6 Norfolk vineyards whose wines you have to try

PUBLISHED: 19:30 21 May 2020

Norfolk winemaker John Hemmant among the vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard in Bergh Apton. Picture: Chris Hill

Norfolk winemaker John Hemmant among the vines at the Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard in Bergh Apton. Picture: Chris Hill

Chris Hill

To mark what would have been the start of English Wine Week 2020, we raise a glass to Norfolk’s vineyards.

Ben and Hannah Witchell with their first commercial crop of pinot noir grapes grown at Flint Vineyard in Earsham, near Bungay. Picture: Chris HillBen and Hannah Witchell with their first commercial crop of pinot noir grapes grown at Flint Vineyard in Earsham, near Bungay. Picture: Chris Hill

Flint Vineyard, Earsham

Flint Vineyard at Earsham near the Norfolk-Suffolk border is one of a number of vineyards from across the region that are coming together on Friday, May 22, for East Anglian Wine Night to thank wine drinkers for supporting local makers during the coronavirus pandemic – especially as it is likely to be some time until restaurants, bars and pubs are fully up and running again. Flint will be taking part in a live Instagram chat and tasting with @WineTimeLondon, including their brand new Pinot Noir Précoce which is being released on May 22 to coincide with the event at what would have been the start of English Wine Week.

Also as part of East Anglian Wine Night, the vineyards are asking their customers to nominate the unsung local heroes who have gone the extra mile during the coronavirus outbreak and deserve a bottle of wine as a thank you.

Flint Vineyard was founded in 2016 by Ben and Hannah Witchell and has gone on to win numerous awards for its still and sparkling wines. They have planted nearly 10 acres of vines and have built a state of the art winery on site. Their Bacchus and Pinot Blanc have both been well-received by professional reviewers. And their sparkling rosé is made using the Charmat method, commonly used in Prosecco production, which involves a second fermentation in a tank rather than a bottle, as happens in the Champagne method.

The first commercial crop of pinot noir grapes grown at Flint Vineyard in Earsham, near Bungay. Picture: Chris HillThe first commercial crop of pinot noir grapes grown at Flint Vineyard in Earsham, near Bungay. Picture: Chris Hill

Click here to find out more about Flint’s wines and follow the #EastAnglianWineNight hashtag on social media.

Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard, Bergh Apton

Chet and Waveney Valley Vineyard at Bergh Apton will also be taking part in East Anglian Wine Night – and has just won a major industry award.

Its 2018 Skylark blush sparkling wine, made from Phoenix, Seyval Blanc and the Regent grape has won the Sommeliers Wine Award (SWA) Commended Medal.

Wine maker and grower John Hemmant is keen to use non-mainstream varieties that have a distinctive bouquet and taste but that are resistant to disease allowing less use of pesticides.

Phoenix is a vitis vinifera cross between the Bacchus and Villard grape – aromatic with Muscat-like qualities, elderflower and herbaceous notes, while Seyval Blanc has a citrus element in the aroma and taste, as well as a minerality. And Regent gives wines of colour, with moderate acidity and a touch of tannin.

The SWA is the only competition to be aimed solely at the on-trade – restaurants, wine bars and hotels. Judged by a panel of leading sommeliers and on-trade drinks buyers, the competition rewards the best wines available to restaurants, bars and hotels in the UK and beyond.

John says: “The winning of such an award is a further boost to the reputation of Norfolk wines and is encouraging for our hard working staff in the vineyard. The award gives our online wine buyers another interesting independently validated flavoursome wine choice at this difficult time of Covid 19.”

John, the son of Norfolk farmer Wally Hemmant, planted the vineyard in 2010 in Bergh Apton and considers the vines to be in their prime. The vineyard is expanding and is in the process of building a new winery and tasting area, to be ready when the lockdown is ended. The vineyard is already selling wine tasting vouchers for tastings to take place in the new winery for anyone who wants to look forward to tasting the wine with family post lockdown. The team has also been developing their online delivery service.

Click here for details.

Winbirri Vineyard, Surlingham

Did you know that one of the best white wines in the world is produced right here in Norfolk? In 2017, winemaker Lee Dyer of Winbirri Vineyard at Surlingham had a decade’s worth of orders in six hours, after his Bacchus, an aromatic dry white with a deep flavour, was named best single varietal white wine at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

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The vineyard was established in 2010 and now has 52,000 vines over 33 acres – last year it was on track to produce 70,000 bottles.

As well as Bacchus grapes, Lee also grows other white varieties Seyval Blanc and Solaris and Pinot Noir, a notoriously difficult grape to grow, which produces a delicate red wine and is an essential component, along with Pinot Meunier, in some high quality sparkling wines. Dornfelder, Rondo and Regent are lesser known red varieties that work well in the UK’s climate.

Click here for more.

Humbleyard Vineyard, Mulbarton

The first vines were planted at the eight-acre Humbleyard Vineyard at Mulbarton in 2010. Now the vineyard – which is warm, well drained and largely protected from frost – has about 10,000 vines, of nine varieties: white varieties Solaris, Chardonnay, Reichensteiner, Sauvignon Blanc and Bacchus and red varieties Rondo, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Cortis. Each variety flowers and ripens at different times of the summer and autumn which reduces the risk of crop loss due to bad weather. They sell more than a dozen still wines, plus a number of sparkling options. Also available is High Spirit No.1, an artisan drink triple-distilled from the rosé wine with a vibrant cherry pink colouring and the kick of a spirit.

Click here for stockists.

South Pickenham Vineyard

Another vineyard which is putting Norfolk firmly on the wine map is South Pickenham Vineyard. Its 2015 sparkling wine was a bronze medal winner at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards.

The six acre vineyard on the South Pickenham Estate near Swaffham was established in 1984 and originally planted for private consumption. In 2010, it was turned into a small commercial enterprise, selling up to 3,000 bottles of its own vintage each year. The vines are planted on a south facing slope in a sheltered location, in order to minimise the potential damage from late and early frost during the growing season. The vineyard grows five grape varieties: Bacchus, Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Muller Thurgau and Schonburge and the fruit is pressed, fermented and bottled at a Suffolk winery to produce a delicate and refreshing medium dry white wine. There is also a sparkling offering.

Click here to find out more.

Burn Valley Vineyard and Winery, North Creake

This farm south of Burnham Market has diversified to grow nine varieties of grapes and the family-run vineyard’s first wines were available last summer.

It was years of holidaying in France which led farmer John Robinson to ask his family “why don’t we open a vineyard?” and they planted the vines in 2016.

The climate and ground conditions – the soil is free draining and flinty with a chalk base – in north Norfolk are perfect for cultivating grapes, particularly varieties such as Bacchus, which performs really well in the eastern region.

There are 11 acres of around 17,000 vines and they grow Early Pinot, Rondo, Regent, Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Solaris, Seyval Blanc and Schonburger, plus Bacchus.

A bumper 2018 harvest meant they were carying out tastings earlier than they ever expected and they officially opened their on-site winery last summer.

Click here for details.

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