“I wanted Alpaca”, explained Mark Darley. Mark, owner of All Angels in Enborne, West Berkshire, told me that when he informed his wife of his idea for land use on the farm they’d just bought, she “threw her toys out the window”. This metaphorical defenestration made Mark think again and wonder whether there was a better way. In 2010, he asked Vineworks, the vineyard services, to survey the land in order to assess whether planting a vineyard was feasible. They concluded that it was a ‘no-brainer’, with south-facing slopes and an ideal combination of clay and sandy loam combining to create the perfect conditions for making sparkling wine. Thus All Angels was born, so-called because of the proximity of the twelfth-century church, St. Michael and All Angels, to the vineyard.
So the Andean ruminants’ (and their wool’s lovers’) loss was the English wine scene’s gain. Soon after the initial survey, Vineworks planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris and Rondo in a 2.6 hectare plot. A new, third, vineyard, planted earlier this year, takes their overall hectarage to 6. Mark has his wines made by Hattingley, across the border in Hampshire, and has no plans to install an on-site winery. The new vineyard has space for one but it’s in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so planning permission probably wouldn’t be granted.
Mark currently has on sale the 2014 Classic Cuvée and the 2014 Sparkling Rosé. 2014 was their first proper vintage but in 2013 they produced an outlier, a sparkling red. Wondering what to do with a glut of Rondo from that year, Hattingley suggested that they turn it into a sparkling wine and release it on their (Hattingley’s) label as ‘Red Admiral’. It garnered much praise, including a recommendation in the Daily Mail’s Christmas 2015 round-up. This encouraged Mark to believe in the efficacy of Rondo, a maligned grape in some quarters, and he subsequently gave it the dominant role in their 2014 Sparkling Rosé. In fact, he plans to release a sparkling red (from 2015) next, quickly followed by 2016’s Classic Cuvée and Sparkling Rosé. He can’t wait to release his 2018s, the first year from which he has produced a Blanc de Blancs. And, like everyone else in the country, it was a bumper year for him with 23,000 bottles produced. He hopes to make a still Pinot Noir in a really good year from grapes grown at the new vineyard, and has used French rootstock there for that reason, rather than German.
Frost has been on Mark’s mind throughout Spring 2020 and he did suffer some damage this year, although nothing like as bad as 2017. He estimates that 30% of his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were affected, and somewhat more of the Rondo, but the Pinot Meunier was untouched, and he says that this year the Meunier is looking in the best condition that he can remember. He has frost protection in place but the air frost was just too severe for it to do much good in the affected areas (it got down to -4 degrees at one point).
Mark makes the majority of his sales through local retailers and has recently expanded his export market. Apart from selling to traditional wine-producing countries such as France and Italy (an achievement in itself as they tend to be more sceptical), he exports to Switzerland, Luxembourg and the vinous outpost of The Bahamas. He hopes to break even in three years’ time. With a fair wind, and the retreat of the current pandemic, he will surely achieve this and more, since his wines are of such captivating quality. I tasted both 2014s the week before I spoke to Mark and they were still fresh in the memory. The Classic Cuvée immediately impressed with its assured confidence, classic yet opulent in style. With a balanced nose of English hedgerows and other greenery, and more autolytic notes of brioche and nuts, the palate has gorgeous creamy depth from the judicious use of malolactic fermentation, along with stone fruit and lemon characteristics. The Rosé is marginally more straightforward but is by no means one-dimensional. On the nose, there are lovely floral aromas as well as notes of cranberry. The palate is bright and refreshing with dry yet ripe flavours of raspberry and citrus plus a back note of vanilla ice cream. There is no trace of the metallic or baked fruit characters sometimes found in Rondo. Mark is considering grubbing up his plot of Rondo because of its vulnerability to frost. That would be a pity on this showing.
A lawyer in The City up until June of this year, Mark is looking forward to being more hands-on in the vineyard. Indeed, he spent the morning before I spoke to him removing troublesome thistles from between the vines. He told me that, whilst conducting this task, his language was rather choice on occasions. I’m sure the angels referenced in the name will forgive him. Long may those angels smile upon him and his family over the coming years.
Additional photos with thanks to All Angels