History of Sedlescombe
As the UK's oldest organic vineyard, Sedlescombe, established in 1979, naturally has a rich heritage. The vineyard was established from Owner and Winemaker Roy Cook's dream of self sufficiency and continues with these conservationist principles today.
“The idea to plant vines in our field at Sedlescombe originated in the days of the “Good Life” and our attempt to be self-sufficient. In Spring 1978, not content with just growing organic vegetables, we bought a grapevine to grow in our little polytunnel along with other vegetables. Along with the vine we purchased a little booklet called “Growing Vines Outdoors in England.” It was here that I learned that there were already a few vineyards in England and, more significantly, that the site we owned had the right characteristics-south facing, correct soil type, appropriate height above sea level, etc to suit vines. Furthermore, we also had an area of chestnut wood-ideal for vineyard posts-and several rolls of galvanized wire left behind by the previous owner were found in an old shed.
We did briefly consider growing tomatoes under poly-tunnels but that idea did not fire our imagination in the way that the prospect of growing vines did. In those days with lots of free time and very little capital there were no funds to buy vines so I offered to help prune at a nearby vineyard in return for the prunings that were cut off the vines. These were then gathered up bundled into the boot of my old Morris Minor, taken back to my home in the caravan, cut up into lengths about a foot long, and planted into the garden. These 2000 rooted cuttings were then transplanted into the field in Spring 1979. The 1,000 Reichensteiner vines (below) are still there today.”
Roy Cook - Owner and Winemaker
Sedlescombe's first harvest was in 1982 back when it was called Pine Ridge. The wine (below) was made at another local vineyard and the 300 bottles returned to us in 1983.
In June 1983, Irma and Roy, who had been working in Germany since November 1979, moved back to Sedlescombe to sell the wine and look after the vineyard. 1983 was a good year for English Vineyards and Roy, who had learned German whilst in Germany, saw an old press advertised in the German Wine Grower’s magazine, which he purchased for scrap value ₤70 and which was used to press the grapes from 1983 up to 1991. This fine example of a “basket” press (below) still stands today in the Bar-In-The-Barn, an area which used to be the winery.
In 1984 Roy and Irma also took over a small vineyard in Broad Oak planted with Muller-Thurgau which was completely over-grown having had no attention for several years, and brought it back into production for several years until, in about 1994, it was destroyed when it was accidentally sprayed with hormone weed-killer by a local contractor who was spraying the surrounding fields against thistles. Shortly after this a further 4 ½ acres were planted at Sedlescombe mostly using Muller-Thurgau cuttings from the Broad Oak vineyard as well as Ortega cuttings from a second outlying vineyard near Burwash.
The earliest recognition of the wines came in June 1987 when Master of Wine Jancis Robinson wrote an article in the London Evening Standard describing Sedlescombe wines as, “Some of the most delicious English wines I have ever tasted.”
By 1987 with the 7 acres of vines which Roy and Irma owned and a further 3 acres of rented vines, the Cooks applied for and obtained planning permission to build a self-build house (below) on site and could at last move out of their caravan into their new home. The Do-It-yourself low-energy house which was featured on TV when it was built back in 1987. This Walter Segal inspired timber-framed house was built in just 3 weeks during a training session run by Constructive Individuals Ltd for students learning about Self Build.
In 1990 the vineyard featured in an article about organics in the Times with a photo which included their new 9 month old son Alexander. In 1994 the Cooks began renting the 6 acre vineyard behind Bodiam Castle (below) and converting it to organic techniques, and changing the trellis system to the ‘Sedlescombe Special’, a unique system which Roy developed following his attendance at a course given by Richard Smart, the world’s leading expert on canopy management, and author of the book “Sunlight into Wine.”
Sedlescombe produced the first organic English sparkling wine (below) from their 1990 vintage, the first organic English red wine in 1994 and following their conversion to biodynamic methods the first Demeter certified English wine in December 2010 with their First Release. Roy was featured in the Telegraph in their ‘Eco-hero’ series in 2008.
In 1999 the Cooks purchased the south-facing field to the north which was planted with 4000 Regent vines between 2000 and 2002 and given the name Millennium Vineyard.
In 2000 His Royal Highness Prince Charles tasted our wines
Since 2000 the focus had been on planting disease resistant vine varieties so as to minimize losses to mildew disease and to minimize the need to spray copper and sulphur. To this end 750 Johanniter vines were planted in Vineyard 1 in 2005 and 1300 more Regent in Vineyard 2 in 2005 as well as 800 Rondo in Vineyard 2 in 2013.
The press had changed over the years too, with the current 2,500 state of the art Willmes membrane press (below) being installed near the end of the 2006 harvest 48 hours after the Howard Rotapress which had been in use since 1991 broke down.
In 2011 Sedlescombe represented England at one of the world's largest Wine Shows when they were invited by Tunbridge Wells Twinning Association to take the guest-stand at the 'Wiesbaden Wine Week' in Germany (below) . Set in the center of the city of Wiesbaden the show has 4 music stages and 100 Wine stands and runs daily for 10 days from 11am until 11pm attracting half a million visitors annually. The Cooks have also shown Sedlescombe wines at the European Organic Bread Cheese and Wine Fair in Alsace, France and at 'Biofach', the Organic Trade Show held in Nurembourg, Germany.