Nyetimber & Wiston
(by Peter Richards MW and Susie Barrie MW)
Head out into any of England’s vineyards at the moment and you’re likely to see evidence of winter pruning. Piles of vine canes litter the landscape, while hardened groups of pruners move grimly through the vines, stripping the plants as they go.
Winter pruning is one of the most important of the annual vineyard tasks, because it sets the growth pattern for the vines. The fact it happens in winter is both necessary and inconvenient. It needs a skilled, frost-proof hand. Many of those doing the work in English vineyards are from Bulgaria, Romania or Poland.
As part of our mini UK wine tour, we popped into Nyetimber and Wiston, two highly rated producers based near each other in West Sussex.
At Nyetimber we perused what was described to us as the oldest Chardonnay vineyard in the UK. Nyetimber pioneered the planting and use of Champagne grape varieties in English sparkling wine, starting in the late 1980s. Although winemaking operations have now moved off-site to Crawley, the estate is still emblematic, with its 15th century barn and heritage including being owned by Thomas Cromwell and Anne of Cleves. Very Wolf Hall.
Wiston is an altogether younger and smaller wine operation, albeit part of a sizeable and historic 2,000-acre estate owned and run by the Goring family.
Milk’s loss was wine’s gain when the family decided to close a loss-making dairy on site and invest instead in a vineyard and winery. Winemaker Dermot Sugrue, in conjunction with the engaging and charismatic family, now crafts wines of rugged distinction in a former turkey factory whose blast chillers now double up conveniently as well insulated cellars.
When we visited, what used to be the factory’s ladies toilets were being demolished as part of the renovation drive to incorporate increased capacity (the winery also undertakes contract winemaking) and install visitor facilities. The site, next to the busy A24, could become a valuable source of visitor interest and cellar door sales, the family reckon.
Here are some photos from the visits on what was a chilly but clear and sunny February day.