Decanter’s consultant editor Steven Spurrier and his wife Bella are planning to start a vineyard in a joint venture with Champagne house Duval Leroy.
The Spurriers own a 200 acre (80ha) farm in Dorset in the south of England, where Bella keeps a flock of 130 Welsh cross sheep, a breed known as Welsh Mules.
Stressing that the deal was very much in its infancy, she told decanter.com they had not even got the results of the soil analysis back yet. ‘It is nothing like a done deal with Duval,’ she said.
Nevertheless, Steven is bullish about the possibilities. Burgundy producer and merchant Michel Laroche analysed the chalky soil some years ago and pronounced it ‘suitable for Chardonnay the Pinot family’.
Spurrier said, ‘All is south-east, south, south-west facing land with perfect drainage and quite protected. In the centre of the farm we have two fine barns, previously for sheep and horses, which could be knocked down to make a perfect winery. The barns are in the centre of a natural bowl and the land rises sharply on one side, so it would be very easy to create underground cellars just by digging into the side of the hill and putting the grape reception area on the roof.’
He added that the collapse of a family wine project in France at Chateau Gamage, together with the increasing success of English sparkling wines like Nyetimber and Camel Ridge, has spurred them on to plant at home.
Duval-Leroy has been actively looking for land in England and has only been held back by difficulties in finding the right amount of land with the right infrastructure and communications. The company instructed land agents Strutt and Parker to identify suitable plots.
Duval showed a good deal of interest in two estates, Squerryes near Westerham, and Wiston in Worthing. It found they did not suit, but the owners decided to plant for themselves anyway, consultant Stephen Skelton MW said.
The Spurriers want to plant around 70 acres (28ha) to make a sparkling wine called Bride Valley Brut, after the Bride river which runs through the village.
‘The game plan if all goes well is to start planting in the Spring, which would give us the first harvest in 2009,’ Steven Spurrier said.
‘It would also mean our first cuvee of Bride Valley Brut would be available in 2012, when the sailing olympics will be held just next door in Weymouth.’
English sparkling wines are now winning international awards. The best are considered as good as and better than flagship sparkling wines from highly-rated European and New World producers.
As well as Duval Leroy, winemakers as diverse as Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in California, and Bordeaux kingpin Bernard Magrez, have shown interest in English vineland.
Written by Adam Lechmere