The Producers: A fizz busines
PUBLISHED: 11:01 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 16:48 20 February 2013
Sussex has become a leading producer of sparkling wine in the past decade, thanks to producers like Christine and Michael Roberts. Kate Eastman went to their vineyard, the RidgeView Estate, to find out more
SITUATED on the chalky soils of the South Downs, only one-and-a-half miles north of Ditchling Beacon, is the multi-award winning sparkling wine maker RidgeView Estate. It was founded by Christine and Michael Roberts in 1994 after they sold their successful IT business when they both wanted a change of lifestyle.
Starting the new business meant going to college at Plumpton, the only course in England that studies viticulture and oenology, and getting a thorough grounding in how to grow vines and to make good wine, explains Mike.
In 1994 the Estate planted 20,000 vines on 16 acres. With advice from Epernay they selected 13 French clones of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier on three different rootstocks. Nowadays the whole estate runs to 30 acres (12 hectares) and has partnership vineyards across the South East of England totalling 170 acres who work together with RidgeView to produce the finest quality fruit.
Being just 88 miles north of Champagne, with almost identical geology and climate, it is not surprising that the wine writers are comparing our wines to those of the quintessential sparkling wine area, Champagne, says Oliver Marsh, the sales and marketing executive. RidgeView is a family company dedicated solely to the production of the highest quality sparkling wine from traditional Champagne varieties and methods. Four members of the Roberts family continue to have leading roles in the business.
Due to the method of making the wine, it was 2000, six years after the first vines were planted, before RidgeView started selling their wine. We follow to the book the methods of making the wine, we only yield a certain amount from our vines, we whole bunch press the grape so you get a very clean fresh juice, we dont crush them, says Oliver. We do five blends of grape from a 100 per cent Chardonnay, called Grosvenor which is very clean, crisp and refreshing, through to our 100 per cent Pinots which are creamier, delicate red fruit wine that has a bit of body and depth to it.
Initially, RidgeView produced 5,000 bottles, which has grown dramatically to 70,000, with next years vintage, the 2008, growing to 100,000 and the one pressed in October to 200,000 bottles. This is going to rise to over half-a-million in the next few years, explains Oliver. A purpose built winery of 8,600sq ft was built with an underground cellar that stores 150,000 bottles in perfect conditions to mature the wine and perfect fine prise de mousse. In 2010 we will be doubling the size of the winery to cope with our expansion.
The Roberts family led by father and son team Mike and Simon were delighted with their achievements. In just 10 years of sales RidgeView has won more than 100 medals and 16 trophies in international and national competitions including English Wine of the Year three times plus numerous medals and trophies in French international competitions. In 2005 RidgeView was awarded the worldwide trophy for the best bottle of fermented sparkling wine in the highly regarded International Wines and Spirits Competition.
Tom Stevenson, author of The New Sothebys Wine Encyclopaedia and Christies World Encyclopaedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, found that an English man, Christopher Merret, described not only how to make sparkling wine, but how this gay, brisk and sparkling wine was being drunk and enjoyed in London more than 30 years before the French first made sparkling wine and almost 70 years before the oldest Champagne House was established.
In recognition of Christopher Merret, the RidgeView Estate has registered the name Merret and all wines produced here are called Cuve Merret, says Mardi Roberts, the sales and marketing manager.
Three other Sussex sparklers
1. Breaky Bottom, lies in a fold in the South Downs about 5 miles from Lewes in East Sussex. OwnerPeter Hall started at Breaky Bottom in 1974.
2. Bookers Vineyard, 10 miles south of Crawley in Bolney. Janet and Rodney Pratt started back in 1972 with 3 acres of vines.
3.Nyetimber, located inWest Chiltington,begun in 1988 by a couple from Chicago, Stuart and Sandy Moss. Now the largest vineyard in the UK, with 350 acres under vine.