Take a lettuce farm on chalk soils just to the south of the South Downs and an ambitious young couple spotting the potential of a site for making sparkling wine, and you have a thriving vineyard producing bubbly to rival the very best in the country. Art and Jody Tukker took over Tinwood Farm from Art’s father in 2005, planting their first vines later that year, then gradually adding 10-20 acres roughly every two years. 65 acres are currently under vine with another 135 acres planned.
Due to the warm, sunny weather at flowering time this year, the vines progressed fast and picking started at the early date of the 20th of September. Luckily, due to the influence of the sea, approximately six miles to the south, and so-called dragons attached to a tractor, they only lost 5% of growth to the late April frosts.
The vineyard is solely given over to the three classic champagne grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and on our visit, only two rows of Chardonnay were left to be picked. Over coffee, Art explained that the secateurs which we volunteers would use are very sharp and warned that they were not intending to make any red wine from the Chardonnay that we were picking! His warning went unheeded as at least five people experienced cut fingers including this correspondent (twice). The grapes were of a good size, surprisingly sweet to the taste and only a few bunches were affected by botrytis. 26 volunteers filled about 40 crates which later on were destined for Ridgeview winery (about 30 miles to the east) to be crushed and processed.
After our efforts, we were rewarded with a glass of Tinwood Estate Blanc de Blancs 2015 which acted as an aperitif and a match for our first course, mackerel paté. Jody said that on a hot day this would be an ideal wine to taste because, as it is the driest of the three, it would be the most refreshing. Despite it not being a particularly hot day, I found this wine to be the most impressive of the three that we were offered. It had a delicious, clean lemon and grapefruit attack with a mid-palate of peach and a really long finish.
The Estate Brut 2011 came next, not the 2015 because, Jody said, they wanted to offer a real contrast to the previous wine. Made up of roughly half white and red (both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grapes, this wine straight away demonstrated the increased time in bottle and the inclusion of red grapes. Redcurrant and red apple were immediately apparent followed by pronounced honey and toasty notes. This coped very well with the lasagne served with it with the creamy mouthfeel complementing the béchamel sauce of the dish.
Finally, we were served the Estate Rosé made up of 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. Jody explained that because of the predominance of red grapes in the blend this would render the wine sweeter, thus a suitable match for dessert (chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and Tinwood honey). I found the wine drier than expected and the flavours less well integrated than the previous two wines. That said, the notes of strawberry, raspberry with a touch of cream made for a pleasant digestif, just not a match for dessert. Put to the vote, the Estate Brut won by a short head, followed by the Blanc de Blancs with, in Jody’s words, the “poor Rosé coming last again”. The result replicated the one on our previous visit last summer and, I must say, I’m not surprised – the Estate Brut had more upfront flavours than the Rosé, and I think people were expecting the latter to be a good deal fruitier than it was.
We bought one bottle each of the Blanc de Blancs and the Estate Brut and look forward very much to enjoying them over the next year. Thanks go to Art and Jody for their hospitality, good humour, patience and plasters! Roll on 2018!
- 65 Acres