Taste The Marches is a tasty blog written by Bee Costello about the food and drink of glorious Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
Here, Bee writes about her visit to the Sixteen Ridges Vineyard, near Ledbury, where Simon Day, the man behind Once Upon a Tree Cider, is busy becoming the King of English Pinot Noir.
When winemaker Simon Day moved to Herefordshire 12 years ago he bought a map of the county and put a dozen pins in to mark the spots he thought would make great vineyards.
The problem was he didn’t know anyone who wanted to make wine here so he embarked on a career in cider instead. Once Upon a Tree was born, awards soon started flowing and Day became somewhat of a British cider hero.
"A whole decade later I received a call out of the blue and I couldn’t believe it," recalls Day.
The owner of one of the pins on his map wanted to make wine and asked him if he would like to plant a vineyard with her. It was Cilla Clive of Haygrove Fruit Farms, who grow organic fruit for supermarkets, so they know a thing or two about planting and propagation.
After testing the soil, Day immediately knew the varieties that would thrive here and, with polytunnels also at his disposal to trial some warmer climate varietals, naturally Day jumped at the opportunity.
It couldn’t be better timing and Day couldn’t be a more perfect match. Here we have an innovative winemaker who has made classic wines around the world for high-profile vineyard names such as Brown Brothers, Yvon Mau, Denbies and Three Choirs.
But he’s also not afraid to experiment, and with ten different varieties being trialled under polytunnels we could see exciting varieties like English Viognier, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Solaris and Sauvignon Blanc in bottle before too long. Moscatis (a bit like Muscat) is looking like a hot favourite inside the polytunnel, too.
"One of my favourite grapes is Bacchus," says Day, whose passion for wine, soil types and vine grafting started while working with his late father in the family wine business.
Day is currently trialling two different grafting techniques for Bacchus, which thrives in open vineyards within the unique microclimate of Sixteen Ridges.
Pinot Noir grapes at the Sixteen Ridges vineyard in Herefordshire.
We walk uphill to a sheltered spot where Day has some very special Bacchus vines that seem to be enjoying a spot of sun in their high vineyard block. I find out this is hallowed ground in every sense of the word.
"Here we are in Bishop’s Vineyard," says Day.
"Records show that the Bishop of Hereford, Thomas de Cantilupe, ordered the replanting of these vineyards in 1276 so he could send pipes of wine (a pipe is how wine and port were historically transported around Europe) to the Pope in Rome."
Describing what makes Bishop’s Vineyard’s microclimate and soil so special, not just within Herefordshire but compared with global vineyards, Day says: "We’re situated slightly south east so we have good sunlight and prevention from prevailing winds.
"The soil is Hereford clay with underlying limestone, which is different to lower blocks where there is silurian mudstone.
"We also have good altitude here and I make reductive wine, which helps bring out the delicate flavours in Bacchus.
"Having worked in southern hemisphere vineyards I know they’re increasingly looking to plant higher up but we have it all here in Herefordshire," says Day.
"It could just be a degree or two warmer at times!"
The Sixteen Ridges vineyard, near Ledbury.
Located in Little Marcle, a hilly spot just outside Ledbury, Sixteen Ridges must be one of the prettiest vineyards in Britain.
With tremendous views of vineyards and fruit farms stretching for miles and historic hillside towns set into the distance you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the sleepy vineyards of France or Germany.
But this is glorious English wine territory, an increasingly common sight around Herefordshire as fruit and dairy farmers diversify into vines in order to meet the world’s increasing demand for English wine.
Sixteen Ridges may only have started selling wine in 2015 but most of its classic range of still and sparkling wines have already won awards. The vineyard is now set for expansion. It has 10 acres in production – including six in its vineyard in Shrawley, Worcestershire.
A further four acres were planted this year in Little Marcle and Day tells us we could see vines covering up to 30 acres at Sixteen Ridges within 10-20 years.
Plans are afoot for a new winery, which will have the capacity to produce up to three-quarters of a million bottles per year. What’s more there is great news for food and wine lovers - Sixteen Ridges has plans for a new visitor centre for tours and tastings of its award-winning wines.
So what of the wines? Currently there are four still wines available to buy plus two exceptionally good sparkling wines made in the traditional method. Signature Cuvée is a blend of Pinot
Noir and Seyval Blanc (£27), the other sparkling is Pinot Noir Rosé (£27.49) – both award winners.
Day released the first vintage of his beloved Bacchus (£13.50) last year to great acclaim.
The Pinot Noir Rose, Signature Curvee and Pinot Noir Early from Herefordshire's Sixteen Ridges vineyard.
If you’ve never tried this English grape then imagine the subtle herbaceous flavours of Sauvignon Blanc then add some gorgeous gooseberries and a hint of basil leaf. In its Latin/Greek translation, Bacchus means ‘God of Wine’. The wine that stood out for me was White Pinot Noir (£13.50).
A fresh, crisp wine with a subtle aroma of lemon peel. I had never tried this but I will again. It was also a favourite with sommeliers at the London Wine Fair this year.
What you may not know is that Day is a fantastic Pinot Noir winemaker – his skills are exceptional and leading many to believe that Herefordshire will become the Burgundy of England and become the finest place to grow Pinot Noir in the UK.
This is a delicate and difficult grape to grow and there aren’t many producers of Pinot Noir here.
Day proved that Pinot Noir was at its best in Herefordshire when he entered the very first vintage of Sixteen Ridges Pinot Noir Early (£15.50) into awards. It scooped Silver in the International Wine & Spirit Challenge 2016, Bronze in the Decanter World Wine Awards 2015 and was Commended in the International Wine Challenge 2016.
Pinot Noir Early dates back to the 15th century, has something to do with Frühburgunder from Germany and when it’s picked early the wine is light-bodied with more pronounced fruit and spicy aromas than Burgundy Pinot Noir.
Basically it’s delicious and if you brought Sixteen Ridges Pinot Noir to a dinner party you’d get an invite back.
This feature was originally published on Taste The Marches.
Head to www.tastethemarches.com for more.