Geoff Buckingham has a lot to be proud of. His small 1.1 hectare Griffin Farm vineyard has produced one of the breakout English wines of the year, propelling the lesser-talked about variety, Solaris, to international trophy-winning status. The vineyard is part of a large arable crop farming business run by Geoff's family, located in Bedfordshire in the village of Toddington, just off junction 12 on the M1. I arrived at the vineyard on a beautiful Saturday morning amidst the stunning summer heatwave, something the lively vines are very much enjoying this year.
Geoff planted the first 0.9 hectares of vines in Toddington in 2012, with the focus being on Bacchus and Solaris. The vineyard is, in Geoff’s own words, nearly south facing. Working as an IT consultant in London during the week, Geoff runs Double Hedges at weekends and in the evenings. It’s a true labour of love, borne out of a growing interest in wine and a visit several years ago to the Alsace. Whilst not sitting on the famed chalk-rich soils of the south of England, the valley that the vineyard sits in contains rich glacial sand and gravel soils, and the end of the chalk seam is visible from the peak of the vineyard.
I asked Geoff about the choice of grape varieties, and he replied that his approach was to “grow the grapes that you know will ripen on the land you have”. Having been impressed with Bacchus, and knowing Solaris is particularly suited to the region, these two German cross white grapes were a clear first choice. He’s also planted small amounts of the more familiar English wine staples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as a whole host of weird and wonderful vines that are planted in experimental plots on the outskirts of the vineyard. These varieties include red grapes Cabernet Cortis, Tauberschwarz (indigenous to Tauber, Germany), Dolcetto and Marechal Joffre, a hybrid grape named after a French WW1 veteran. The latter is a variety that Geoff was quite excited about, being one that has excellent disease resistance and is an early ripening red variety particularly suited to cooler climates.
Double Hedges’ first commercial wine releases were in 2014. These were two still whites in the form of Double Hedges Bacchus 2014 and Solaris 2014. With Geoff focussing on the growing, winemaking duties are actually handled by two separate contract winemakers. Litmus Wines, based out of Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, produce the Bacchus, as indicated by the now common site of the Litmus cork. Meanwhile, the Solaris is produced by Clive Vickers of Halfpenny Green in Staffordshire.
I have to say I was really impressed with Geoff's knowledge of his vineyard and the fruit his vines were capable of producing. And the proof, as they say, was in the tasting: I have been lucky enough to sample both the first vintage (2014) and the latest vintage (2015) of both his varietal Bacchus and Solaris white wines. With Solaris being a grape that has never really stood out to me, after tasting the Double Hedges my opinion changed. With its surprising richness and textural qualities, it's an excellent food pairing wine, and a very worthy Sommelier Wine Awards trophy winner.
- 1.1 Hectares
- By Appointment
Double Hedges Solaris 2015
GRAPES: Solaris RRP: £14.00
The 2015 Solaris, winner of The Sommelier Wine Awards Gastropub Wine of the Year, is from Double Hedges’ second vintage and the first wine that is 100% Solaris.
The nose is immediately appealing, almost Alsace-like with crisp citrus, white peach and floral charm.
This Solaris has a very well-structured flavour profile. The journey begins with crisp, zesty citrus flavours before rounding to ripe, fleshy stone fruit and tropics.
There are light hints of complexity, a slightly grippy texture and light vegetal notes that lends this wine favourably to pairing with food. I matched this wine with avocado on toast with scallops, chilli and coriander, which was a striking combination!
- Buy from Woburn Wine Cellar £13.95
Double Hedges Solaris 2014
GRAPES: Solaris & Madeleine Angevine RRP: £n/a
From Double Hedges’ inaugural vintage, this 2014 Solaris was blended with 15% Madeleine Angevine to bring a little bit more bite into the blend.
The wine pours with a light straw gold colour. On the nose, there are rich aromas of green fruit and fresh peach with floral hints of honeysuckle and hedgerow.
With a little bit of age on it now, the 2014 Solaris has a rather rich, slightly honeyed stone fruit character, with tangy green fruits such as quince and gooseberry to balance.
Slight salinity and refreshing zesty notes from the Madeleine Angevine make this a hugely enjoyable wine.
- No Longer Available
Double Hedges Bacchus 2014
GRAPES: Bacchus RRP: £15.50
The first vintage of Bacchus to be released by Double Hedges, this wine was produced by Litmus Wines in Surrey.
The wine has a very fragrant nose, with classic English springtime aromas of elderflower, pear and hedgerow.
To taste, there is a light, fresh green citrus tang up front leading to green pear and gooseberry flavours. It’s very easy-drinking, with a slight hint of weight and sweetness before vegetal hints and pepper linger on the finish.
This is an appealing wine, however, the slightly off-dry hint and less prominent acidity (which suggested that this was harvested a little later) meant that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the leaner, cleaner 2015 vintage.
- Buy from Hawkins Bros. £15.50
Double Hedges Bacchus 2015
GRAPES: Bacchus RRP: £15
Once again produced by Litmus, this is the second vintage of Double Hedges Bacchus.
This newer 2015 vintage has a slightly cleaner nose, a little less open than the '14, but with a more focussed character of lime zest, gooseberry and nettle.
The palate continues in this vein, with a lively limey burst initially, before fleshy, vibrant tropical fruit flavours open up. The finish is still in the green hedgerow style, but with a cleaner, almost chalky crunch that is very appealing.
It was the fresh, cleaner style of this '15 vintage that appealed to me more than the first vintage. It just feels more true to the variety, lending itself perfectly to being enjoyed during this extended summer heatwave!
- Future Release