Many wine aficionados may have missed it, but June witnessed a huge and important milestone in English winemaking when Sussex-based Sedlescombe vineyard unveiled the first sparkling wine and the first red wine to be produced on these shores under strict Biodynamic Agricultural Association (BDA) standards.
Sedlescombe’s owners – Roy Cook and his wife Irma – launched the two unique wines during English wine week, some two and a half years after they released the first accredited biodynamic white wine to be made in the UK. Sedlescombe is best known for being the UK’s top eco-friendly vineyard, producing up to 30,000 bottles of organic wine – red, white and sparkling – a year.
The vineyard is run to strict organic and biodynamic principles, which outlaw the use of pesticides, herbicides or other artificial inputs and seek to enhance the land through environmentally friendly cultivation techniques. This is in contrast to many conventional vineyards, which can use vast amounts of chemicals which some critics say are damaging to the environment (and potentially to people.)
‘Our approach is completely opposite to conventional chemical farming where they seek to dominate nature,’ says Roy. ‘We [attempt to] maximise the fertility of soil, land and the quality of the grapes. I don’t think the chemical approach is sustainable in the long term.’
The new sparkling white, a 2010 vintage Premier Brut, is made in traditional champagne style according to the producers, with ’60 per cent Seyval Blanc and 40 per cent Johanniter grapes grown at the home vineyard, and at the nearby vineyard at Bodiam Castle.’
The new red, a 2011 vintage Regent, is oak matured and hails from an ‘outstanding harvest’ that year at Sedlescombe’s Millennium vineyard.
Roy says: ‘I have no doubt that [the] decision to upgrade from organic to full biodynamic status in 2010 has added an extra quality to our wines and helped to define their unique “terroir”. We have been making sparkling wines since 1990, with very good results – but I am confident that the 2011 Brut is our best sparkler ever. The 2011 Regent is in my opinion as good as, and potentially even better than our award winning 2003 vintage.’
Biodynamic, according to Sedlescombe:
Biodynamics pre-dates organic farming by half a century and is based on a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920’s. This system of agriculture shuns chemical inputs in the same way that other organic farmers do. In addition it incorporates lunar and cosmic rhythms into the timing of the application of special biodynamic preparations designed to benefit both soil and plants.
In France some prestigious estates such as Chateau Margaux and Domaine de la Romainée-Conti are managed [in a] biodynamic [way] as are scores of other less well known wine estates. The system is currently enjoying something of a renaissance around the globe, especially among wine growers, as a number of formerly organic vineyards are upgrading to this ‘gold standard’ organic system.