Raise a glass to Sussex because this county’s vineyards are producing world-beating wines. Take it from the experts: Ridgeview’s sparkling Grosvenor won Gold in 2010 at the revered Decanter awards in the face of stiff competition from 700 other wines. It was the first time the accolade went outside Champagne.
Sussex’s soil – high in chalk and lime, like Champagne’s – produces slightly under-ripe, acidic fruit that is perfect for fizz. But our whites and pinks are improving with each vintage, too. It takes four years of growth before a vine produces grapes that can be used – more for them to turn out a wine that really makes the grade. That’s why estates such as Nyetimber (planted in 1988) and Bolney (with vines dating from 1972) are now consistently producing great wines.
But this county, which has more vineyards than any other in the country, is also about innovation. Winemakers, new and old, are experimenting with the soil, producing a huge variety of exciting wines. And while English wine can seem a little expensive – because land is sparse and so rates and production costs are high – each bottle has a story to tell.
Now, with more and more vineyards offering tours and inviting the public to help with the harvest, you can be part of the story. Enjoy a specialist tasting at the English Wine Centre; measure the moustache of Matt, the boss at Plumpton College (Britain’s only academyoffering a degree in wine production)among the 15 acres of vines; or help pick the grapes at Breaky Bottom – and then lose your dignity around a campfire on last year’s vintage. Once you have felt the passion behind the labels, you’ll be hooked.
And Sussex is gaining a reputation for beer, too. Ale has undergone a revolution in the past five years in this county. Just look at the local brands on the chalk boards at the Evening Star pub near Brighton Station (home to the Dark Star Brewery and organiser of local brewery tours) and you’ll see some of the microbrewers that have pushed ale sales past lager for the first time in 20 years.
Look out for the local shops, bars, restaurants and hotels serving up Sussex ales and wines. It’s a golden time to get out and explore this county – from grape, to plate, to pillow.