You’d be forgiven for thinking the hospitality business is fickle and precarious. You’d be right, of course. And Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress to anyone who relies on sourcing and serving fresh produce. But that all pales into insignificance when you look closely at the incredibly risky nature of wine making – especially in the UK.
It’s hard to think that the life of a winemaker is anything but idyllic when you visit one of England’s top boutique vineyards, as the SRA team was lucky enough to do this week on the sunniest and hottest day of the year. But it soon became clear that all was not 100% rosy (or should that be rosé) as proprietor Bridget Gladwin explained on our tour of the 26-acre vineyard where seven grape varieties are grown: Bacchus, Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner, Schonburger, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. Vines were first planted at Nutbourne in 1980 in this stunning, south facing picture postcard corner of Sussex in the shadow of the South Downs with its green sandstone soil.
Yes, this year’s very wet spring and late appearance of the sun means that, along with the neighbouring producers, volumes will be down on the 30,000 bottles of recent years.
What that shouldn’t do, barring any more meteorological calamities between now and harvest in October, is affect the quality of the Nutbourne wines. Even the taste buds of the least educated amongst our team could make out the unique floral flavours, of the Bacchus in particular – defined by the terroir.
Bridget runs a very tight ship at Nutbourne, taking on responsibility for a huge amount of the work herself, tending to the vines, training, trimming and nurturing them. The landscape is also carefully looked after with areas preserved as a habitat for wild flowers, insects and wildlife – to balance the cultivation.Bridget’s artwork also appears on the labels. Her very small staff is of course bulked out at harvest time when a team 20 pickers moves in.
But this really is a family affair. Bridget and husband Peter, who has been running caterer Party Ingredients for many years, moved to Nutbourne in 1991 with three young sons. Twenty five years later and those three boys have grown up into Richard, Oliver and Gregory, proprietors of The Shed and Rabbit restaurants in west London. There’s a third restaurant opening next month in south London – named – Nutbourne. You can guess where much of the wine on the menus of all three comes from. And with Gregory running a thriving farm nextdoor too, there’s a plentiful supply of lovingly produced food.
As Bridget says, whatever the weather throws their way, Nutbourne has always produced a crop and it’s always tasted good – evidenced by the Gold Award bestowed on both the Sussex Reserve and Nutty Brut by the International Wine and Spirit Competition.
And in October, guests at a dinner at Raymond Blanc’s Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for Harden’s readers, organised in partnership with the SRA, will enjoy a sparkling reception, thanks to Nutbourne.