Looking forward to a vine time…

The third Wine Garden of England Summer Festival takes place on Saturday June 8, with seven wineries participating in a day of tasting and talks. The collective’s brand manager, event organiser and Tunbridge Wells resident, Jo Ginn, tells SO what’s happening at this year’s festival, which will be held at the stunning Jacobean manor house, Chilham Castle…

You’ve probably noticed that English wine is becoming more popular – our sparkling wine is reportedly better than some Champagne, if international awards are anything to go by. If you remember avidly watching Fame when it was a TV series, you may also remember when English wine was truly awful – and you’d probably be reaching for your Nottage Hill oaked Chardonnay to take the taste away.

But why has English wine come so far in the last few years? Jo Ginn, from Wine Garden of England explains: “It’s a combination of climate change, soil and know-how. As the planet has warmed up, the areas where it is possible to ripen the grapes we need for sparkling wine have moved further north, so now Champagne is considered to be too hot, and the South of England is the perfect place.

“We also have some great chalky soil and limestone in the South East, which the vines thrive upon. Winemakers are learning their craft at Plumpton College near Brighton, which is considered the best English-speaking wine university in Europe,” adds Jo.

According to wine connoisseurs, England is the most exciting wine region in the world right now, and guess where most of the vineyards are located? That’s right, our very own county of Kent – the Garden of England.

“We enjoy the most sunshine hours here than any other part of the country, and that’s why we’ve traditionally been the place to grow produce,” explains Jo.

“Vineyards are starting to take over the landscape, and it’s no surprise that some of the leading English vineyards such as Chapel Down and Gusbourne have made their home here. We even have Champagne houses buying up land to make English sparkling wine – keep an eye out for Domaine Evremond, an Anglo-French alliance with Champagne Taittinger.

To foster communications between each one of these impressive vineyards Jo had the clever idea of setting up an organisation – The Wine Garden of England – a few years ago in order to help encourage joined-up thinking between each one.

“The Wine Garden of England is a group of Kent wine producers who work together to encourage visitors to their estates,” says Jo.

“Wine tourism, as it is known, is growing as fast as our well-watered vines. You no longer have to travel to Europe or California to see some great vineyards thanks to the abundance of high-quality ones we have here in Kent. The best way to sample any of their wine is to visit the vineyards, meet the people behind the label and wander through the vines that produced the wine in your glass.”

One of the ways the general public can do this is courtesy of the annual Wine Garden of England’s Summer Festival, the third of which returns in June.

“Our Summer Celebration is an annual tasting that brings these Kent producers together. This year it’s around the lake in the beautiful grounds of Chilham Castle, walking distance from Chilham Station.

She adds that ticket holders can taste a sample from each of the eight producers and spend time with the people behind the labels.

“There’s also a bar with a huge selection of wines and other local drinks, together with a choice of food producers carefully selected from Kent and Sussex. As the sun goes down, the chilled out live music will start, and the party continues. Why not raise a glass and be part of it, too?”

Tickets for the event can be bought at: winegardenofengland.co.uk

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