There’s been a lot of talk about 2018 being a potentially vintage year for English sparkling wine, but at Greyfriars Vineyard, near Guildford, they are keeping their feet firmly on the ground until the grapes have been harvested and are safe in their winery.
“As a result of the hot summer things are looking good but we aren't celebrating at half time,” says owner Mike Wagstaff.
“People who are predicting a legendary harvest are the same people who predicted England would win the World Cup after one game! We expect to start picking our main crop around October 1 and we have our fingers crossed for warm dry weather for the rest of the month.”
While the Greyfriars team will continue to tentatively keep an eye on the skies and weather forecasts for a few weeks yet, this year has already been a golden one for this Surrey vineyard with the awards and accolades raining in.
“We’ve won a record number of medals for a total of seven of our wines, which is amazing, but our two gold medals in the International Wine and Spirits Competition (“IWSC”) must stand out as the highlight,” says Mike.
“Our Blanc de Blancs and our Sparkling Rosé, which were the first two wines we released, are going from strength-to-strength.”
English sparkling wine
Greyfriars vineyard was originally planted in 1989, before being taken over by Mike and his family in 2010.
They’ve since expanded the area under vine to almost 50 acres on three sites, with a focus on producing stunning English sparkling wine.
The family has also built a winery containing state-of-the-art winemaking equipment and dug a natural chalk underground cellar for ageing their wine prior to release.
This has enabled them to not only expand their range, but also to experiment a little with each harvest once it’s left the vine.
“Earlier this year we released a limited edition Cuvée Royale, which was exciting at a number of levels,” says Mike.
“We think it is the best wine we have ever made (so far), the branding is very different and it was picked by Decanter magazine as one of 15 English sparkling wines to look out for this summer.
There’s clearly more where that came from too in due course, with creativity always at the heart of the Greyfriars project.
“We are always working on one or two unique wines each year, which reflect either something special about the particular vintage or the unique characteristics of one vineyard,” explains Mike.
“However, with sparkling wine it takes three or four years from picking the grapes to releasing a new wine so unfortunately it’s not as spontaneous as we would like.”
While the process may always require a little patience, Greyfriars has the location, the geology and team to continue to make truly exceptional wines.
“We are totally focused on producing great wine but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Mike.
“We have learnt a huge amount over the last seven and a half years but the most exciting thing is how much interest there is in English wine now – when we started, English wine was a very minority taste!”
In fact, you’d have had to be living in the darkest corner of your wine cellar to have missed the official launches of The Wine Garden of England in Kent and Sussex Wineries this year – collaborative efforts to further promote the growing interest in English wine.
Surrey Hills Vineyards
Not to be left behind, Greyfriars have teamed up with Denbies Wine Estate, Albury Vineyard, High Clandon Estate Vineyard and Chilworth Manor Vineyard to launch Vineyards of the Surrey Hills to celebrate Surrey’s Champagne-like terroir.
“We are one of five founder members and our goal is to highlight how good and varied wine from Surrey is – and, of course, to encourage people to visit the vineyards,” explains Mike.
While you can buy Greyfriars’ wines direct from their Cellar Door shop, near Puttenham, and order online, the best way to experience the vineyard for yourself is, of course, one of their tours, tastings or open days, which take place throughout the spring/summer months.
Of course, as we’re now hitting the harvest season and the vineyard is alive with machinery and pickers, you’ll have to add those to your 2019 bucket list for now. Patience is at the heart of what makes every vineyard special, after all.