Welcome to the wine city - future looks rosé for Norwich ahead of new wine school opening

Jeremy Dunn, who is launching the new Norfolk Wine School. Picture: Submitted

Jeremy Dunn, who is launching the new Norfolk Wine School. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

Norwich has long been known as a city of ale. But a new wine school, prized vineyards nearby and innovative shops are now putting it on the map for lovers of whites, reds and rosés. Lauren Cope reports

Lee Dyer at Winbirri Vineyard in Surlingham, where they are stepping up production and investing in

Lee Dyer at Winbirri Vineyard in Surlingham, where they are stepping up production and investing in new hi-tech bottling plantPicture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

No longer reserved for collectors, merchants and winemakers, appreciation of good quality wine is today a hobby open to everyone.

The growing popularity of wine tastings, trendy bars and independent shops have – as the craft beer movement did for ale – created a market of discerning drinkers no longer satisfied with a supermarket's cheapest bottle of plonk.

In just over a month, wine expert Jeremy Dunn hopes to encourage more people to sort their Beaujolais from their Bordeaux as he launches Norfolk's first wine school.

While it won't sell bottles, something Mr Dunn says will keep his advice impartial, the Norfolk Wine School will run courses and tastings for both for novices venturing into the world and experienced wine lovers.

Humbleyard Vineyard in Mulbarton has won an award for their first ever wine. The vineyard was plante

Humbleyard Vineyard in Mulbarton has won an award for their first ever wine. The vineyard was planted in 2010 and their newly launched rose has won a bronze award at the East Anglian Vineyard's Association awards, their white wine was highly commended.Graham barton farm manager.. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2013

Initially, the tastings will be held at Norwich venues The Library and St Andrew's Brewery, but there are plans to add extra locations outside the city next year, in particular in north and south Norfolk.

Mr Dunn, who has spent 10 years in the industry and has a Wine and Spirits Education Trust diploma, said wine schools had become hits elsewhere around the country.

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'People want to go out and have a nice time but they also want to learn something and experience something new,' he said. 'I'm part of the Local Wine School network around the UK, which is seeing year on year increases at its other schools.

'We're catering for everyone – for those who want to learn more about wine in a structured, formal way and for people who just want to pick up some tips. A little information goes a long way.'

With the website having gone live in May, Norfolk man Mr Dunn, who has moved back to Thorpe End with his family to start the venture, says many of the courses were being booked up, with a cheese and wine one in particular demand.

He said: 'Buying wine can be really confusing – it's an absolute nightmare. You go into a supermarket and see a wall of wine and there's not much telling you about them.'

Over the last few years, various independent wine shops and bars have sprung up in Norfolk, while Naked Wines, an established sales website, has its headquarters in the city.

A better climate has also seen many of the county's vineyards pick up awards, strengthening its claim as a go-to place for wine connoisseurs.

The first event is Introduction to Wine, which will launch the school on Tuesday, September 6. Tickets are available at www.norfolkwineschool.com

Innovative ways to encourage wine drinkers

To tear shoppers away from supermarket shelves packed with bottles of wine, businesses are having to think outside the box to encourage more discerning drinkers.

Over the last few years, Wymondham shop Reno Wine has made a name for itself as an eco-friendly outlet, selling refillable bottles of wine with organic, vegan, low sulphur and biodynamic options.

Its environmentally conscious approach is shared by Les Garrigues in Norwich, on St John Maddermarket, an authentic French food and wine shop with vats of vino and refillable bottles.

Many of its products are sourced from the French region that Damien Cabinis calls home.

Just around the corner is The Wallow, a wine bar which opened just eight months ago and operates a vending machine inspired approach – top up a card, choose your wine and push the button.

Its no-frills marketing approach – word of mouth – has served it well, with its unique concept appealing to larger parties and wine connoisseurs alike.

Meanwhile, wine shop Harper Wells opened its second branch in the city last month, complete with a tasting room and cellar for customers' collections.

Also in July, a wine-tasting event inspired by fantasy series Game of Thrones was held at Norwich Cathedral, with similar events inspired by the Harry Potter books and films in the works.

County has successful vineyards to boast of

Traditionally, England's unhelpfully cold climate has put it on the back foot as a wine producer, but warmer summers in recent years has spurred the industry on.

But while the UK is a major consumer of wine, it remains a minor producer, with English and Welsh wine sales accounting for just 1pc of the domestic market.

Here in Norfolk, there are a handful of vineyards in operation, including the award-winning Humbleyard in Mulbarton, which has about 10,000 vines on its eight acres.

Oliver Berney, from the vineyard, said that much of the work was done by hand.

'There's lots of romantic images of growing grapes and it's certainly a lovely place to spend time,' he said. 'But it's also very labour intensive.

'Unlike other areas we don't get the high yields, which makes mechanised work, to pick the grapes and deleaf

the vines, hard to justify. Instead, it requires lots of hard work.'

He said the vineyard could expect two to three tons of grapes per acre, a low figure compared to the eight to 10 which wineries in warmer climates are used to.

But he said the south-facing slopes of Humbleyard had proved fruitful for growth for years, with its positioning keeping it warm, well drained and largely protected from frost.