Here its brand manager and organiser Jo Smith tells James Viner all about this exciting event which will bring together a number of local vineyards to toast their success…
You’re the brand ambassador for Wine Garden of England. How did you get involved in promoting local wineries?
I’d worked in the wine industry in the 90s on the London Wine Trade Fair and after a couple of decades doing various other jobs I returned to it in 2018. By then I realised how far English, and particularly Kentish wine, had come. I took some in-depth exams and started organising events for Kent wine producers to meet their local customers. All was going well until Covid put a stop to it, so I started interviewing our local wine producers and talking about Kent wine on BBC Radio Kent. I started to become known as a ‘useful person’ amongst Kent wine producers, so when the job at Wine Garden of England (WGE) came up I was approached to apply.
Wine Garden of England is made up of eight different vineyards – what do you love most about working with them all?
My favourite thing about this job is bringing this diverse group of passionate wine producers together to create a cohesive team working towards various goals. It’s great to see the generosity everyone has in sharing ideas, time and support.
Why is it such an exciting time for English wine right now?
England is widely recognised by the trade as the world’s most interesting up and coming wine region, and Kent is at the forefront of it, due to the favourable growing conditions. We are warmer and drier than anywhere else, and our soil is either exactly the same as that of Champagne, or a mix of Tunbridge Wells greensand. Both are fantastic for growing grapes. Our wines generally have a racy acidity which makes your mouth water, goes excellently with food, and tastes super fresh. The long ripening season means that there are layers of complex flavours that you don’t always see in hotter climates.
So what prompted the Wine Garden of England collective to put on the Summer Festival on May 29 at the iconic Squerryes Court?
The WGE Summer Festival is our opportunity to show off! Seven of our eight producers will be there to offer lots of tastes of their sparkling and still wines, paired with a selection of cheese and charcuterie from Kent. One of our producers isn’t ready to show their wine as they only planted in 2017, and it takes years to bring a sparkling wine to market. We are all really excited to be hosted by the Warde family at their ancestral home, Squerryes Court.
Why did you choose to host the first Wine Garden of England at this particular location?
Squerryes is one of the wine producers in our membership, so it makes sense for our first event to effectively be ‘at home’. Squerryes Court (right) used to be open to the public but is now just a family home. It’s rare for the gates to be open now and the gardens are exquisite. It’s the perfect place to enjoy award winning Kentish wine, local food, live music and great company.
“England is widely recognised by the trade as the world’s most interesting up and coming wine region, and Kent is at the forefront of it”
Can you talk us through the running order for the day?
The Festival will be at Squerryes Court in Westerham from 11:30 on Sunday May 29. Each guest will receive a free glass to take home, and during the event they can use it to taste lots of wine! Seven of the top Kent wine producers will be giving guests tastes of their award-winning sparkling and still wines, and answering questions about their estates. There is a bar serving the wines, but also cider and soft drinks. Our Kent food producers include Cheesemakers of Canterbury, North Charcuterie, Simply Ice Cream and Goupie Chocolate. We also have Corban Coffee. There’s live jazz playing all afternoon and we’ve got wine writer and TV presenter Aleesha Hansel meeting all the producers and filming some exciting food pairings. There’s a workshop for people who want to know more about the Anglo French alliance with Champagne Taittinger.
How important is tourism to the Kentish wine trade?
English wine producers need visitors. If you visit a vineyard, you learn about what goes into the production of the wine, who’s behind it, and what it tastes like and why. It’s such a wonderful experience, and people become lifelong ambassadors for those producers. It’s considered to be a very important part of the growth of our industry.
Tunbridge Wells has a thriving hospitality scene. Do you have any partners who champion drinks from WGE members?
Geography Wine Bar in the High Street works closely with us. Fleur and Aubrey have always been keen to get to get to know their local vineyards and their wine list reflects their research. They always have a resident wine from WGE featured, and if possible, they run an event with the winemaker too. Macknade on the first floor of Hoopers has an extensive selection of wines from Kent. All of the WGE wines are featured on their shelves, and they often run tasting events to introduce the wines to customers.
English wines are usually more expensive than their counterparts in Europe. Do you feel this is justified?
Prices generally reflect quality and scarcity. Due to our marginal climate, the production of wine here is still tiny compared to Europe because our yield is as low as one bottle per vine. In the south of France it is four times that. With low production comes hand harvesting and complex, high quality fruit. For me, the price is entirely justified but I do understand that without the experience of tasting the wine and getting to know the vineyard that has produced it, a £5 bottle of Prosecco may seem like a better deal. Happily, the trend to drink less and focus on the quality is pointing consumers to try wines produced on their doorstep.
What is your top tipple for drinking this summer?
Rosé is so popular in the warm weather, and many people love the Provencal style. But let me encourage you to try a Kentish still Rosé – you’ll be bowled over by its aromas of ripe strawberries and lively acidity that gives it a mouthwatering freshness that I don’t find in French rosés. Try Simpsons Railway Hill Rosé, Chapel Down’s Discovery Series Rosé or Balfour’s Nanette’s Rosé.
What’s next on the agenda for the Wine Garden of England?
We won’t be resting after the Festival! There’s English Wine Week on June 18-26, so look out for lots of events run by all our Kent vineyards during that week, including the Canterbury Wine Festival on June 25. We’ll be at the Wine Weekend in Maidstone on July 16, Broadstairs Food and Drink Festival at the end of September, and Rochester Festival at the end of October. Follow us on Instagram or subscribe to our email updates to keep up with us.
The Wine Garden of England is a collection of Kent Vineyards that welcome visitors. It is made up of the following wineries:
Balfour Winery at Hush Heath Estate
Staplehurst, TN12 0HT
The Rural Masterpiece: Stroll through immaculate vines, immerse yourself in the Balfour art collection, and relax in the restaurant with stunning views. Guided tours range from a couple of hours to full days of eating and drinking.
Biddenden, TN27 8DF
The Family Vineyard: Take a self-guided tour around Kent’s oldest vineyard, choose a wine flight from a huge range of white, red, rosé and sparkling wines and experience the bustle of a working vineyard.
Smallhythe, Tenterden, TN30 7NG
The British Icon: England’s largest wine producer has a stunning range of award-winning wines for you to try, and a fascinating wine tour through their vineyards and winery. You can also eat at the acclaimed Swan Restaurant.
Appledore, TN26 2BE
The Luxury Escape: Take a buggy tour through the slopes that give you breathtaking views out to sea on a clear day. You can have a delicious picnic and bottle of vintage sparkling wine among the vines. A real treat.
Simpsons Wine Estate
Barham, CT4 6PB
The Contemporary Boutique: Take a sunset tour around the beautiful vineyards, then back to the uber cool tasting room overlooking the winery to sample award winning still and sparkling wines.
Westerham, TN16 1QP
The Ancestral Estate: Find out more about the history of the estate and the motto, “It is permitted to be joyful…” You’ll certainly feel the joy as you sip their Blanc de Blancs on the Terrace enjoying perfectly paired seafood.
Westwell Wine Estate
Ashford, TN27 0BW
The Indie Label: An exciting, experimental, down to earth winery run by creative music industry veterans. Tour the vines, taste wine from tank, and marvel at the art that is woven through everything they do.