The incredibly varied stories behind each and every English Wine producer I visit continue to fascinate me. My latest adventure took me across to Martin’s Lane Vineyard in Essex – a region that is just as significant in England as the more recognised regions of Kent and Sussex.
Martin’s Lane is actually a partnership of friends, family and relatives who joined forces in 2008 with the intention of building a grape growing business to satisfy increasing demand from the blossoming English Wine industry. One of the partners, a charismatic Roy Martin, takes the lead on my tour on this beautiful summer Sunday afternoon. We start with a walk through vineyards surrounding Roy’s house, where he and his wife have lived since 1971. The land immediately behind his garden was amongst the first in a series of acquisitions, and previously uncultivated cattle grazing land that features rich top soils over clay.
Currently 18 acres of vines have been planted, with a further 5 acres of Pinot clones planned for next spring, and an ultimate goal to bring the total amount land under vine to 30 acres. The grapes grown feature the familiar varietals of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, with plantings Bacchus, Pinot Grigio (or Gris), and of early ripening Pinot Noir Précoce. The vineyards are managed by Duncan McNeil, who was the vineyard manager at fellow Essex producer New Hall before setting up his own vineyard management consultancy business MVM Ltd. Duncan's vast experience has been key in optimising the planting of the right varietals to make the most of the unique Essex climate.
Walking through the expansive vineyards, Roy explains to me exactly why this site was the perfect location for growing vines. Naturally sheltered valley terrain, with close proximity to the River Crouch tidal estuary, this is actually the driest and warmest corner of the country. The lower than average rainfall and warmer climate are a viticulturist's delight. These conditions not only shelter the vines from the crippling frosts that have plagued other vineyards this year, but crucially they can allow the grapes to ripen up to two weeks earlier than other regions of the country. With an extra two weeks of time on the vine before harvest, the fruit from the vineyard can have higher sugar levels and flavour concentration, which balances that rich acidity that has become a characteristic of English wines.
After a successful harvest in 2012, demand has been high for grapes, with Martin’s Lane supplying a large number of well established name producers from across the country. It was fascinating to learn that a vast amount of fruit that is used in wines produced around the country are in fact grown and harvested in Essex. I find it surprising that Essex wine is not so well known nationally; particularly with the climate’s potential to produce richer more concentrated wines. Indeed, it is down to the supreme quality of the fruit produced at Martin’s Lane that the collective took the decision to establish their own label of premium English Wines.
The first Martin’s Lane branded wines were released earlier this year, both being still white wines of Pinot Grigio 2014 and Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs 2013. I’m particularly excited about the second wine, as last year a White Pinot from Litmus Wines became a firm favourite of mine. Rather coincidentally, it is John Worontschak of Litmus, based at Denbies in Surrey, who makes the wines under contract for Martin’s Lane. The two wines have already been a resounding success, gracing the wine lists of both local and London based restaurants including MASH Modern American Steakhouse in Soho and Michelin starred Bonhams in the West End.
There are several other exciting wines in the pipeline too; the first of which will be a still red Pinot Noir Précoce. It will be particularly interesting to see how this grape’s early ripening nature will partner benefit from the Essex climate. The wine I am most excited about will be their first sparkling wine: a Blanc de Blancs. This very limited release of just a few hundred bottles is produced from the 2014 harvest of Chardonnay aromatic clones. It promises to be rich, ripe and wonderful – watch this space as the wine is due out in approximately 6-9 months.
With all this talk about, it was time to sit down, try the wine and have a good old chat! A fabulous spread of cheese, grapes and biscuits was laid on, as we sat under the late weekend sun, overlooking a lake in Roy’s back garden. The wines were wonderful, and stimulated a great exchange of conversation and thoughts on English wine between myself, Roy, his wife and business partner Graham. I must say a big thanks to the group for their wonderful hospitality.
Both of the Martin's Lane Vineyard wines, reviewed below, are available to order directly from Martin's Lane.
Date Visited: Saturday 31st July 2016
Location: Chelmsford, Essex
Martin's Lane Vineyard - Pinot Grigio 2014
Grapes: Pinot Grigio, RRP: £15.75
The first wine tasted was the Pinot Grigio - pale yellow in colour.
On the nose, this wine greets with rich aromas of orchard fruits with delicate tropical and floral notes.
To taste, the wine has a wonderful richness thanks to the incredible ripeness that the vineyard can achieve. Rounded flavours of ripe pear and white peach are balanced with vibrant acidity and citrus freshness.
This would be a wonderful food wine, but is thoroughly enjoyable on its own.
Martin's Lane Vineyard - Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs 2013
Grapes: Pinot Noir, RRP: £21.75
A white wine produced from red Pinot Noir grapes. The grapes are pressed and then fermented without skin contact, resulting in a light golden coloured wine.
The nose is rich, complex and full if intrigue. Initially it appears almost white burgundy like, with notes of sweet melon and potent baked apple and pear. Nuances of honeysuckle, white peach and gentle spice and red berry top notes.
On the palate, the silky texture and rich fruit character again draws comparison to oaked Chardonnay. Lots of ripe, unctuous pear, peach and apple, but the Pinot’s signature red fruit flavours then take hold with raspberry and cranberry tartness adding a wonderful lengthy finish seasoned by gentle spice and vanilla.
A stunning wine, White Pinot Noir continues to fascinate and captivate!