|Visitors tour the Biddenden fields.|
By Sally Hawkins
"English wine," emphasized Nigel, my guide at Biddenden Vineyards [in Kent], correcting my mistake. "British" wine, he was keen to point out, can be made using grapes flown in from anywhere in the world.
As we wound our way through Biddenden's vineyard, I began to understand his eagerness to clarify my misapprehension.
While the Romans had vineyards spread widely across Kent by A.D. 250, they left no legacy of winemaking. So, when the Barnes family planted their first acre of vines in 1969 they were true pioneers, going about it through a process of trial and error. The biggest question hanging over them was whether it was really possible to grow vines in the English climate: a late or early frost can ruin a crop.
Four decades on, and Biddenden now is the oldest commercial vineyard in the county, with 22 acres of vines. Kent now has more than 350 acres of vineyards, and English wines are raking in international awards (including two gold, 14 silver and 20 bronze medals at the 2011 International Wine Challenge, the Oscars of the wine world).
It's all very exciting for oenophiles. As Julian Barnes, second-generation winemaker at Biddenden, explained: "While the varieties of grapes are German [such as ortega and dornfelder] or French [such as pinot noir] they are grown in England -- and the local conditions and soil influence the flavours of the wine."
In Biddenden's farm shop, shelves heave with local produce including the farm's own wines and ciders, all free to taste.
"What produce is Kent famous for?" asked Nigel. "The same nutrients they take from the soil are going into the grapes that make the wine." With one slurp of the Gribble Bridge Ortega 2009, I understand: apples, pears, elderflower. The 2007 Pink Sparkling has hints of strawberry. You can't get more English than that.
[Go here for the complete story.]
ON THE WEB
• Official Kent Tourism Site
• Dowd's Guides