Just over thirty years ago I shared an office with David, an older colleague who had considerable knowledge about many things but his passion was for rugby, singing and wine. Such was David’s great enthusiasm about these things, that he left a lasting impression on us. We particularly enjoyed having dinner at the home of David and Maureen, especially for the wonderful selection of wines that David would produce, at least one with each course! You can imagine that by the end of dinner we had amassed quite a selection of wine glasses. Since then we have both developed our own passion for wine and as we have a local vineyard Winbirri Wines that has produced award-winning wines I thought that our blog this time should be on wine from England and especially here in Norfolk.
There’s so much to enjoy about wine, not just drinking it, which is of course a very satisfying thing to do, but much more besides. You can appreciate the landscape in which the vines are grown, or the history of the vineyards and growers, experience the harvest or even explore the close links with song and dance. But for us the most satisfying thing is the way wine is so closely linked with delicious local food and produce. The enjoyment of locally produced food and drink is after all, part of our philosophy here at Top Barn.
Many people don’t consider England to be a wine producing area. Our climate is thought to be generally too cold and wet. It’s true England is not yet a big volume producer, but despite some skepticism the reputation of English wine for its quality has been steadily growing, especially over the last ten years. But is this a new development? Not really, since Roman times, or perhaps even earlier, vines have been grown and wine produced in England. Vines were thought to be first planted here by the Romans nearly two thousand years ago and it seems likely that wherever the Romans settled they introduced viticulture. How about the cold and wet weather then? Well it would not have been impossible to grow vines in northern England during the Roman occupation as it is thought our climate was a little warmer then than it is today, although with global warming things are beginning to warm up again, which is good news for English wine.
There are vineyards springing up all over the country, not just in the south east where the climate is generally more temperate and the soil ideally suited to growing vines. East Anglia too and especially Norfolk, as the driest region in England, is fast becoming a flourishing and very successful wine growing area. Within just fifteen miles from Top Barn we have at least half a dozen commercial vineyards, including the now famous Winbirri Vineyard at Surlingham and closer to us at Mulbarton the Humbleyard Vineyard. Both vineyards are open to the public and can arrange wine tours and tastings. The success of the Winbirri Bacchus 2015 has been a great boost for Norfolk wines. We have enjoyed drinking the Winbirri Bacchus, when we have been able to get any! It is fresh and bone dry with a lovely floral bouquet. We also like the Humbleyard rosé and their wonderful sparkling wines. For still white wines, the Bacchus grape is possibly the most widely grown in Norfolk and Winbirri’s 2015 Bacchus has recently had the distinction of being voted the best example in the world! But Norfolk vineyards are not just producing white and sparkling wines, the Pinot Noir grape and other less well-known varieties of red grapes are grown very successfully here. Consequently, the red wine produced locally is good and becoming very popular. I can think of few things better than sitting in the garden at Top Barn, surrounded by our lovely Norfolk countryside, sipping one of our local wines.
Why then is Norfolk and East Anglia such a good place to grow vines and produce wine? Well, we are told that the secret is our drier climate, particularly our long dry autumn. So, it looks as though viticulture in Norfolk is here to stay and from what we have seen it will continue to improve. We love to drink wines from all over the world and will continue to do so. But don’t rule out English wines, as most are exceptional.
Next time you want to celebrate and fancy ordering a sparkling wine, why not forget the Champagne or the Prosecco and ask for a bottle of English, or better still Norfolk, sparkling wine instead, we guarantee you will not be disappointed.