Wimbledon broke with 138-year history to serve up Bolney as the first English wine at the Championships two years ago. And again last year. It’s a regular winner at blind tastings and boasts some of the longest established English vineyards. Now in its 40th year, the Sussex vineyard is determined to build its on-trade presence and convert naysayers.
On-trade support has been instrumental in the estate’s success, according to managing director Sam Linter. ‘Showcasing Bolney Estate on wine lists enables consumers to try by-the-glass as well as the bottle and increases consumer awareness to encourage sales in the off-trade too,’ she says. The support of sommeliers, Linter notes, has only increased the number of ‘brand ambassadors’.
‘We have a fantastically supportive industry. In the very early days there was nowhere in the UK that taught sparkling wine production. The vineyards that could afford consultants from overseas shared their knowledge with the industry. It was then simply down to key vineyards to achieve something, that no one ever believed we could.
‘We had the right soil (sandstone) and the ability to grow the varieties; we just needed to perfect the art of creating these wines. Since then the industry has kept on growing and evolving.’
Growth and evolution aside, there is still a lot of work to be done and misconceptions are rife. For Linter, the biggest stumbling block is that English sparkling is ‘just like’ champagne. She continues: ‘It is true that it is just as good as champagne (some critics say it is better) and that the quality is the same, but English sparkling has its own distinctive style.’
The Bolney Wine Estate, like many producers, makes its sparklings in the same traditional method used to make champagne, but the wines have characteristics of the English countryside.
Bolney Bubbly, for instance, has notes of elderflower on the palate. ‘Our wines also tend to be more fruit-driven,’ the managing director adds. Especially its recent additions: Blanc de Noirs and Classic Cuvée.
A big talking point in the category (and the wine world as a whole) has been the adverse weather this year. Frost in April resulted in some UK vineyards losing more than half their crop while others were unaffected. This was the earliest vineyard on record, with some grapes being picked as early as September.
‘It has already hit some of us, with reduced crop rates for many of us,’ Linter laments. ‘But the industry is positive, we all know that some years we will have more crop than expected and other years less, so we prepare for years like this one, as the rest of the farming industry does. You have to be realistic and resilient in a business like this.’
Bolney is looking into new technologies to combat frost and reduce its icy grip, where possible. As well as technology, Bolney has lofty aspirations for the future. These include increasing exports and markets and starting work on the construction of a new winery which will ‘massively increase production and help keep up with the ever growing demand for our product.’
For the estate and the category, Linter has every right to be bullish.
‘Whatever comes our way we will keep on growing and pushing the boundaries of winemaking.’ Here’s to another 40 years.