With English Wine Week around the corner we caught up with Ashdown Park Hotel ahead of our English Wine Tour & Dinner on 3rd June. Assistant winemaker, Collette O'Leary discusses what makes English wine so special and what to expect on one of Bluebell Vineyard Estates' tours.

What will be happening at Bluebell Vineyard during English Wine Week?

English Wine Week is a great showcase for the industry and Bluebell Vineyard Estates loves to get involved so we will be hosting free wine tastings at the vineyard during the week.  We’ve recently launched our new Barrel Aged Blanc de Blancs which is tasting absolutely delicious and we will be offering tastings of this limited release wine to our customers who visit us at the vineyard.

What are the biggest challenges involved in producing English wine?

The weather!  We have what is termed a ‘marginal climate’ which means it can be challenging to grow some grape varieties in England due to the comparatively cool temperatures and high rainfall.  However, being based in Sussex means we have amongst the highest temperatures in England, crucial for ripening the grapes, but also lower rainfall and moderate winds, all of which help provide the right conditions for growing grapes for sparkling wine production. 

How does English wine differ from wines from other countries?

England has quite a long growing season and harvest often starts around 7th October.  This longer season typically results in more fruit-forward styles of sparkling wines with a lively, zesty acidity. 

Have you noticed an increase in interest in English wines and vineyards over the last few years?

Absolutely - since we opened our tasting room two years ago we’ve seen visitor numbers increase month by month and there’s a real appetite among the British who want to explore wine and food producers on their doorstep.  We are very fortunate to be surrounded by some amazing hotels, pubs and restaurants with a real focus on producing food with provenance and are looking for English wines to match.  Getting English wines onto wine lists across the region has made a huge difference and we are very lucky to have such support.

What’s your favourite wine produced at the vineyard and what’s your favourite way to enjoy it?

It’s an old saying but the favourite wine has to be the one in my glass at the time!  But seriously, we have some really wonderful wines which all shine on different occasions.  Our Seyval Blanc is full of zesty apple and lemon sherbet notes and is perfect for drinking with friends on a hot summer day.  At the other end is our Late Disgorged Blanc de Blancs, which is rich, creamy and complex and perfect to eat with something indulgent, like lobster, on special occasions.

What can visitors to Bluebell Vineyard expect from a tour?

A very friendly greeting from our four yellow Labradors!  We are a family run vineyard and pride ourselves on making sure that visitors receive a very personal experience.  Our tours are fun, informal and informative and we take people through the whole grape growing and winemaking process in England as we do everything on site ourselves.  We visit the vineyard and winery before finishing with a tasting and make sure there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions. It’s a great opportunity to get behind some of the myth and mystique of the wine industry.

For information about more about the wine dinner and tour visit Ashdown Park Hotel  http://www.ashdownpark.com/english-wine-tour-and-dinner-jilly-goolden