Friday 11 June 2021 12:16 pm

How Kent came of age as a top wine-producing region

It’s all happening in Kent. Ahead of National English Wine week, a well-established Kent winemaker has announced the release of its latest wine and, in the same county, another vineyard has launched its first bottles.

Balfour Winery has launched its first Blanc de Noirs using Pinot Noir and Meunier from the excellent 2018 vintage and Yotes Court has released its Bacchus called On The Nod and On The Bridle as well as its Pinot Blanc named Hands & Heels and a Pinot Meunier called Best Turned Out.

Balfour’s new sparkling wine has been created by the father and son winemaking team Owen and Fergus Elias, using grapes from sites in the heart of the Weald of Kent. The signature style of all Balfour’s vintage wines means it has not undergone malolactic fermentation. The Kentish cuvée contains 75 per cent Pinot Noir with 25 per cent Meunier, all grown on a combination of rich clay and Kentish ragstone, which is a hard limestone exclusive to the county.

Foxridge vineyard, located at the highest point of the estate above Hush Heath Manor is considered to be the cornerstone of the Blanc de Noirs 2018. It produces ripe Pinots for Luke’s Pinot Noir and  Suitcase Pinot Noir. “We had to wait a long time until conditions were right to perfect a Blancs de Noirs blend,” says Owen. “In 2018 that chance arrived. The weather was hot and sunny from spring to harvest, the quantity was unheard of, and the quality superb. That was the year that English wine came of age – and our Balfour Blanc de Noirs with it.”

The sparkling wine will be disgorged in 500 bottle batches, and retails for £35.

Yotes Court vineyard in Mereworth is one of the first British producers to formally achieve recognition for its sustainable credentials, receiving the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain (SWGB) certification. Vineyard Manager Tony Purdie joined in 2016 from Hawkes Bay vineyard in New Zealand. “The ground at Yotes Court provides exceptional growing conditions for our different varieties of grape; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Divico and Bacchus,” says Purdie. “The slope is perfectly orientated slightly east of due south with a free draining, fine clay loam and a high ratio of broken Kentish ragstone. 

Yotes Court grow and harvest grapes on the vineyard with minimal intervention. Every bunch is hand-harvested and minimally processed in highly energy-efficient facilities in two locations, one just a mile from the vineyard and the other in Defined Wines in Canterbury.

Yotes Court Vineyard’s owner Susannah Ricci established the vineyard in 2016 and has been growing grapes for award-winning Chapel Down wines since 2016. Master wine maker Stephen Skelton said after the planting of the vineyards in old orchards on Ricci’s farmland “This is the best site I have ever planted, and that’s from well over 100 sites in the UK”. 

Yotes Court has released four debut vegan-friendly English wines under its own label. Susannah has a love of horse racing and the branding of the wines is based on her pink and green silks. 

“On The Bridle is a racing term referring to a horse that appears to win easily but underlying this is its natural talent and a significant amount of hard work,” she explains. 

“On The Nod describes a horse winning in a close, exciting finish – just like this Bacchus on the palette. Hands and  Heels refers to the way a jockey is able to ride a horse to win a race in what looks like a very easy way with minimal intervention. Our Best Turned Out is well-presented and eye-catching.” 

The English wine industry has truly got the bit between its teeth.