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Court Garden vineyard

Perhaps I was predisposed to like Court Garden Vineyard wines: I felt a kind of kinship, reading in Liz Sagues’ excellent book “A Celebration of English Wine” that the winemaker Hugo Corney was a “refugee from the accountancy industry”, a position I too find myself in.

As I reached the end of their long drive, the sun began to break out from behind the clouds to lift the early April chill, furthering enhancing my mood. Howard Corney, Hugo’s father and the man who started the vineyard, was finishing a conversation with his joiner about display shelves for more bottles of wine, giving me an opportunity to examine the dozens of award certificates displayed on the walls of the tasting room. Court Garden’s English Sparkling Wines and still wines have been much garlanded, by various bodies, both in the UK but also at international competitions.

Originally solely a sheep farm, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth was the trigger to diversify into viticulture, although, as Howard explained to me later, the sheep-rearing industry was and is becoming increasingly about scale, which was not the direction the Corney family wanted to travel, so alternatives would have had to be sought anyway. The decision was made to become English wine producers, a field was planted to vine, and over the years the area has expanded, slowly but surely, year by year. Trial and experimentation seem to be the approach – since last year, Court Garden has 6 of the 7 Champagne grapes planted, with only Pinot Blanc missing – possibly the only vineyard in England to be able to make this claim. Perhaps before too many years have passed there will be an English Sparkling Wine equivalent of Moutard Père & Fils’ Champagne “Cuvée des Six Cépages”.

Having seen the vineyard, we moved inside. Hugo was in the winery, filtering red wine from one tank to another. With two ex-accountants in the room, there was perhaps inevitably a discussion of tax reliefs for the English wine industry, alongside the more usual winery conversations around SO2 levels, fermentation temperatures and the like. Hugo is clearly a man of precision and detail, which ultimately comes through in the wines – not to say that they are clinical and without charm, simply that they are sharp & crisp where they need to be and without technical flaws.

Speaking of the wines…

All of their English Sparkling Wines were remarkable for the ripeness of fruit that has been achieved, such that their dryness (they are all brut or extra-brut) was wonderfully balanced. They also all demonstrated beautifully creamy mousses and fabulously persistent length.

In terms of their flavour profiles, the 2014 Classic Cuvée exhibited tart pineapple, lemon and wild plum characteristics with a gentle vanilla overlay.

The 2013 Blanc de Noirs dialled it up a notch, with freshly baked brioche layered with pear and red apple and super-ripe Mediterranean lemon aromas.

The flagship Ditchling Reserve, from the excellent 2014 vintage, was a truly regal wine, with croissant, Braeburn, Concorde pear, pink grapefruit and buttery toast floating in waves over the palate.

The 2014 sparkling rosé was notable for its wonderfully long strawberries and cream finish, preceded by dashes of redcurrant and a lick of lemon.

Turning to the still wines, the 2017 Ditchling White is a successful blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Ortega, with Granny Smith and conference pear flavours mingled with grapefruit and zesty lime from the Ortega. Again, some judicious oak has helped flesh out the wine.

The rosé was a revelation – a deliciously tense, light-bodied frame, with raspberries, blackcurrant and wild strawberries woven through it, and a faint tease of vanilla from the French oak barrel-fermentation. No need to wait for a sunny day to enjoy this gem, but clearly, it would be suited to a session on the patio, with a plate of charcuterie to accompany.

We all remember how challenging the 2017 vintage was, and the Ditchling Red is a real triumph given the conditions. While in the best vintages a pure Pinot Noir is produced, in 2017 it is blended with Dornfelder which adds subtle black pepper notes and a fraction more body to the classic Pinot raspberry and black cherry flavours.

All in all, a truly impressive range from a small producer who may be almost literally in the shadow of its (relatively) huge neighbour, Ridgeview, but whose wines are shining brightly.

See our range of wines from Court Garden vineyard

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