Bored of Bacchus? Wake up to the Ortegasm

Drinks: Drinks, Wines
Location: England

Adrian Pike (right) with viticulturalist Marcus Goodwin

Have England’s winemakers gone all boring and missionary position when it comes to still white wine? Westwell’s managing director Adrian Pike thinks so.

‘Where people used to be looking at Bacchus and Ortega [grapes]for still wines, they seem to be just going down the Bacchus route now,’ he told Imbibe. ‘But I think Ortega has more potential than Bacchus. It’s got more character and flavour.

‘Bacchus makes a simple, straight wine – elderflower and grassy – which I know people are after. But I think Ortega is rounder and fuller.’

At its vineyard in Kent, Westwell is rapidly becoming a specialist in the grape, which makes up about 40% of total production (the remainder is sparkling wine), although there are plans to grow it further. The winemaker current has three different versions of it: tank-fermented, oak-aged and skin-contact plus amphora.

‘Personally I love the amphora wine,’ said Pike, ‘but in terms of selling wine in sufficient quantities to make it worthwhile, the straight fermentation works really well.’

A crossing of Siegerrebe and Muller Thurgau, Ortega is an early-ripening variety with naturally high sugar levels.

Currently, there are 38 hectares planted to the grape in the UK, far behind Bacchus which, at 165 hectares, remains the most popular still-wine variety. UK vine guru Stephen Skelton explained why it hasn’t had more fans in the UK.

‘It’s viticulturally tricky,’ he said. ‘It’s sensitive at flowering and prone to botrytis. Quality of the finished wine is but one element of the mix.’

Over in Kent, however, Pike is undeterred.

‘I just think that Ortega has loads of potential,’ he said. ‘It has such a wonderful flavour to it, and if you make it in the rich style it goes really well with food, too. I would think we’ll see more Ortega going forward. It’s just got such a lot going for it.’

Westwell’s wines are available through Bancroft



Photography by Ady Kerry.

About Author

Chris Losh

After five years working on My Weekly magazine (during which time he learned how to write horoscopes and make things out of mince) in 1995 Chris Losh entered the world of drinks writing and, despite all advice from his doctor – and the wishes of most South African winemakers – has stayed there ever since. He began on Wine and Spirit International, editing it for several years before moving on to edit Wine Magazine. Both publications have since gone the way of the Dodo, but he claims to have nothing to do with their demise, and his alibi appears solid, since he was freelance writing for anyone who would pay him at the time. In 2007, he helped to set up both Imbibe magazine and the Sommelier Wine Awards, and has spent much of the last three years eating, drinking, and listening to French sommeliers talk about minerality. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer Feature Writer of the Year, but didn’t win. Perhaps he should have stuck to horoscopes. And mince.

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