On a bright August day I was lucky to be invited to visit one of the most exciting projects in English wine at the moment, Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines.
Ben was previously the head winemaker at the premium English wine producer Gusbourne, but had been looking for an opportunity to start his own venture. He found that opportunity in a beautiful farm in Peamarsh on the High Weald in East Sussex, just North of Rye. The farm ends at the bottom of the valley where the Tillingham river winds its way down to the channel, from which winery takes its name.
The winery is a work in progress with just three plots of vines planted (these will begin bearing wine quality fruit in 2020, all going to plan) and with several more fields to be converted and prepared for vines. These initial plots have been planted with a veritable smorgasbord of grape varieties, everything from Pineau d’aunis to Madeleine Angevine with plenty in between.
Until 2020 Ben will be buying grapes from producers throughout Southern England. Last year he bought 3 tonnes, this year he is planning to buy 5 tonnes. We were lucky enough to taste through his current wines, all of which were both delicious and unique. For me, the star of the show was his Quevri Artego. Made from the Ortega grape, the wine was fermented and matured with its skins in imported clay amphoras from Georgia ‘Quevri’. These quevri are buried in the ground under a 17th century oast house, where traditionally hops would have been dried and cured. The wine had a delightful fresh peach fruit characteristic with depth and texture, produced with no added sulphur and just 10.5% this is superb English natural wine.
After a tour around the winery and vineyards, we walked to a wooden platform Ben had constructed high on the edge of the valley looking over the vineyards. Here we had an alfresco lunch of fresh barbecued mackerel and lamb accompanied by his wines. This is a truly beautiful place and once the mini-hotel, restaurant and tasting room is constructed, you will certainly want a weekend visit!
The Tillingham Wines we stock (note – all wines are in very small quantities):
Tillingham Petillant Rosé – £19.99
This wine is a blend of Pinot Noir, Schonburger, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier sourced from local growers. This wine has a short maceration and spontaneous wild fermentation, 1/3 is aged in Burgundy barrels which were stirred on lees daily. The wine is bottled with some residual sugar, which results in a gentle petillance. 1291 bottles produced. Available here.
Tillingham Ortega – £21.00
The Ortega for this was sourced from local growers, the grapes were destemmed, and lightly crushed by foot, twice daily for five days before being pressed in small batches in a basket press. The wine then goes into 50/50 2 year old barrels and stainless steal vats. Bottled by gravity, wild ferment, no filtration and minimal sulphur added. 1085 bottles produced. Available here.