What time is wine o’clock for you in lockdown?

PUBLISHED: 13:44 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:45 06 May 2020

Norfolk winemaker John Hemmant of Chet Valley Vineyard

Norfolk winemaker John Hemmant of Chet Valley Vineyard


Andy Newman says wine o’clock is the highlight of his day. This week he raised a lockdown ‘cheers’ to our newest award winning Norfolk vineyard

I don’t know about you, but seven weeks into lockdown I am beginning to forget what ‘normal’ was like. Most of us have relaxed into a slower rhythm of life, without the daily commute, the office politics and the hectic rush of trying to cram rather too much into every day. Whilst the reason for isolating ourselves is horrible, it is a cloud with a silver lining – we are once again starting to think about what is really important.

My life pre-coronavirus was as busy as most people’s, and it is the social contact I miss most. The ability to pop to the pub with a mate, to share dinner with friends either at home or at a restaurant, to linger over an espresso in a café and watch the world go by.

The important thing, we were told when the restrictions were put in place, is to establish a new routine, to have marker points in each day to make it all seem normal. Nearly two months on, most of us have achieved that, whether it’s learning how to separate work life and home life when they are taking place under the same roof, or making the effort to connect with friends and family on Zoom.

An important part of my new daily routine is a video call with my 83 year-old mother-in-law at 7pm each day. She is a remarkable woman, fit and resilient, from a generation used to making sacrifices for the general good. She lives on her own and my wife has no siblings, so that daily contact is important (notwithstanding that she seems to spend most of every day chatting to her many friends).

One part of the routine will, I think, be familiar to many living under lockdown. That 7pm call is the moment when we pour the first drink; our opening greeting is always ‘Cheers’.

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I have always shared Pliny’s view that ‘A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine’, and wine has always been an enjoyable part of my life. And given that I’m almost never driving anywhere nowadays, and that I am lucky enough to have a cellar full of bottles, wine has become an integral part of my lockdown routine.

There will be those who disapprove, but I make no apologies for it. First of all, I love the stuff, and a bit of enjoyment is something we all deserve at the moment. Secondly, it’s sociable; I have taken part in

several online wine tastings, and my social diary is full of online drinks and meals with friends. And thirdly, I am using it as an opportunity to support our local producers.

Before the current crisis, most people would experience Norfolk wines either in a restaurant, or by purchasing bottles at independent shops and a small number of selected supermarkets. But with the sudden demise of their on-trade, most of our local producers have adapted quickly and upped their mail-order game, in many cases scrapping delivery charges or offering free vouchers for post-lockdown vineyard visits.

Just prior to the crisis, I visited one such producer, Chet & Waveney Valley Vineyard in Bergh Apton. Having tasted their superb Prosecco-method sparkler Skylark, I wanted to see for myself why one of Norfolk’s newest vineyards was gaining such a reputation.

Run by former city financier John Hemmant, Chet Valley makes a range of still and sparkling wines, and this week carried off a coveted ‘Commended’ award for its 2018 Skylark blush sparkler in the Sommeliers Wine Award – judged by some of the country’s leading restaurant wine experts.

Like most English producers, vineyard tours, restaurants and wine bars form a big part of Chet Valley’s normal market – and that market has all but disappeared overnight. So it’s down to us lockdown tipplers to keep them afloat. It’s a noble cause, and one in which I am very happy to play my part.

Chet Valley is one of a number of Norfolk vineyards which are both producing top-quality wines, and also adapting to this new normality by offering an efficient delivery service. If saying ‘cheers’ to friends and family via Zoom or Facetime is an integral part of our new routines, then why not make sure that the glass you raise is full of Norfolk wine?

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