Andrew Barrow - 2011-03-07
Through the denuded poplar trees and hawthorn clumps you can just see the silvered Thames. On the crest of the hill, standing amongst the Brightwell vines, the chug of a passing pleasure craft or throb of a narrow boat are the audible reminders that England’s grandest river is so close.
In high summer though, with the trees in full attire and the vine leaves dripping from spreading tentacles you would be forgiven for not realising the river passed anywhere near.
But this is the depths of winter. The vines, whitened with streaks of frost, are dormant. The grass around crackles as we step alongside chardonnay, bacchus and huxelrebe vines. Hard to distinguish one white variety from the other at this time of year, the tendrils trimmed and pinned post-harvest, but still spill out like grasping arms across the wide space between the rows. No ploughing between the vines here, native plants – weeds anywhere else – are allowed to grow unchecked apart from a few light trims amongst the vines.
Across the road, which leads to an imposing manor house now converted to impressive housing for the elderly, there is a pig field. With the rising sun slicing through the cold morning air it looks quite attractive, well, as attractive as a muddy field can look in winter. But it is across this patch of mud that the Brightwell estate, one of eight vineyards in Oxfordshire, plans to expand their 14 acres of vines with further plantings. Surprisingly the vines they are thinking of filling the field with are to be Pinot Noir. Yep a red grape. Surprising as English wine growing is dominated by the production of white wine, an aspect dictated by its cool climate.
But Brightwell Vineyard has already produced a stunning red wine from the Dornfelder grape variety. The wine, Oxford Regatta (£8.99) has aspects of Pinot Noir to it. It is woody and spicy with a complexity verging on the mineral and pepper with, perhaps, a hint of iron. Very surprising but in essence a pure English styled wine. The deep colour itself indicates just how well certain, cool-climate loving varieties, can do in England – there is more to English wine than quality sparkling wines!
Brightwell also use Dornfelder in their Oxford Rosé (£8.50). Just a brief period of skin contact has resulted in a wonderfully coloured rosé brimming with raspberry flavours and a strawberry twist on the finish. Perhaps not the wine to be drinking on a freezing cold winters morning but think how glorious it would be in the warm summer sunshine, when those vines are covered with foliage and the anti-crow balloons and silver foil flap in the warm breeze spreading up from the Thames below.
Rush Court, Shillingford Road, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8LJ
Brightwell Vineyard is just 8 miles south of Oxford just walkable from the historic town of Wallingford.
Open to visitors Friday, Saturday and Sunday 12-6. Tours by arrangement. Wines are available for tasting and purchase from the vineyard and are listed by many farm shops in Oxfordshire and beyond plus local branches of Waitrose.
English Wine Week runs from the 28th May to the 5th June. Brightwell are offering extended vineyard tours as part of the festivities on Sunday 30th May and Sunday 6th June.