One of the most fascinating things about the blossoming English Wine industry is just where vines are being successfully planted and cultivated. Whilst the chalk rich soils and champagne-like conditions of Sussex, Kent and the south are obvious choices, vineyards reach as far as Scotland. I was born and grew up in Leicester, and during my early wine drinking years I would never have thought that vines would be growing, thriving even, in Leicestershire. I was invited by the lovely Liz Robson, who owns and runs Rothley Wine Estate in Rothley with her husband Matthew. On this occasion I visited the vineyard with my wife, mother and father – very appropriate considering my families long standing connection with Leicestershire.
A small but lovingly maintained two-acre vineyard is planted behind the family home of Liz & Matthew. The vineyard is south facing, situated on a slope leading down to the bank of Rothley Brook. The site is of historical significance; Liz explained that it is very likely that King Richard III crossed the Rothley Book on his way to the Battle of Bosworth. In honour of this heritage, many of Rothley Wine Estate’s wines have a royal theme – including the aptly named King Richard white wine.
Liz’s father planted the first vines on the property historically, and whilst the exact heritage of these plants is not known, a row of vines taken from cuttings of the original still grows and is labelled as ‘Enigma’. After taking over the property in 1993, and inspired by the vines seen at numerous stays at Giffords Hall, Liz conducted a garden trial of a number of different grape types. Orion was the clear winner here – the original vine remaining in place and appropriately named by Liz as her “grandfather vine”. The vine, and subsequent plantings of Orion, has never let Rothley down. In fact it is believed that Orion produced the only commercial harvest of grapes in Leicestershire in the fateful 2012 season. It’s clear to see the grape’s significance to Rothley, as it has produced two of the vineyard’s most distinctive wines – notes to follow below.
The vineyard is now home to some 1,200 vines, with a planned total capacity of 1,400. Other than Orion, the white grape varieties grown at Rothley are Siegerebbe, Solaris and Madeline Angevine, as well as the row of ‘Enigma’. On the red side there is Regent, Rondo, early ripening Pinot Noir Précoce and Cabernet Cortis, a disease resistant cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Solaris. Liz describes herself as an experimental grower, incorporating various growing techniques and trellising methods. Other fruits are grown around the vineyard, including greengage, raspberries and blackberries, with elderflower along the left hand side. Walking around the vineyard on a wonderfully sunny Saturday afternoon, Liz explains that her plan was to make the ‘most lovely vineyard in England’. It’s hard to think of another that rivals the wonderful sense of calm and natural beauty that is observed at Rothley.
It was inspiring to hear about how what had started as a hobby for Liz that had now turned into a small winemaking business. It all started with 3 bottles of wine made from a Boots winemaking kit! Upon the realisation that the wines produced were really quite good, things quickly moved forwards from there. A compact but fully functional winery has been built in a converted stable building. Inside, the familiar sight of stainless steel fermentation tanks, lab equipment and bottling machines. All of the still wines are made on-site, whilst Halfpenny Green Vineyard handles the traditional method sparkling wine production over in Staffordshire.
It’s clear that Rothley Wine Estate is a labour of love for Liz; her passion from the growing of each and every vine through to the execution of the delightful wines from their modest winery was truly infectious. We make our way to a table at on a terrace at the back of the family house and sit down to have a very thorough tasting of Rothley’s collective efforts. At the time of our visit, construction was underway for a conservatory tasting room to allow groups to visit by appointment. This work has now been completed, but there was something wonderfully charming and understated about our tasting sat outside overlooking the vineyard in what was to be the last 20 minutes of sunshine. Little did we know a huge storm was about to set it, but we didn’t let that dampen an otherwise charming day!
A Big thanks to Liz and Matthew for their welcoming hospitality.
Date Visited: Saturday 6th May 2016
Location: Rothley, Leicestershire
Sparkling Orion 2012
Grapes: Orion RRP: £25.00
This wine was the highlight of my visit to Rothley, and it’s the first time that I’ve tried a sparkling wine made from the Orion grape.
The wine has a pale yellow, slightly green tinted colour; the bubbles are fine and very persistent in the glass.
An absolutely beautiful nose, with bright English orchard fruit aromas of pear, partnered with delightful white flower and peach notes.
That fruit expression continues through on the palate with a full fruit focussed character of ripe pear and peach. But there’s also a good dose of tropical fruit in there too – perhaps mango and lychee. The finish is dry with zesty lime flavours and hints of minerality.
A unique and truly lovely wine coming from a particularly unique and beautiful vineyard.
Spirit of Freedom 2013
Grapes: Orion, Siegerrebe, Regent & Pinot Noir Précoce RRP: £25.00
The second sparkling wine from Rothley is the lively rosé that is Spirit of Freedom. It’s predominantly a white blend of Orion and Siegerrebe with the colour coming from a 10% red blend of Regent and Pinot Noir Précoce.
On the nose, fresh citrus and pear with red berry aromas and hints of yeasty complexity.
That wonderful fresh and vibrant character of the Rothley’s Orion grapes is ever present here, but a warming strawberry and red currant tang softens it.
Very enjoyable, and it appeared to be a favourite amongst the group - though I personally preferred the directness of the Sparkling Orion.
Grapes: Orion RRP: £10.75
100% Orion, a still white wine named ‘Fearless’ in honour of the remarkable success of Leicester City in the premier league.
The wine has similar aromatics to the Sparkling Orion, with striking notes of pear, peach, white flower and hints of white pepper.
Fearless has a surprisingly captivating palate that begins with bold punchy acidity and rich lime citrus flavours. There’s a great mixture of fruit flavours in there from green apple and pear with tropical fruit hues.
Underpinning the vibrant fruit notes is an intriguing green peppery quality, something in between cut grass and wild rocket.
Vibrant, fresh and textured, a really punchy effort from Rothley.
King Richard 2015
Grapes: Solaris & Siegerrebe RRP: £10.75
A recently bottled white blend of two-thirds Solaris to one-third Siegerrebe.
Despite its youth, the King Richard was already hugely aromatic, with pear and grapefruit as well as distinct tropical notes and hints of floral character.
On the palate, youthful and fresh but with a rich rounded fruit character with softer hints of melon, perhaps even slightly off dry. Hints of complexity, slight spice and minerality suggest this will evolve into a lovely textured white.
Battle Royal 2015
Grapes: Orion & Pinot Noir Précoce RRP: £10.75
The Battle Royal 2015 had only just been bottled a week prior to our visit, so that had to be taken account in the tasting.
The nose was a little closed, but will open once the wine has had a chance to settle, but there were pleasing fresh citrus and red berry aromas.
The palate was similarly fresh with zippy acidity and punchy citrus up front. The mid taste was smoother with strawberry, hints of cherry leading to a lengthy finish with mineral hints.
Based on my previous experience with the Battle Royal 2014 (pictured here for visual purposes), the latest vintage should be drinking nicely at the time of publishing this article.