I am a man who firmly believes that ‘a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine’. 

So you can imagine my delight that next week sees the very first Norwich Wine Week take place, with a programme of events culminating in a two day wine festival in Chapelfield Gardens.

As well as giving our local independent restaurants and bars the chance to showcase their wine lists, Norwich Wine Week is also focusing heavily on the growing number of East Anglian wine makers.

Growing grapes is nothing new in this part of the world. 

It was the killer combination of Romans and monks who were responsible for the precursors to today’s successful vineyards. 

The Romans brought vines with them when they invaded in 43AD (showing that the Italians had their priorities sorted even 2000 years ago), and the tradition was carried on in the region’s monasteries – ostensibly to provide communion wine, but you can’t help feeling that they would have salted a few bottles away to help them cope with those cold winter evenings.

Modern-day wine makers have several advantages over those early pioneers.  Climate change is giving the world plenty of challenges, but one silver lining is that growing grapes is becoming ever easier as our part of the world warms up.

Alongside the weather, our understanding of which grape varieties to grow and how to cope with the usual vineyard threats of pests, disease and winter frosts means that our local vignerons are well placed to challenge the traditional European powerhouses of wine production. 

Now is a very appropriate time to be celebrating East Anglian wine.

A few weeks back I was lucky enough to be invited to the new vintage launch at Chet Valley vineyard in Bergh Apton, a few miles southeast of the city.  Since planting their first vines over a decade ago, winemaker John Hemmant has created something really special here.

A chemist by profession, John had a successful career in the city before returning to Norfolk to follow his dream of creating a truly sustainable vineyard on farmland which has been in his family since the early 1900s.

Through adopting a sustainable vineyard permaculture, minimising pesticide use, recycling waste products, and mapping wildlife habitats, Chet Valley was the first – and currently the only – vineyard in Norfolk to achieve the coveted ‘Sustainable Wines of Great Britain’ accreditation.

But sustainability is not the only thing they have invested in.  John Hemmant’s ambition was to create a Champagne-method sparkling wine which would stand alongside anything the French could produce. 

Making wine in this way is time-consuming and expensive.  Once you have made the base wine, you have to wait for it to ferment a second time in the bottle (thus creating the bubbles), gently and gradually turning the bottle from horizontal to vertical (upside-down) over a period of weeks. 

Then you have to freeze the neck of the bottle so that you can eject an ice pellet containing all of the dead yeast cells and sediment, before topping it up, corking and caging it, and then ageing it before sale.

Although other Champagne method fizzes are produced by Norfolk vineyards, Chet Valley’s ‘House of Hemmant’ is the only one actually produced on the vineyard itself.  This really is ‘Norfolk’s Champagne’, even if labelling laws prevent it being marketed in this way.

There are two wines in the range: a Blanc de Blancs made from Chardonnay, and a Blancs de Noirs made from the other two classic Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  I can confirm that both are delicious.

With wines this good being made in the UK, it is no surprise that the French are worried.  Some Champagne houses have take the view that if you can’t beat them, join them, and invested in English vineyards.  But here in Norfolk, wine-making is still very much a local, independent affair, and long may that continue.

Norwich Wine Week gives us all an opportunity to take stock of just how far viticulture has come in our county.  Visitors to the Chapelfield Gardens event can talk to some of the county’s best wine-makers – and vitally, taste their wines – as well as taking part in a series of tutored tastings. 

Whether you are a Norfolk wine fan, or had no idea that such good wine was being produced so close to home, this is a great opportunity to raise a glass to a real local success story.