Get ready for something seriously tasty to tickle your tastebuds. Over 18,000 wines were blind-tasted at the largest, most renowned wine competition internationally, The Decanter Awards. The Judges then allocated the select few winners Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum medals, but this is not the pinnacle. Get ready to feel patriotic.
Of those 18,000 wines, only 50 from all over the world receive the coveted ‘Best In Show’ and this year one of those 50 was an English wine.
Some may be surprised that any English wine made it if you consider the global reputation of British wine only a few years ago, but that has all changed and I hightailed it to Kent to taste this newest ‘nectar of the Gods’, the 2011 Brut by Squerryes.
Squerryes is the 9th generational family home of Henry Warde, who shows me a painting hanging in The Cork Room from when his family bought the estate in 1731. This private events space and dining room, seating up to 20, is tastefully full of family memorabilia including his grandmother’s wartime helmet, the butler’s cellar book from the 1900s, historic naval telescopes and a vintage collection of Punches. Family is obviously important here, a cornerstone of the vineyard which displays the family motto “Licet Ecce Beatis” or “It Is Permitted To Be Joyful”.
“We have joy in our blood” says Warde “We have been creating joy for 300 years and now we are bottling it and people get to take it home with them”. I point out that as family mottos go it seems pretty uniquely easy-going, historic mottos tending to be more along the lines of “We will bludgeon you to death if you look at us funny” or “We have pots of cash”.
Certainly, despite winning many, Squerryes does seem to be more about collaboration than competition. Warde talks about the other local vineyards with real affection as an alliance and the ‘Wine Garden of England’ naming Biddenden, Hush Heath, Simpson, Chapel Down, Gusbourne and Domaine Evremond, the latter marking the first time a Champagne house (Taittinger) has invested in the UK. “It’s a lot of fun as we all get along so well” he adds.
The family seat may have been here for 300 years, but winemaking only began in 2004 when a visiting champagne house was so impressed by the terroir and climate, they wanted to buy some of the land. John Warde, Henry’s father, and Henry decided to instead plant the vines themselves in 2006.
It was a visit to Napa Valley that inspired Squerryes to become not just a vineyard but a visitor-focused event in itself and create a shared goal of wine tourism with the local wineries of the area. “I was greatly impressed by Napa” says Warde “and what they did so brilliantly was the boutique hotel and restaurant experience. It was about quality for the customer, and we wanted to emulate that here. We started with a tasting room but discovered us Brits like food, so quickly realised we needed a provide a dining experience”.
Now guests can book a table and tasting flight on the terrace overlooking the vines or at the luxurious Bottle Store restaurant presided over by Chef Alexander Baillieu who creates seasonal menus highlighting the best of the region, especially the sensational seafood from the coastal waters nearby. The restaurant’s wine list also deserves a mention being not only presided over by Laura Evans MW, one of only 416 Masters of Wine in the world, but also generously showcasing other English wines from the area.
Squerryes only create vintage sparkling wines, which Warde admits is “purely self-indulgent” because what he loves most is to see how the vintages develop over time, to get to know them and their personalities. He talks about all of the wines as if they are members of his own family. Squerryes has not ruled out creating non-vintage wines in the future but “right now it is really exciting to see how our wine and terroir develop. Wines are like children, even trouble-makers may come good in the end”.
Many of them are indeed “coming good” with Squerryes winning a multitude of awards in recent years. Being named ‘Best In Show’ at the largest international competition is incredibly important “from a consumer perspective because Decanter is so well recognised. It is one of the few awards we enter because it has that global reputation” says Warde.
I ask if Warde has a favourite wine and again, he brings it back to family remarking with a smile that that is like choosing between one’s children. “It genuinely comes down to the occasion, if I am on the terrace in the sunshine with my mates then it would be the Rosé, if we are having a canapé party then the Brut, if I were to share a bottle with my wife Claire then it would be her favourite, our Blanc de Blanc. The 2014 was the International Wine Challenge champion for English Sparkling wine so “it is too good to share too widely”.
There is an easy elegance to the wine estate and wine itself, passed down through its years of history but what of the future? “I’m doing this for my children and grandchildren” says Warde before telling me about the new range they are bringing out, trademarked “Patience” partly as a nod to the original Squerryes Estate ancestor Sir Patience Ward and partly because “Patience is about family and patience is about waiting. There is a joy in patience. The best we can do as a winemaker is wait”.
The Brut 2011, with its late disgorgement and extended lees aging is a richly luxurious treat. All baked apples, honeyed pears and freshly baked almond croissant, it is beautifully balanced by its effervescent, fine bubbles, light minerality and long refined finish.
“Joy is really important to us. When thinking about wine as an experience here, the first thing we ask is ‘is it going to bring joy?’ As a wine we are competing with champagne, but we are also creating an experience. We want you to feel like this is a holiday”.
Sipping on this internationally renowned bottle while lunching on lobster linguine and locally line-caught sea bass, I cast my eye from the table across the rows of green vines and blue skies and absolutely feel part of the spirit of Squerryes. Just over an hour’s easy drive from London, it is indeed “Permitted To Be Joyful”.
Libby Zietsman-Brodie is the Founder of Bacchus & Brodie, an independent wine consultant and co-creator and presenter of Boozy & The Beast: How To Drink Better – an irreverent series on wine, without the snobbery. Instagram: @a_little_sip_of_me_time @no.9supperclub