Road trip to Davenport Vineyard (and video)

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Davenport vineyard

What better way to spend a lovely early spring day ( and my birthday) then a day out in the English countryside, visiting an English vineyard. No sniggers, please. England has been making wines since Roman times but only as recently as the 90′s have the English really gotten serious about producing quality wines. Whether it has to do with global warming or not, some are now winning major wine awards. Thanks to Nytimber, Denbies, Camel Valley and Hush Heath (which I’ve written about previously) to name a few, England is quickly gaining a  reputation in the wine world for producing quality sparkling wines (and still wines are coming up), having won a number of international wine  accolades and awards.

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Nelson, the "guard dog"

I visited Davenport Vineyards in Rotherfield, East Sussex with Kathryn O’Mara from Artisan & Vine. She’s keen on sourcing as many natural and local wines as possible for her winebar so we were down to try the local stuff. Once there, we discovered that Davenport is also a natural, organic farm – bonus! We were greeted by a friendly black labrador, Nelson, and after picking out way through the hodge-podge of building materials laying about – they are currently renovating their 14th century barn, we found Will Davenport in his lab testing his latest wines for sulfur content.

Will is the owner and winemaker of Davenport and originally planted his vines in 1991. Currently there are 12 acres under vine and the vineyard has been managed organically since 2000 under certification by the UK Soil Association. Will tries to use as little intervention as possible – natural yeasts, no fining or filtering, no pesticides, fungicides and he uses organic winemaking practices. Will aims to make wines that showcase the soil and the fruit of his wines, not his wine manipulating skills.

We had the opportunity to try the Limney Estate, ’07 Horsmunden Dry White, the Limney Estate ’05 sparkling and the Duchy of Cornwall Sparkling, which Will makes for the Prince’s Trust. Check out the video to see what we thought…

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Will concentrates on growing aromatic varietals as many are cold climate and particularly suited for the English climate. They are a weird and wonderful melange of varietals. Here is a list of some of them (from Davenport’s website) with Will’s comments:

  • Ortega - An early ripening white grape which can be susceptible to botrytis. It produces full bodied white wines with a flavour of mango and melon. It ripens fully in almost any year and requires no sugar or acid adjustment in the winery. This variety makes the backbone of our “Horsmonden” dry white every year.
  • Faber – A cross between Muller-Thurgau x Pinot blanc which ripens late (normally picked at the end of October). It attains good sugar levels while still keeping highacid levels. The main quality of the wine is in its fine delicate aromas of rose petals, with flavours of apples and citrus fruit. This is probably the closest to a Riesling style that can be easily grown in the UK. Our 1999 example is made very crisp and dry for those who like dry wines, or are prepared to put it in their cellar for a treat in 2 to 3 years time.
  • Bacchus – Among the better known of UK grape varieties, this one probably wins more medals in wine competitions than any other variety. Aromatic wines are made, which vary from grassy to fruit-salad style, depending on the ripeness of the fruit. Very up-front, often with typical elderflower character. The 2000 Bacchus (newly released) is a classic example.
  • Huxelrebe – The bunches on a Huxelrebe must be some of the largest of any variety. It can get botrytis in wet conditions, but in good years will produce a wine capable of ageing for several years in the bottle. As the wine ages it develops a more Muscat style aroma.
  • Siegerrebe – These grapes ripen before the rest, by at least two weeks. The berries are bronze in colour and the wines are highly scented, like a light fragrant Muscat wine. It is normally used in blending to balance the higher acidity of other varieties.
  • Pinot Noir – After successfully growing this variety at Rotherfield, we decided to plant a further 2 acres at our Horsmonden site in the spring of 2000. It will be 3 years before we will see any crop from this planting, but we hope to use these grapes to produce a red wine.

Will was a delightful, low-key host and his wines, both still and sparkling, were very well made. Kathryn and I were both bowled over by the calibre of the wines, absolutely gorgeous wines. A most enjoyable day out in the English countryside.

5 Comments

  1. The points above are all very insightful, thanks very much.

  2. Love that video – and not just for the soundtrack! Hope you can do something similar if/when you make it down my way…

  3. This really was a fantastic day out – great to see the footage! Good you also edited out the several times we tried getting that grape list right ahead of that edit!

    Will is as classically understated on film as in life… the Davenport wines are a brilliant example of a natural wine working in English conditions. The Dry White finish was incredibly long & complex. These are emotionally accessible wines – you feel that a person (rather than a production line) made thm.

    We have the Limney sparkling in @ artisan&vine & will have the Horsmunden Dry White after I get back from visiting vineyards in Languedoc over Easter!

    Look forward to our next UK vineyard visit Ms Sleuth!

    • I’m looking forward to our next visit, too! I like the point you made about emotionally accessible wines, too true!

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  1. Millton Vineyards, pioneering biodynamic NZ wines « The Winesleuth - [...] I started hanging around A&V, even taking a trip with Kathryn to Davenport Vineyards (video here) this past March. …

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