony orchestra, with a broader and deeper flavour range counter balanced by a slight spritziness. The finish is long and luscious. A favourite of Lisa Hogan of Diddly Squat Farm apparently! A discerning customer I would say, this was as impressive as I remembered it to be. The 2020 seemed more fruit forward with deeper apple and red gooseberry character, whereas the 2017 was perfumed with floral jasmine and elderflower notes.
The Cotswolds Classic is a traditional method fizz made from 75% Seyval Blanc and 25% Pinot Blanc. The 2016 spent 15 months on its lees and had moreish appley character and a lifted lemon sherbet finish. The 2018 had 18 months lees ageing. It too had bags of apple flavour, both baked apples and red apple peel, and a delightful fine frothy mousse. This time the ageing showed through more with sweet biscuit notes, and the residual sugar of 11-12 g/L offset any tangy acidity. An English summer fluffy cloud of a wine, very approachable with a touch of class.
The Reserve Cuvee Brut 2016 was fruity and floral, and had seemed less tart than the Cotswolds Classic 2016. The latest version is still a champagne grape blend, this time 50% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay, and 11% Meunier. The grapes were harvested in 2018, the wine was bottled in June 2019, and it was then disgorged in September 2021 – and so spent 27 months on its lees. Now that reserve wines are available, this is no longer “vintage” – instead the Cuvee number is shown as XVIII, so this is a non vintage wine – though I am told a recent review stated it tasted more like a multi vintage, which is a nice compliment.
The fruit tasted very ripe, reflecting the success of the 2018 vintage – red apple, poached pear, even quince jelly, and baked apple and custard – the vanilla note reflecting the barrel ageing of the Chardonnay. The lees ageing contributed toasty bread and biscuit complexity. The mousse was most refined. Pairing with parmesan, or even Godminster truffle cheddar, is apparently a whole new level of foodie heaven.
Of the 5 wines tasted, this was for me the wine which had made the most progress in terms of quality. There was an obvious step up in refinement. The Woodchester winery was set up in 2016, when winemaker Jeremy joined, but I am not sure if the 2016 Reserve Cuvee was made by Jeremy. Whether he made both wines or not, I hope he is proud of the improvement the wines show which bodes so well for the future.
There is so much positive energy in British vineyards right now, and there is no better time to visit them. If you’re street partying for the Jubilee, no worries as Welsh Wine Week is Saturday 4th – Sunday 12th June 2022, and English Wine Week is Saturday 18th – Sunday 26th June 2022, so there is abundant opportunity to go touring while the sun (hopefully) shines! For foodies, there is also the Harvey Nichols Bristol English Wine Dinner on Thursday 23rd June 2022 – click here for details: https://www.sevenrooms.com/experiences/bristoldining/english-wine-dinner-8081660922
In the meantime, forget the champagne and toast Her Majesty with finest fizz from Blighty!