Yes, you read that right. In southern England we now have quite a lot of vineyards, and on our revised Devon bike tour we cycle past three of them. We visit two of them, so I thought it would be appropriate to introduce them to you.
1. Pebblebed Vineyards
Devon is a long way North to be making wine, so those in the know will already have worked out that Pebblebed concentrate on dry white wines, rosé, and sparkling wines (in this case a sparkling rosé).
The white wine is made from Madeleine Angevine grapes, which you will find in the Loire, and also at Sharpham vineyard (see below). I really like this grape, and this wine. It’s simple, and it does what it’s supposed to – very dry, with plenty of fruit. It’s just simple, refreshing, and delicious.
Sometimes British vineyards try too hard to emulate some of the wines and techniques of France and Germany, with different varieties, oaking, etc. But what they do best are the dry whites like the Madeleine Angevine. They’re always expensive compared to a comparable wine from Australia, New Zealand or France because yields are lower and there is more work involved. But they are genuinely good – some of you will have the chance to try these wines on our Devon tour, and you’ll be impressed.
Their rosé wines, the flagship vintage of Pebblebeds, have won in a contest against Loire Valley rosés. Their photo gallery is quite interesting – it just looks fun and makes you want to get involved.
This is a well-known and established vineyard overlooking the river Dart in south Devon, but they also make cheeses, and I can personally vouch that these are delicious.
Sharpham have been at it longer than Pebblebeds (25 years) and they’ve expanded into red wines, including a pinot noir, which you might expect in this Northern climate, but also a Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon blend. That’s a claret to you and me. How on earth do they do that in Devon?
The answer, I’m afraid, is that the grapes are grown under cloches. It makes the wine very expensive (£25 a bottle) and it seems to me it’s exactly what they shouldn’t do. It’s very clever, in fact it’s stunning to imagine that they can make a claret from wines grown as far North as Devon. But the ‘Sharpham Estate Selection’, which only costs about £10, is made from 100% Madeleine Angevine and needs no excuses. You don’t have to precede a tasting with ‘they’ve done a good job given the climate’, it’s just delicious. My favourite of all the Sharpham wines, and the best UK wine I’ve tasted. But I haven’t tasted that many, and I’m no special expert!
Here is a really interesting website about Sharpham that explains it all much better than me – worth a read.
There are other vineyards that we don’t visit. For example at Yearlestone, Devon’s oldest vineyard and just 15 miles north of Exeter. If you’re interested in the practicalities of which varieties will grow in Devon, how Devon compares with areas like thwe Moselle region of Germany, etc., Yearlestone’s website is the place to start.