A Trend-Bucking Event
And so it came to pass. On Tuesday 16th May, the first ever UK artisan wine/drinks fair featuring producers working sustainably, organically and/biodynamically and making products with minimal-to-zero additions came, was seen and conquered (hearts and minds). And the pretty jolly weather (ideal for tasting and sans horizontal stair rods) was Nature’s gift, rather than down to me ceremonially sacrificing a goat to the sun god in advance of the event.
The place was Woodfine Wine near Seer Green, on the edge of the Chilterns. Or to be precise under a stretch tent festooned with pretty lights in a vineyard with ankle-high grass and a riot of daisies, wildflowers and so forth. The impact of natural light allied to fresh air circulating helped the wines to shine and doubtless sharpened the palate of the tasters. I am not sure if there is scientific evidence to validate this supposition, but who cares?
As well as artisan wine producers listed at the bottom, there were cider makers, pristine eaux de vie from Capreolus, Sacred Microdistillery, Kanpai Sake from Peckham and Hoxton Hill beer for sampling and refreshment!
Deck chairs were laid out, also a picnic circle to sprawl in (or sacrifice goats), and even a games area, and coffee and snack food were always to hand. Not an in-and-out tasting-but come-out-to-the-country-and-pull-up-a-deckchair-with-a- glass-of-nourishing-natural-cider-or-pet-nat-and-chillax-in-the-sun-tasting.
The principal idea behind the RWITV was to pivot away from the classic heads-down indoors event towards something more intimate and interactive.
Real Wine in the Vines showed every grower that a community of likeminded friendly producers exists, as well as trade customers who will buy and enthusiastically champion UK artisan wines.
A tasting bringing customers out to the country (albeit only half an hour from London) inevitably shows who is willing to go the extra mile. Literally. It is important for us not just to hold repetitive tastings for the sake of it, but to make each event stimulating, poignant and special for those participating and for those visiting. It was, or rather we wanted it to be, a tasting amongst friends and likeminded people. This requires a degree of imagination, no little risk, and some fantastic organisation (I will come back to this later).
Nothing would, of course, have taken place without the co-operation of the producers themselves, and natural wine muckers, collaborators and UK wine specialists (amongst others), Under The Bonnet. It is also important to remember that most of these wineries are tiny enterprises, producing just a few hundred bottles with limited resources. We thank them for the effort (not to mention the time) journeying to the fair and the samples they provided on the day. Having them pour in person, explain their products, and tell their stories, brought these wines and the other respective drinks alive. There really is no substitute for passion.
The Real Wine Fair extends its appreciation to Richard Woodfine specifically for allowing us to pitch our tent by the vines, and the use of his winery, and, in general, for his eloquent championing of regenerative projects. More and more we would like to expose customers to the ideas behind Real Wine, ally with people with a similar vision, and look at spreading positive ethical messages. The two seminars, held in the Woodfine winery, touched on several of these issues, especially with regard to the notion of authenticity, and the importance of education and legacy. The fact that we were holding the event on a site of a regenerative agriculture project had more than symbolic significance.
So, what did Real Wine in the Vines tell us about the state of UK artisan wine scene?
One that it is still, relatively speaking, a drop in the wine ocean. It was incredibly encouraging to taste the wines at the fair; the overall quality was strong, and most of them exhibited decided personality. Secondly, there is no single route into natural winemaking, but, generally, people who care and wish to make the effort, will follow their hearts. Both humble and inviting feedback, most of the producers were not afraid to take risks if it meant learning from making mistakes. Real Wine in the Vines showed every grower that a community of likeminded friendly producers exists, as well as trade customers who will buy and enthusiastically champion UK artisan wines. Thirdly, we have started the conversation that it is vital to talk about our impact on the environment, and support the transition towards more sustainable, organic, and regenerative methods of farming – not procedures that do the bare minimum to acquire a worthy label in order to appeal to consumers, but go beyond that, because it is the right thing to do.
With climate change, there are opportunities and pitfalls for wine producers in the U.K. Rather than tracts of land being prepared to plant vines to make grapes for more and more traditional method sparkling wine to be sold at inflated prices, it would be heartening if governments encouraged small growers to farm sustainably, both respecting and revitalising the environment, and producing wines without the needs for chemical sprays or other chemical additions. A plot of earth is an incredibly precious resource. In the quest to manufacture products for commercial consumption, we should never eradicate that which is living.
We have started the conversation that it is vital to talk about our impact on the environment…not procedures that do the bare minimum to acquire a worthy label in order to appeal to consumers, but go beyond that, because it is the right thing to do.
So, to the thanks bit.
A half-formed idea floated over a casual lunch several months ago became fully formed because of the hard work and organisation of our pr & events team at Les Caves de Pyrene, namely Amy, Vanessa, Elliott and Karen. I have already mentioned Alex and the Under The Bonnet team; they have nurtured several exceptional small producers whose presence and wines enriched the fair. Richard Woodfine, Lizzie and all at Woodfine Wines and the owners of Newbarn Farm, for letting us loose on their beautiful property. Lucy Williamson, Jamie Goode and Richard Woodfine for their thoughtful contributions to our seminar: Regenerative Farming: Agriculture, Community & Health and to Polly Hilton and James Forbes for their insights in UK artisan cidermaking (hosted by our own man with the megaphone, Señor Canadas. To Ed Wilson and Penelope from Brawn for preparing and cooking a glorious banquet which we and the growers enjoyed in the beautiful setting of the old barn. To our customers who took trains, planes, and automobiles (except for the latter two) to enjoy their day in the vines. And, of course, to the producers below – without their participation Real Wine in the Vines would not have been possible.
The Real Wine in the Vines producers were:
Ancre Hill, Monmouth; Charlie Herring Wines, Lymington; The Wharie Experience, Lymington; Offbeat Wines, Wilts; Domaine Hugo, Wilts; Tillingham Wines/Walgate Wines, Rye; Davenport Winery; East Sussex; Natalia Harris, East Sussex; Lost in a Field (Tim Wildman); Sophie Evans, Kent; Ham Street Wines, Kent; Black Mountain Vineyard, Hereford; Albury Vineyard, Surrey; Forty Hall Vineyard, London; Woodfine Wines, Bucks; Limeburn Hill, Somerset; Whinyard Rocks, Powys.
Kanpai Sake, Peckham; Sacred Spirits, Highgate; Hoxton Hill Brewery, London; Capreolus Distillery, Cirencester; Find & Foster Ciders, Devon; Little Pomona Orchard and Cider, Hereford.
Contact us directly to enquire about any of the wines/beers/spirits poured at Real Wine in the Vines: