“We always stay true to ourselves and true to the vision that we had from the beginning.” This is what Jonica Fox, one half of husband and wife team Fox and Fox explained to me. Something that rings so very true during a visit to their beautiful and home vineyards in Mayfield. Jonica and husband Gerard first planted grapes in 2004 after a significant refurbishment of the family home they had recently acquired. The couple, self-confessed grower Champagne lovers, had been impressed with the efforts of Sussex English Sparkling producers Nyetimber and Ridgeview. With a former livestock pasture field at the bottom of their garden, Gerard suggested to Jonica that they could perhaps plant vines. Initially met with mockery, Gerard was convinced that the combination of the south facing slopes and Jonica’s brilliance in horticulture would be a good pairing.
An experimental vineyard was planted at the Hobdens site in 2004. A selection of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris clones were chosen at a row density of 1.2 meters. It was quickly apparent that the land was indeed a perfect fit. With Jonica brushing up on viticulture at Plumpton College, the couple planted more vines the following year, taking the Hobdens vineyard to full capacity at 1.5 acres and around 5,000 vines. Despite the vineyard’s natural shelter, this year Hobdens was unfortunately hit by the dreaded spring frosts that crippled many a vine across the country, so the vines had been in recovery mode during my visit in August. Regardless, the vineyard was a stunning sight to behold, especially when viewed from the balcony of the family home. What a sight to wake up to every day!
Over at the Fox’s other Lakestreet site, it was a different story regarding the frost damage. With some 19,000 vines planted upon greensands and clay, the vines were very healthy and already promising a fantastic harvest, in particular the Pinot Gris.
Surrounded by such beautiful sweeping Sussex landscape, it became clear why Fox & Fox have given their wines names like Inspiration and Essence. Jonica talked to me about how she believes the vineyards surroundings, such as bluebells in spring time, can be tasted in the wine. Standing in the vineyard and taking in the sights I understand her completely – the very essence of the beauty of the surroundings is distilled into each wine thanks to the dedication and inspiration of Jonica and Gerard. It may sound like hyperbole – but just try standing in the vineyard and then tasting the sublime Essence ‘Pure Chardonnay’ 2011 (tasting notes below) and you will believe it too!
Before we finished up at Lakestreet, Gerard took me to see the most recent planting at the top of the adjacent field. This particular plot has the potential to be the Fox’s most beautiful vineyard yet, with panoramic south facing slopes and rolling hills in the background. Whilst there are currently just seven rows of vines at the very top of the new vineyard, there are plans to plant another 7,000 Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier vines next year. Atop the hill is a newly constructed winery facility, which is bright and spacious and will house the back end of the wine production process.
Fox & Fox are prepared to put wine quality before income, so release their wines when they want to and with the right amount of ageing. They taste wines from the cellar regularly and have no qualms in deciding a wine is not ready and pushing back release a year or two. Jonica explains that with so many years of hard graft and dedication in the vineyard, why would they ever want to release something that’s not true to their style? This mind-set and strive for perfection has led them to gain significant critical acclaim for their distinctive wines, including Essence 2011 receiving an ‘Outstanding’ verdict and 96 points - one of just two wines doing so from 92 tasted by Decanter Magazine in their 2016 English Sparkling Panel tasting. And this year they scooped a Gold Medal at the inaugural UK Wine Awards for the Pinot Gris-based Inspiration Blanc de Blancs Brut 2013.
Fox and Fox isn’t open to the public for tours, however they are happy to put together bespoke tours for those who are genuinely interested in their wines. I felt honoured to be welcomed by Jonica and Gerard into their home for a delicious lunch after our tour. It’s clear Jonica’s talents don’t just reside in the garden and the vineyard – she is also a fantastic host and cook. I was treated to a tremendous spread including an indulgent terrine made from local pork, freshly baked bread, homemade pickles and a deliciously light quiche. Jonica’s approach to food is similar to her approach in wine – let the beautiful components speak for themselves, embracing classic English flavours. The delicious Essence 2011 provided the perfect partner to the delicious food and stimulated a fascinating discussion on English wine.
Look out for more coverage of Fox & Fox wines as we turn our attention to Blanc de Noirs and Pinot Gris in the coming months.
- 9 Hectares
- By Appointment
Essence Pure Chardonnay 2011
GRAPES: Chardonnay RRP: £35
There’s something really quite special about what Jonica and Gerard Fox are doing. Their wines are expressive, distinctive and characterful, demonstrating a brilliant expression of genuine English charisma.
The aptly named Essence is made solely from Chardonnay from the 2011 harvest from their Hobdens vineyard, which was the first site to be planted by the Fox’s in 2003/2004.
On the nose, this sparkling wine has a purity and honesty that just speaks Chardonnay from the first smell. Clean green apple and citrus and the slightest hint of brioche.
To taste, the charisma continues with a direct and focussed tangy green apple bite. Supercharged zesty freshness and brilliant acidity, but it doesn’t dominate. Then a supple, silkier mid taste that seamlessly integrates with hints of sweeter suggestions of caramel or toffee apple.
Where to Buy: Sold Out
Expression Saignée Rosé 2013
GRAPES: Chardonnay & Pinot Noir RRP: £40.00
This gloriously coloured rosé was made in the sagnée method with skin contact from the Pinot Noir.
What a nose! This aptly named wine is expressive with rich aromas of ripe red fruit in the form of cherry and strawberry.
The palate opens with crisp citrus and tangy red berries, but it’s not all about the fruit! Hints of candy apple and pastry add complexity and intrigue.
Packed full of character; a weighty hug with a pleasingly dry finish and return of those warming red fruit notes.
Where to Buy: Buy from English Wine Centre
Midnight Dark Rosé 2011
GRAPES: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris & Pinot Meunier RRP: £36.00
This wine is a blend of 85% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Gris and 5% Pinot Meunier. The Midnight spent 39 months on its lees and was disgorged in October 2015 with a dosage of 10 g/l.
This distinctively dark coloured sparkling wine is appropriately described as a Dry Dark Rosé, and with its ruby red colour it's really quite a sight.
The nose is as striking as the wine’s colour; a fusion of raspberry and fruits of the forest, with hints of winter spice and lime zest.
To taste, the Midnight is incredibly playful and appealing thanks to its rich red fruit flavours and almost off-dry hints of sweetness.
The sweetness is well integrated with those deep berry fruit flavours as a hint of smoke and spice adds unexpected complexity. A tangy citrus steak provides a dry, refreshing finish, and ensures the wine is both enjoyable as a winter aperitif, but also as a refreshingly fruity sparkling wine to enjoy in the warmer months.