If you’d have said England could grow grapes and make wine to match – and even beat – those from the Champagne region of France forty years ago, you’d probably be met with some scepticism to say the least. But that’s exactly what’s happening now; every year, English sparkling wines take home a slew of awards at international competitions, putting our cuvees and Blanc de Blancs on the world stage.
One of the first (and most respected) of these English winemakers is Nyetimber, which started growing vines way back in 1988. Nyetimber was the first to craft English sparkling wines exclusively from the three celebrated grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and every single one of their bottles is made from one hundred percent estate-grown grapes. Cherie Spriggs joined the company in 2007 as head winemaker, and now oversees the entire process throughout the year with her winemaker husband Brad Greatrix – no mean feat, as Nyetimber now owns 170 hectares of vines across eight sites in West Sussex and Hampshire. Every month brings its own challenges and rewards, culminating in the autumn harvest; Cherie’s favourite time of year, despite the incredible amount of work it takes.
‘We generally harvest around October time,’ she says. ‘It’s the culmination of all our hard work and there’s a huge sense of accomplishment, but at the same time I’m working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week until it’s done! We hire around 350 pickers as we harvest everything by hand, and it’s a critical time from the winemaking point of view as I need to constantly check on the juice and what’s going on in the winery.’