When I first moved to the UK, I didn’t realize there was such a thing as English wine – it just didn’t occur to me that grapes would grow in this climate. Similarly, the Englishman didn’t know that there was such a thing as Canadian wine, so I suppose we were even! Now that English Wine Week (and what feels like a warm summer) is upon us, I thought I’d share my experience of visiting our local winery and, well, the experience of quaffing some of its produce.
The drive to Hambleden is what makes me really appreciate my surroundings. A few miles from home or the shop and we’re in the Chilterns countryside; the word ‘SLOW’ etched on the road merely echoes the mood that we find ourselves in.
Passing some lovely cottages and proper country pubs, we head up a road through steep woodland and arrive at Old Luxters Barn. The converted 17th century barn buildings house the Chiltern Valley Winery where winemaker David Ealand produces a surprisingly wide and unique range of wines and liqueurs.
A former solicitor, David made an adventurous career change when he bought what was a pig farm over 30 years ago, planted a vineyard and bottled his first harvest in 1984. After selling out year after year, the now father-and-son team are producing over 120,000 bottles per year and winning taste competitions and awards here and abroad.
As grapes are temperate fruits like apples, pears, berries and plums, the Chiltern Winery team see no reason why England shouldn’t be producing more wine. It all comes down to good quality grapes coupled with wine production techniques that interfere minimally with natural processes. I nod judiciously, taking all this information in while sipping wine after wine in the cozy tasting room. The wines range from crisp and dry to rich and honeyed – white, rosé and red – and certainly the dessert and sparkling wines aim to please. Their traditional country liqueurs, from slow and damson to ginger, are brilliant and dangerously tasty. Last year’s discovery for me was the Old Luxters Mead, which made my list of top 10 food moments in 2010.
This summer however, nothing gets me into the moment like a chilled rosé. Our customers at the café tend to agree, as we have now nearly sold out and are eagerly awaiting the bottling of David’s next batch. Blame it on the early summery weather, I suppose? This peachy-hued wine made with Montepulciano grapes fits the ‘off-dry’ bill and, with its honeyed aroma, is destined for patio quaffing. It tastes great alongside peppery salads, early summer strawberries and creamy & fruity cheeses such as Wensleydale with blueberries. Here’s to a warm and lovely summer in the Chilterns – and more chances to slow down and enjoy what’s been picked off the local grapevine.