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.