From Saturday May 25 to Sunday June 2, vineyards, restaurants, pubs, bars, retailers and more will be celebrating English Wine Week nationwide. With more than 400 vineyards scattered around the country (over 50 of which can be found here in Kent), Britain’s vibrant viticulture is certainly something to shout about.
At our Kilndown restaurant, we do our part to champion local bottles. Led by sommelier Sally Murphy, our wine list is full of seasonal grape varieties, homegrown right on our doorstep; be it the award-winning Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty Chardonnay, or Hidden Spring Vineyard’s beautiful Bacchus. As for sparkling, there’s one particular estate that holds a special place in our hearts.
“The Small Holding have been a great partner from day one,” says James Osborn, general manager of Squerryes in Westerham. “They took a big leap of faith by stocking only one fizz brand – and for that fizz brand to be English – but they stuck to their guns, and we supported them. They’re great guys who are very passionate about what they do, and we want to be part of their journey.”
As not only Squerryes’ GM, but a co-founder of the Wine Garden of England, James knows a thing or two about the importance of English wine. Comprising seven leading estates – Squerryes, Chapel Down, Biddenden Vineyards, Gusbourne, Simpsons, Hush Heath and Domaine Evremond – this winemaking co-operative was set up in 2017, to promote the county’s best bottles and experiences.
“It came to be through Charles Simpson of Simpsons Wine Estate, who saw a fantastic opportunity to create the very best wine tours and products in this country,” James reveals. “He connected a group of seven vineyards – as well as Visit Kent – to work on creating the very best English wine tourism product and experience.”
With excellent growing conditions, and similar soils to those of the world-famous Champagne region in northeast France, Kent is an especially ideal setting for sparkling wines to flourish. It’s hardly surprising, then, that in excess of 10% of the nation’s wineries are situated where we live, leading the recent industry renaissance, and garnering national – and international – renown in the process.
“It’s really exciting, because we do have a very special place for people to visit in Kent, and we want to celebrate that fact,” agrees James. “It’s the sunniest county in the UK, and we have all of the elements and infrastructure here to produce a great product.
“All of the wineries in the Wine Garden of England are quite different in their genetic makeup, so there’s something different for visitors to come and see. The building blocks are there, and if we can mimic in time what’s happening in Napa, Champagne, and all of these other great winemaking regions of the world, then it’s going to be incredible.”
For English Wine Week, celebrations will be underway across the group. From immersive tours and tastings, to a special wine dinner at Chapel Down’s Gin Works in London, James and the rest of the team will have plenty happening to mark the occasion.
In our Kent restaurant, diners can eat local, get back to nature and go from field to fork – and glass – with entirely English wine pairings on our modern British menu of organic, locally-sourced real food. Standout options from the best of Kent and Sussex will include Gusbourne, Westwell, Stopham and Hidden Spring, whose values of sustainability and using quality ingredients mirror our own.
“There will be lots going on to celebrate everything that’s good about the Wine Garden of England,” James confirms. “We talk about English Wine Week being a celebration, and these kinds of occasions are very important to put us on the map.
“It’s a week in our year when the consumer can be made more aware of English wine and wineries, and a chance for us to open our doors, so that they can discover more about what we do. Any opportunity like that is a good thing, and I think it will only become bigger over time in people’s diaries.”
Of course, with this growth comes its own challenges. As a county and a country, we now boast the climate and the quality of winemaker to consistently grow top-quality fruit in a recognisable style. But with a premium price point to match, it’s up to both people like James and restaurants like ours to justify the cost, by changing perceptions and bringing consumers closer to the wines they love.
“When people come to visit the wineries, they can learn more about the brands and the people behind them, so that they’re able to get under the skin of how we work, and understand why it’s priced how it is,” explains James. “People are also starting to become a lot prouder of where they live, and want to support local businesses by being part of that growth and journey with us.”
As we continue to collaborate with premier brands like Squerryes, we can’t wait to see how the Kent and UK wine industry develops. And with more and more Champagne houses planting vines in English soil, it’s a testament to the terroir, provenance and quality of what we have to offer on the world stage, as well as the potential of what’s still to come.
“Local wines are well-represented at The Small Holding,” Jonny Gibson, owner of Kent Wine School, concludes. “With sommelier Sally Murphy on hand to offer advice and guide customers through a well-chosen list of Old and New World wines, the restaurant is a must-visit destination for Kent wine lovers.”
“The more people like The Small Holding that exist – who are supporting English wine not just by ordering a bottle and selling it, but by being interested in it, and passing that interest on to their customers – the better,” adds James. “It connects people more with the land again, and brings them closer to the producers, so our belief is that if we can influence the few, we can influence the many.”
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© WILL AND MATT DEVLIN