It’s been a bit busy: Cotswold winery makes world-beating Sauvignon Blanc | vintage

FIona Shiner admits that eyebrows were raised when she planted her Sauvignon Blanc vines, commonly associated with places like the Loire Valley, New Zealand and Chile, on a steep hillside in the Cotswolds.

But its Woodchester Valley vineyard near Stroud is toasting the wine world after its 2021 vintage was judged one of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the world by a prestigious blind tasting.

“It was surprising but exhilarating,” Shiner said this week, sipping cups of tea in a sunlit garden above the elegant rows of vines that drop to the bottom of the Gloucestershire valley. “We thought it was a good wine, so we entered the competition. But we’re over the moon at the reception. It’s an exceptional result for our small vineyard.”

Since the judges announced the score and posted their tasting notes (“It starts with an intense blackcurrant nose, revealing undertones of ripe lemon… There’s a taut, bright acidity and mouthfeel…just a touch of sweetness at the end, which is long and complex.”) Phones were ringing off its hook, the website was crashing because too many people wanted to know more, and nearly all of the 3000-4000 bottles of the 2021 model have sold out at £21.95 apiece. “Yeah, he’s been a little busy,” Shiner said. “But this is a very good thing.”

Dovereaux Hill, where 2,000 Sauvignon Blancs were planted in 2015. Image: PR

These viticulture adventures began when solicitor Shiner, 61, and her accountant husband Niall, 63, with three children, returned to England after spending 18 years in Hong Kong to take over his parents’ property in the village of Amberley, south of Stroud.

The area may be best known for alcohol produced using apples—the Cider’s Slad Valley home with Rosie author, Laurie Lee, is not far away—but Shiner decided to plant some vines in 2007 after someone mentioned that the Romans used to grow grapes there.

It turned out that they grew well in the Cotswold Brush – arable soil of poor quality over a limestone base. Shiner threw herself into the study of wine, learned how to drive a tractor and expanded, buying land in South Woodchester on the other side of the valley near the stunning Roman mosaic site, Orpheus’s Wharf, to create a second vineyard.

“When we started, we focused on the varietals that traditionally do well in England, like Bacchus, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.” The vineyard began to produce delicious white roses, steady and sparkling.

But Shiner herself had always enjoyed the cool climate of Sauvignon Blanc and decided to try growing herself on a third plot of land she had acquired. “It was kind of an indulgence,” she said.

The spot she chose for her experiment was one of the steepest fields in Dovereau, facing south towards the Bristol Channel. “It’s a wonderful hillside basking in the sun,” she said. Shiner was also pleased to discover that the Doomsday Book recorded that 2 acres of vines had been planted near Dovero.

Some 2,000 Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted there in 2015, and the steepness meant the machine had to reverse downhill.

Shiner accepts that it was a risk—only a handful of English vineyards had planted Sauvignon Blanc at the time and the grapes were late-ripening, meaning they had to be pinned to the vines in late October or even November.

“Leaving it too long is nerve-wracking, but wines made on edge can be very unique and expressive,” Shiner said.

Jeremy Mount and Fiona Shiner.
Jeremy Mount and Fiona Shiner. Photograph: Adrian Sheratt/The Guardian

In 2016, the vineyard brought in winemaker Jeremy Mount, 47, of Matua Winery in Marlborough, New Zealand, to help run it. He was surprised when they showed him Sauvignon Blanc. “I was very skeptical about the quality that could be produced,” he said. “It’s very marginal here.”

The first crop (2017) weighed less than a ton, but it was promising; The aromas were classic Sauvignon Blanc – blackcurrant, cut grass, pepper.

Packed in February 2018 during a cold spell named Beast from the East, Shiner remembers having a cup with her daughter Chloe out in the snow. The wine and subsequent wines were well received.

The 2021 Sauvignon Blanc crop had its challenges, including a late frost and a dull August, with grapes not harvested until October 28th. But from the first taste of the pressed juice they were excited. “We knew we had a very good thing,” Shiner said.

They sure did. At the Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters Awards in London, the judges tasted 146 wines, more than half of which came from New Zealand (52) and Chile (32) combined.

Two were awarded major medals. One was from Marlborough, New Zealand; The other was Woodchester. Siobhan Turner said she and her fellow judges were amazed that English wines won this award, but described it as “very attractive and interesting”.

There are challenges ahead. The climate emergency will make life difficult for vineyards like Woodchester. “The extreme weather conditions are really tough,” Shiner said. “We’ve had some of the hottest, coldest and wettest weather in the past few years.”

But what will vintage 2022 look like? “It looks good,” Mount said. “The smell is different, the flavor profile is different but that makes it interesting.”
Stephen Morris

Fiona Beckett’s verdict

If you still thought English wine was as likely to be made from parsnips as grapes—or even that it only produces dry whites from obscure Germanic grape varieties—you haven’t been paying attention. With 200 wineries and around 900 vineyards, British wine is in vogue, led by sparkling wine, which now accounts for more than two-thirds of UK wine production.

Not that we’re still getting dodgy weather by Mediterranean vineyard standards, but the overall temperatures are much warmer, especially in — you might be surprised to hear it — Essex, which produces some of the most stunning reds in the country. The less good news is that most don’t come cheap, although a few hit the heights of Fifty One Degrees North in Gosborne, which at £195, is about the same price as the Krug.

Admittedly, Sauvignon isn’t popular—most wineries grow the very similar Bacchus—but these days you can also find rosé, orange wines, and even natural wines.

Here are five wines that might turn you into an English drinker:

English White Society 2021, offered for £7.95 at Wine Society. In the most traditional floral pattern but a bargain at the price. It will make you think of summer.

Ellercombe Brilliant English Prot, £22 at Sainsbury’s. Well-priced, brand-name English pairings made by the winemaking team behind Nyetimber.

Dream problem 2017. Arguably the UK’s star winemaker, Irish-born Dermot Sugrue, has made wines for larger wineries, such as Nyetimber and Wiston, but has now branched out on his own, creating Champagne-quality wines at Sugrue’s South Downs.

Danbury Ridge Pinot Noir, £36, The Old Bridge Wine Shop, £36.95 at NY Wines. A fruity Burgundian Pinot Noir from Essex.

Dunleavy Rose, £15.75 from the vineyard itself. A beautiful, light and dry Somerset rose that must be a hit if you are a fan of Provence rose.

Fiona Beckett is the Guardian’s wine critic

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