England’s oldest Organic vineyard, Sedlescombe, recently became the first English vineyard to win an international competition outright. The Sedlescombe 2015 Regent Rosé beat 61 wines from 8 countries to take TOP Gold, scoring 97 points at the 2016 International Organic Wine Awards. The news, announced in June this year hit The Times newspaper and several other daily newspapers, including The Argus.
We spoke to Sedlescombe organic vineyard owner, Roy Cook, and asked him to share the secrets to his wine success.
Please tell us about the history of your vineyard
I first planted vines here at Sedlescombe in 1979. Back then most people thought I was nuts on two fronts: planting vines for one and secondly, trying to do it organically. But today people can see not only is it possible but that we can win international awards for our wines as well. Sedlescombe is England’s oldest organic vineyard. Today, there are 25 organic or biodynamic vineyards in UK. We went biodynamic in 2010 releasing the first Demeter certified English Wine in December of that year.
Please tell us about the wine you produce
We grow grapes on over 20 acres of vineyards without using chemical fertilizers, weed-killers, or systemic chemicals to control vine diseases. Several studies have shown that these systemic chemicals, which leave traces in many foodstuffs (e.g. glysophate in bread), also leave traces in wine. So we have to come up with alternative ways of dealing with all of these challenges in the vineyard in the way that we grow the grapes. So for soil fertility we use compost that comes from parks and garden waste, and specially grown green manure crops that we sow. For weed control we use various mechanical hoes, and for disease control we mostly plant varieties that have high disease resistant bred into them and require less spraying. When we do spray we only use copper and sulphur mineral sprays that stay on the surface of the plants and get washed off by rain – whereas the systemic sprays enter the sap system and end up in the wine.
What contributes to the success of your wines?
Part of what we do as an organic vineyard is to hand pick the leaves from around the bunches to expose the grapes to sunlight. This improves ripening and especially acid balance. As a biodynamic vineyard we have to use the wild natural yeasts because biodynamics emphasises the ‘terroir’ or the place where the wine is from. These natural yeasts give the wine more complexity. All this, combined with minimum additives in the wine making and the slightly lower yields from organic vines, helps contribute to exceptional flavour intensity and wine quality.
Why do you think is English wine so popular?
It took California 50 years to gain a reputation for quality wines. The wine business is very conservative. Slowly but surely wine lovers are realizing that the wines produced in England, particularly in Sussex, are as good as wines from more established wine producing countries and in some cases are even world beaters! This, combined with wishing to save ‘food miles’ or in this case ‘wine miles’ has led to a significant increase in demand for local wines from consumers and restaurants and stores.
What food pairs well with your wines?
We produce a whole range of whites, rosés, red and sparkling wines, so there is a wine to go with pretty much any dish, especially the lighter, healthier foods of today. I would say we have a wine for all but the beef steak menu, but then who eats that sort of thing nowadays? On our website alongside the normal descriptions of the wines we have short videos featuring the wine-maker as well as a sommelier describing the wine and making suggestions for foods that the wine would accompany.
What are your tastes in food?
I’ve been vegetarian myself for over 30 years, although I do eat fish occasionally. I am also a massive fan of raw food, and each spring I do a couple of months on just raw food using recipes from Leslie Kenton’s book ‘Raw Energy’.
What are the biggest challenges to producing your wine?
Still, after all these 30+ years that I have spent producing English wines organically, the biggest challenge is staying on top of the weed growth under the vines! We put a lot of time and energy into that. There just does not seem to be an efficient and practical method – we just have to work at it.
What is your best-selling wine?
Our best seller in terms of price is our Sedlescombe 2011 Regent red which was the first English Red to win an award internationally, and was featured in The Times and on TV. There are just a few bottles left at £69.95 each. However, our most popular wine depends a bit on the season. Right now for summer our Sedlescombe Gem of the Weald Rosé is tasting excellent following a couple of years in the bottle. In winter it is our English Red, the Sedlescombe 2014 Corymbus which recently scored 89 points in the Decanter World Wine Awards! You could have a lot of fun at a dinner party getting your friends to taste it and try and guess which country it is from! It has a lot of hot climate red character.
But actually, our best selling-product are our ‘Tour for Two’ vouchers, which make excellent gifts for a wine-loving parent or partner. My wife, Irma, and her team spoil these visitors something rotten with the most wonderful ploughman’s platter or an afternoon tea with salmon and caviar! It’s all part of a tour around the vineyard and includes a taste of half dozen different wines. We also do hen party packages and guided tours for groups and societies.
Who do you supply your wine to?
We supply local hotels, restaurants, shops, etc and sell online as well as from our vineyard shop. The vineyard is open 7 days a week for vineyard and woodland nature trail + wine tasting. There is no need to book and we are only 1 hour by car from Brighton (you can find us here).
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