Woodchester Valley Vineyards, Gloucestershire, UK

7 08 2017

A few hundred years have passed since William of Malmesbury wrote about the wines of Gloucestershire in the twelfth century, saying, “This county is planted thicker with Vineyards than any other in England, more plentiful in crops, and more pleasant in flavour. For the wines do not offend the mouth with sharpness, since they do not yield to the French in sweetness.” (De Gestis Pontif, book iv.)

At that time the UK climate was nearing the end of a Medieval Warm Period when grapes seemingly ripened as well as in France, with a good balance of sugar and acidity. The Little Ice Age that followed put paid to many English vineyards but recent warmer temperatures have resulted in a resurgence. Whilst the southeast of England currently has the biggest concentration of vineyards in the UK, one wonders whether the county of Gloucestershire will one day return to centre stage?

Three Choirs has been flying the flag for wines from Gloucestershire for many years now, not only producing wines from their own 75 acre vineyards but also vinifying wines for smaller local vineyards. When the first vines were planted in 2007 by Fiona Shiner near Nailsworth for Woodchester Valley Vineyard they were taken to Three Choirs to be made into wine, both still and sparkling. But now, ten years on, Woodchester has three vineyard sites between Nailsworth and Stroud totaling 45 acres and production has increased to the level that it makes economic sense to build their own winery.

When I visited last year the winery was just being made ready to accept the 2016 harvest. Last week Fiona invited me to return to see it finished and to taste some of the new wines with winemaker Jeremy Mount.

First up was Culver Hill 2016, 11.5% abv made from a blend of 50% Bacchus with the remainder from Seyval Blanc, Pinot Gris and Ortega. Crisp, appley notes on the nose with a touch of gooseberry and melon, it opens up on the palate with more floral aromas and a peachy quality. Nice, zesty acidity, this is perfect for picnics and as a perky aperitif.

The next pair of wines were particularly interesting as they were both 100% Bacchus vinified with the same yeast in stainless steel, but they tasted very different due to differences in the age of the vines, site and soil. The first Bacchus 2016, 11.5% abv has a very delicate, pretty floral nose and notable concentration on the palate. The fruit has a steely precision and good length. Very good.

The second Bacchus, named Orpheus Bacchus 2016, 12% abv is from older vines on the Woodchester and Amberley sites where the extra ripeness has added a touch of passionfruit to the nose and given the wine added weight and texture. This is a super wine which develops richness and power in the mouth, a sure-fire medalwinner and serious stuff. I’m not sure how many bottles were made but I would snap this up when it is released.

Next I tasted two roses. The Pinot Rose 2016, 11% abv, is a deepish pink with notes of redcurrant and rosehip on the nose following through onto the palate which has medium weight and a crisp finish. Very attractive.

The last wine tasted was the Regent Rose 2016, 12% abv which has a touch of residual sugar, just 5 g/l, making it very appealing. Delicate, pale in colour, this is well balanced and surprisingly good. Both these roses will prove popular.

Having spent most of the last 25 years having to travel abroad to visit vineyards, I somehow feel I’m in a different country when I visit a winery in the UK and I kept having to remind myself that I was only half an hour from home. English wines certainly have their own unique style, which happily coincides for the trend in lighter, aromatic styles. Later this month I will be visiting British Columbia and Vancouver Island where they also grow Ortega and Bacchus. It will be very interesting to compare notes…

Woodchester Valley Vineyards now have a shop on the A46 so look out for when their 2016s are released for sale.

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