A world of wine in Essex

PUBLISHED: 15:19 03 February 2016 | UPDATED: 15:19 03 February 2016

Brian Wilks

Brian Wilks


The world of wine is constantly changing, but here in Essex you will find all you need to get the most from your wines, including some excellent Essex-made wine. Stephanie Mackentyre meets local experts working with wine

How much do we really know about the wines we drink? Whatever your level of expertise, back track just a few years and very few of us would have been giving English wines a second glance. Today things are different. English wines have begun to win a glowing reputation on the international stage and, here in Essex, there are all sorts of ways to bring the best wines to your dining table and to discover the wines that work best for you when you are out and about.

Dedham Vale Vineyard was originally established by international wine judge Mary Mudd in 1990 and has become a centre of excellence for wine and beverage production. It’s now run by Ben Bunting and his son, Tom. Together they produce four still wines, a sparkling rose and an award-winning sparkling white wine, the last two being produced by the Methode Champenoise.

The 40-acre estate nestles in a swathe of outstandingly attractive countryside near Boxted and this month the team are busy pruning the vines and bottling their latest wine, the fruit for which was harvested last October taking five months to come to fruition.

And if you’re planning to grow your own, note the pruning is critical to getting a good yield. ‘We prune once a year, but it takes three months to prune the eight acres here and then we have another 11 acres of vines at Mersea,’ says Ben. ‘We are also planting another 12 acres of vines at Ardleigh. During the wine making, sterilising of bottles and equipment is key.

‘I always say wine making is 10% wine making and 90% cleaning. If anything comes in contact with the wine it must be thoroughly steamed and sterilised. It’s essential really.’

Ben explains that another crucial stage is during the fermentation process. ‘When we’ve added yeast its important that we keep the tanks as cool as we can, as a lot of heat is generated. If the tanks get too hot, you can lose a lot of flavour from the wine. We have cold water dripping over the tanks at all times.’

Ben and Tom BuntingBen and Tom Bunting

Ben has a couple of tips for home brewers too. ‘If wine making at home, you need to press the juice as soon as you’ve picked it. Even leaving the fruit overnight it can go vinegary as the fermentation starts immediately. Also, if using demijohns, watch the amount of sugar added as too much creates too much pressure and you’ll find it explodes in your airing cupboard!’

The vineyard is open to visitors from Good Friday, with a busy schedule of events planned for the year. ‘We have an Easter egg hunt, then tours and tastings throughout the year with our annual cider and wine festival over the August bank holiday.’

Once the wine is bottled, it needs to be distributed and Brian Wilks from Wilks Wines in Braintree has been doing just that for more than 20 years. He originally came into the business after taking a temporary job at a local wine shop.

‘I found straight away that I really enjoyed serving customers,’ explains Brian, who stayed with the company and found he was getting more and more involved. ‘Tasting after work and London-based courses proved enlightening and it was fascinating to be taught to differentiate between the many styles of wine and their origins. I eventually worked for a company which sold out, but my existing trade customers asked me to start my own business.’

He did just that and today he’s still serving many of those original customers, who remain loyal due to his high levels of service.

‘I think honesty and integrity is paramount. Good customers are inundated with calls from wine merchants with a hundred and one reasons to change, and that’s part of the business. However, my customers appreciate the quality and competitive pricing coupled with personal service they receive.’

Jane MohanJane Mohan

So what’s one of the most exciting wines Brian can recommend for 2016?

‘I have just started importing a cracking Provence rosé, from a property not far from Saint Tropez, which should prove a winner.’

Among the local retailers bringing wines to the public is The Wine Company, which has been in existence as Lay and Wheeler since 1854. Mark Cronshaw has been with the company since 1998, joining them full time in 2004. He began working in the wine shop as assistant manager and set up the company’s distance selling arm, sending wine across the UK for home delivery. In 2009, Lay and Wheeler was sold and The Wine Company was born, firstly in Gosbecks in Colchester before, 18 months ago, it moved to Langham expanding to three premises.

‘We sell unique wines from smaller producers and we are often the only place you can buy that wine from. A must-have for a dinner party in 2016 depends on your budget, but away from the classic regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy is Voignier. It offers a more opulent white wine which is less crisp and dry, and more rounded and fruitier. It’s very good value as well. A red wine to look out for is wine using the appassimento method, where you dry the grapes in the sun, so look out for Italian wines like Millefiori, which is quite fruity without that tanic acidity you’d normally associate with Italian wines.’

If you’d like to buy a really good Champagne for Valentine’s Day, Mark’s tip is to not be drawn to the big brands as they are not necessarily any better than some of the unknown Champagne houses. Look out for ‘growers Champagne’ where they grow the grapes and make the Champagne themselves.

If this has left you wanting to learn more about wine, help is at hand at the West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall. Not only do the team here teach you how to appreciate wine, but they also grow their own grapes to produce wine too.

Owner Jane Mohan tells us more: ‘People come to West Street Vineyard to learn about wine because of the fabulous setting amongst the vines. A great wine, whether it is from Burgundy, Mendoza or Essex, is derived from fabulous fruit, and that all happens here in the vineyard.’

Visitors can take part in an extensive list of workshops which begin at 11am and conclude at 4pm and include a two-course luncheon and the chance to sample more than a dozen wines.

‘Our wine workshops run throughout the year and they are aimed at anyone from the complete beginner to the connoisseur. Everyone who comes along learns something, enjoys the wines and has fun. The best way to learn about wine is in the drinking and by the end of the day guests have learned enough to know what kind of wines they like and why, and have the confidence to be more experimental.’

One of the things which surprises Jane is how much apprehension there is with wine. ‘I believe the apprehension is because there is so much unnecessary pretension in wine. My guests all leave with more confidence. We all have a different palate, we all like different things and difference is a good thing.

‘If you are not sure about the wines when you’re dining out and there is a sommelier, trust their years of knowledge. They will know and understand their wine list because they have chosen the wines and know what will work really well with the food. Don’t feel you have to have a red wine with red meat. Some wines do go better with certain foods, but if you feel like a crisp, refreshing white, then choose one. It is more important that you choose the wines you like than to go with convention.’

Get the taste

Dedham Vale Vineyard

Green Lane, Boxted, Colchester, C04 5TS, 01206 271 136, www.dedhamvalevineyard.com

Wilks Wines

School Road, Rayne, Braintree, CM77 6SP, 01376 325541, www.wilkswines.com

The Wine Company

Park Lane Business Centre, Park Lane, Langham, Colchester, CO4 5WR, www.thewinecompany.co.uk

The West Street Vineyard & Visitor Centre

West Street Wine Barn, West Street, Coggeshall, CO6 1NB, 01376 563303, www.weststreetvineyard.co.uk

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