Charlotte Pearson heads to Stopham to find a vineyard keen to put Sussex wine on the foodie map.
You may not necessarily associate a Melton Mowbray pork pie, Stilton and Champagne with wine produced in Sussex, but if Stopham Vineyard has its way it will be joining them and many others.
Along with members of a consortium of Sussex wine producers, Simon Woodhead, winemaker at Stopham, is putting together a bid for a PDO status for Sussex wine.
“There is already one for English wine,” he reveals. “But it doesn’t have a taste test. What we would want is this plus other criteria to raise the quality of Sussex wine.
“We would hope that it would get to a point where people would say ‘I want a bottle of Sussex wine’ and know exactly what they are getting.”
In recent years the popularity of the tipple produced in England has increased significantly.
“People care where what they eat and drink comes from,” explains Simon. “People have thought that way about food for a while but it is starting to apply to drink now as well. They want to know the provenance.
“English wine is a handcrafted product and does cost a bit more but you know where it comes from.
“With us we grow the grapes here in the estate, it is made and bottled here and we sell it from here as well.”
He admits when it comes to wine made in this country there have been obstacles in the past.
“Some will say they hate British wine and we have to disassociate ourselves with this label,” he begins.
“British wine used to be made using grape concentrate with some sugar and yeast added to it.
“It was very cheap and just got you drunk, whereas what we make under the English wine name is something to be enjoyed.”
One of the reasons why Simon opted to initially make still rather sparkling.
“Personally I prefer still,” he reveals. “It is something that should be enjoyed with food, whereas sparkling I see as more of an occasion drink.
“Also you need a lot of storage for sparkling wine, which we don’t really have here.
“We have started to make some sparkling but predominately we make still.”
The white wine is made from Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc vines, but on site there is also Baccus and Auxerrios for blending, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for sparkling and Dornfelder for rosé.
After completing the winemaking course at Plumpton College, Lewes, Simon set up Stopham Vineyard in 2007 with 21,000 vines planted over six hectares.
“We had our first vintage in 2010, and another in 2011,” explains Simon. “We lost our 2012 batch, as although when the Olympics was on it was sunny, before and after it was awful and it pelted down with rain which knocked all the grapes off.
“In 2013 and 2014 we produced a lot more and had a good vintage.”
It seems when it comes to wine good things come to those that wait.
“You have to have patience,” he says. “We planted in 2007 and in 2014 we had the volume, it had taken seven years to get to that point.”
He adds that while the slogan may say ‘English wine made with precision and passion in Sussex’ it should actually be ‘precision, patience and passion’.
In 2010 Simon was joined by assistant winemaker Tom Bartlett, and admits the two do almost everything from managing the vineyard to making the wine.
However, for the more intensive job they get people in.
“It is a really exciting industry to be a part of,” enthuses Simon. “It is still fairly new.
“It is great that you plant something, nurture it and then make a product with it.”
With Sussex slowly but surely becoming a fixture on the wine map I think it is time to raise a glass to the county.
What PDO mean?
It stands for Protected Designation of Origin. It was established by European Union law in 1992 to protect the names of regional foods.
The designation is meant to keep producers of regional products safe from unfair competition and rivals who may try to pass off inferior ‘knock-offs’ using prestigious labels.
For example, you can only call something Champagne if it follows strict guidelines which see it grown in the region in a particular way.
Stopham Wine Festival
Stopham is holding its second wine festival on Saturday, July 4.
After the success of last year the event will feature stalls, animals and tractor rides, with tours of the vineyard and winery with the opportunity to taste the wine.
It will run from 11am until 5pm and costs £5 per person.
Money raised will go towards repairing the church.
To discover what they do first hand join one of Stopham Vineyard’s wine tours or, for more information, visit
May 8, 2015 Food and Drink