What a perfect start to the day – after driving for an hour through rain threatening clouds I arrive at a picturesque Bolney Village with bright blue skies appearing and the sun starting to break through. Pulling in to the vineyard, I step out of the car to beautiful and intense sunshine with the thought that summer had arrived! It’s a great time to visit the vineyard, as not only am I once again extremely lucky with the weather, but Bolney had just the day before officially launched their new visitor centre. I meet with Charlotte Linter, daughter of head winemaker Sam Linter at the Bolney Estate. What I was about to discover was a fascinating story about a family business that has gone from strength to strength since it’s founding twenty four years ago.
Charlotte’s grandparents had travelled around the world, and at one point her grandfather had worked a summer job picking grapes for a particularly passionate vineyard owner. Returning to England in the early 70’s, and after experiencing that raw winemaking passion, he decided to try it himself. The site was chosen, originally a chicken farm, and the first few acres of vines were planted in 1972. Of course, in these times the Germanic grape varieties were what people were growing in England. The grapes first grown were Müller-Thurgau, a crossing of Riesling and Madeleine Royale that became popular in Germany in the 70’s thanks to its high yields and early ripening properties. The Müller-Thurgau went on to allow Bolney (then named Bookers Vineyard) to win their first Silver Medal in 1983 for a Still White Wine.
Our tour first takes us through Foxhole vineyard, home to Bolney’s Bacchus and Pinot Noir vines, which are used to make the vineyard’s flagship single vineyard single varietal wines that carry the vineyard’s name. On this spectacular day the vines are looking full of life – this burst of hot weather is exactly what is needed after a few months of troubled weather in England. Back to the timeline, it wasn't until the early 90’s when Sam Linter came on board. A graduate from Plumpton College, Charlotte’s mother joined the family business with an intention “to make great wine, rather than just make wine”.
Since then, a series of investments and vine replanting has seen the focus shift away from the Germanic grapes towards, amongst other things, the classic trio of Champagne/sparkling wine varieties, as well as significant plantings of Pinot Gris. Bolney’s impressive array of wines now cover a multitude of grape varieties; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Bacchus, Muller-Thurgau, Rondo, Dornfelder and, rather fascinatingly, Merlot. We are now in the highest area of the vineyard looking down at the visitor centre, with both the oldest vines (Chardonnay planted in the mid 90’s) and the most recent plantings of Chardonnay from last year in view. It’s fascinating to witness these vines at various stages of history; the older, more gnarled vines compared to the youthful spritely plantings from last year.
The winery was built in 2005 and was supported by Defra funding. Whilst the winery features all the familiar machinery you expect; from large mechanical grape presses to bottling and disgorging lines, Sam and the Bolney team aim to maintain human control of the winemaking process without too much machine intervention. A portion of wine is aged in French and American oak, mainly for the Chardonnay, and also for the still Red wines. I was also particularly interested to learn that the Bolney Bacchus is briefly oaked, for 2-6 weeks, subject to the winemaker’s discretion. This has the effect of slightly softening the Bacchus' intensity and acidity, and can induce subtle textures.
We finished our tour in the newly revamped visitor centre – elevated on the first floor of a purpose built building. Here you can also find a large shop area and café, with expansive windowed doors that open onto a huge balcony with panoramic views of the vineyard. The sights were stunning, and it was about to even better with a thorough tasting of eleven of Bolney’s current range of wines. Visitors to Bolney can participate in vineyard tours, masterclass tasting sessions, as well as tours with food pairing tastings or afternoon tea. You can, of course, just pop in for a bottle of wine and a delicious freshly prepared lunch in the 18 Acre Café.
As I was visiting with my wife, we also took the opportunity to have a light bite in the Café. I opted for a delicious sounding pastrami, mozzarella and pesto sandwich, which certainly didn’t disappoint. Served on delicious local bread and accompanied with a delicious dressed salad – it’s just the kind of food you want on a warm summers day in the sun with a glass or two of wonderful local wine!
I have to say a big thanks to Charlotte for inviting me for a truly insightful tour. It was an absolute pleasure to walk amongst the vines and hear first hand the journey her family has gone through at Bolney. It’s certainly clear from the wine tasting that all those years of hard work have really paid off.
All of Bolney's wines can be ordered online through The Bolney Estate Website.
Date Visited: Saturday 16th July 2016
Location: Bolney, West Sussex
The Bolney Estate - Bacchus 2015
Grapes: Bacchus, RRP: £16.99
Slightly less pale in colour than Bolney's Lychgate White, the Bacchus has inviting pale green hues.
On the nose we’ve got those classic Bacchus aromas; distinctive English elderflower with lime zest and grapefruit – tantalising and ready to draw you in.
The palate is light and clean but balanced, starting with a crisp lime zest quality before a more rounded mid taste of tropical fruit notes including passion fruit and grapefruit.
Ending with a subtle leafy character on the finish.
The Bolney Estate - Cuvée Rosé 2010
Grapes: Pinot Noir, RRP: £25.99
The 2010 Rosé from Bolney is made from 100% Pinot Noir and is a lovely pale salmon colour.
Quite strong Pinot aromas of raspberry and red cherry with a deliciously soft vanilla tone and yeasty notes.
On the palate is a bold striking acidity – this vibrancy then settles to a smooth rounded mixture of red berry flavours, with hints of citrus throughout.
Punchy and vibrant throughout, with a nice yeasty complexity on the finish. We hear the new 2013 is even better – a review will follow very soon!
The Bolney Estate - Cuvée Noir 2011
Grapes: Dornfelder, RRP: £22.99
A rather unique wine this one, it’s a sparkling red wine made from 100% Dornfelder. A traditional method sparkling that has spent a minimum of 18 months on the lees.
Visually striking in the glass, with a deep red colour. On the nose, the berry aromas are really vibrant, with notes of blueberry, cherry and red currant.
On the palate, the Cuvée Noir continues to raise eyebrows. Whilst the wine remains dry, the flavours of raspberry, blueberry and cherry are so vibrant and pronounced. Like a summer berry pudding, this wine is hugely playful and really unlike anything else I have tried so far from England.
The flavours are quite lengthy, with perhaps even a subtle drying tannin texture on the finish.
The Bolney Estate - Foxhole Vineyard Pinot Noir
Grapes: Pinot Noir, RRP: £16.99
Pinot Noir is a grape that has never been a favourite of mine, but is fast becoming a bit of a addiction! Bolney's Pinot has very attractive aromas of freshly picked raspberry and red fruit, sprinkled with a seasoning of toasted spice.
On the palate, an inviting acidity partners youthful red berry fruit flavours - with focus on tart red cherry and raspberry. Lovely rich spiced oak flavours develop, leading to a light silky tannin finish.
As with other English Pinot's, this can be served slightly chilled below room temperature - this makes the wine super refreshing to drink, whilst retaining those youthful red fruit flavours.
The Bolney Estate - Lychgate White 2015
Grapes: Reichensteiner, Schonburger and Wurzer, RRP: £13.99
Named after the Bolney Church Lychgate, this is one of Bolney’s core wines and is a blend of Reichensteiner, Schonburger and Wurzer grapes.
The wine has a light pale appearance with slight green hues. A very aromatic nose with aromas of light peach, citrus with hints of tropical fruit and white flower.
The palate is very slightly off dry, forming an easy drinking fruity white with smooth flavours of stone fruit, hints of lime and a green grassy aftertaste.
The Bolney Estate - Pinot Gris 2015
Grapes: Pinot Gris, RRP: £18.99
This Pinot Gris has a light subtle nose of pear and orchard fruit.
The palate is also delicate, but with a smooth rounded peach, pear and apple fruity flavour. It’s not too punchy, but the acidity is fresh and balances the wonderful fruit textures well.
A really smooth, balanced and pleasing white.
The Bolney Estate - Bolney Rosé 2014
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Rondo, RRP: £13.99
An interesting blend of Pinot Noir and Rondo, with a lovely pale pink colour that is similar to the Sirrius Sparkling Rose.
This rosé has a very fruity and friendly nose with aromas of fresh strawberry and raspberry with hints of floral.
The palate is very soft, almost creamy with ripe red fruit flavours of raspberry. It’s easy-drinking with a decent length which ensures that it doesn’t just flow very easily, but it retains interest.
The Bolney Estate - Blanc de Blancs 2010
Grapes: Chardonnay, RRP: £26.99
The fullest and richest wine in the Bolney range, this is yet another stunning English Sparkling Blanc de Blancs. The wine has spent 2 and a half years on the lees and is made from 100% Chardonnay.
On the nose, there's a rich fusion of ripe orchard fruit aromas with delicate biscuit notes.
This wine delivers a good acidity with a wonderfully clean profile to begin with. The mid taste is all about the rich orchard fruit flavours - rounded and perfectly developed. Toasted bread and biscuity notes on the finish, with hints of nut and citrus throughout. Wonderful!