Sussex claims world’s smallest vineyard

An Englishman’s Home is His Vineyard, at least that’s the case for Dominic Buckwell, a WineGB director, who, together with his wife Corina have claimed the world’s smallest vineyard. The vineyard at Upper Lodge Estate is quite a contrast in scale to county-mates Rathfinny Estate, whose 200-or-so acres of vines dwarf Dominic’s humble two vine planting.

Upper Lodge, a small estate in Ringmer near Lewes has just registered the world’s smallest vineyard. On 5th of December, the Food Standards Agency of the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (FSA) officially designated the Buckwell’s two grape vines in their Kitchen Garden as UK’s vineyard number 9321.

Dominic with Brunello (“Bruno”) and Monbazziliac (“Basil”)

Dominic said “we were given three vines as a house warming present but only the Chardonnay one survived”. Earlier this year, Corina gave her husband a second vine, a Pinot Noir Burgundy clone, and with help from a local winemaker they have produced a dozen bottles, half of which they plan to sell or give to paying guests in their Tack Barn holiday cottage once all legal formalities are satisfied.

Dominic, who is a Director of WineGB the national association for the English and Welsh Wine Industry and a lawyer, noted that although his planting is well short of the half-acre threshold for mandatory registration, in order to sell his wine commercially they are obliged to register and report their annual tonnage production, however miniscule, to the Wine Standards Division of the FSA. “Our harvest will be measured more in grammage than tonnage”, explained Corina.
The world record for the smallest vineyard has been held for some 20 years by the Dalai Lama, who was bequeathed three vines in Switzerland’s mountainous Valais region called Les Amis de Farinet containing Pinot Noir and Chasselas.

Until now, wine merchants Laithwaites laid claim to the smallest vineyard in the UK planted at its Gloucestershire warehouse in 2011. The 0.025 acre site was intended to produce a still Chardonnay produced under the name Hurricane Ridge, but the wine doesn’t appear to be commercially available. Previously Decanter magazine had an even smaller planting at its London office 10th-floor roof terrace; consisting of a dozen vines donated by various famous winemakers. Sadly these had to be grubbed up when it vacated the Blue Fin Building in Southwark.

Sussex now boasts both the world’s smallest, as well as the (potentially) largest single vineyard in Europe: Rathfinny Estate in Alfriston bought by the Driver family in 2010 has planted a third of its 600 acres, built a winery capable to producing one million bottles per year, and already employing some 60 people all year round including former Plumpton College Oenology lecturer Tony Milanowski. However, Mark Dixon, owner of another large Sussex vineyard (Kingscote in East Grinstead) currently holds the most acreage of English having bought up some other vineyards and planted new vines in several other Southeastern counties.

Buckwell won’t be increasing his headcount to tend the vines; his winter pruning takes all of ten minutes, and about the same time to carefully harvest all the grapes which he pressed within 30 minutes of picking to preserve freshness. Although he hasn’t any plans to send any to Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate for rating, at least for the time being.

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