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Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard & Biodynamic Wines

- Terroir in '1066 Country' 


A visit to Sussex these days isn’t complete without a vineyard tour.  Sedlescombe, though, is something special as the UK’s oldest organic vineyard.  Now it is also operated under biodynamic principles.

Head down to rural East Sussex, for your chance to meet one of the UK's true eco-pioneers. Not only the first Englishman to plant an organic vineyard, but as of late 2010, Roy and Irma Cook's vineyard at Sedlescombe is home to the UK's first biodynamic, natural wine vineyard. Natural, or Real wines have gained in popularity in recent years. These are wines that are fermented using wild yeasts and have minimum levels of sulphite preservative. The finest examples of these wines are those which are certified biodynamic, because that way you know that the grapes have been grown organically as well! Which is a far better situation than with wines which claim to be 'natural' or 'real' but have no independent certification to support their claim.

 The entrance from the road to the vineyard, a large graveled car park,  is no real indication of what you’ll find once you reach Roy Cook’s winery.  Perhaps because the tradition of wine making in England has only been revived in recent years, many of the wineries I’ve visited have been fitted with the latest equipment.  At best, the technology allows the wine maker to manage the unpredictabilities of English weather more easily.  At worst automation results in a loss of passion.  At Sedlescombe, the set-up is closer to a family run French or Italian winery and Roy’s obvious enthusiasm, though tempered with commercial sensibility, shines through.

Having inherited a plot of land, he was happily living ‘The Good Life’, growing organic vegetables and living in a caravan. The land was south facing and perfectly sited for growing vines and the soil just the right level of chalkiness.  Roy and his wife Irma,  set out to learn how to make the most of their ‘Terroir’ .  Roy told us that while organic was an obvious route, the move to biodynamic came more recently, in 2010, at the instigation of the previous vineyard manager.  I’ve always been a little mystified by the concept of biodynamic wine and was pleased to be given a no-nonsense explanation by Roy.

The mainstay of biodynamic cultivation is the use of two special preparations.  BD500 is a concoction of cow manure used to fill in cow horns that are buried in the soil for the winter.  It is supposed to kick start the soil micro-organisms.   BD501, is silica, again buried in the soil in cow horns, this time for the summer.  This is intended to improve photosynthesis.  Of course there’s a lot more that that – a whole range of preparations and practises that include following the moon and the planets as a guide to cultivation.

Of course, what really matters though, is the end result. And the wine is really very good.  We tasted our way through various vintages and varieties.  My favourite?  The deep pink Cuvee Rose Brut 2010, which is a biodynamic wine from regent and pinot noir grapes.  Full of stone fruit flavours, it’s a great wine for midsummer drinking.  And it won a gold medal in the 2014 international organic wines challenge.

I liked Sedlescombe a lot.  We wandered around the vineyard tour – through copse and field, we took a look at the self build house that was constructed in just three weeks in 1986 and is still standing today, and we tasted a lot of wine.  It was relaxing and fun.  And the wine was very good!

Open all day for most of the year, visitors can enjoy a range of different tours of the vineyard- with the offer of afternoon tea or ploughman’s lunch and a wine tasting session for just £49.50 for two.  Roy told us that if you prefer to come by train, the local station is a pleasant hiking distance, so you could easily catch the train and walk to the vineyard for lunch or tea.  Wine tasting and teas take place in the ‘Bar in a Barn’, just next door to the winery itself.

Having gained experience abroad, Roy and Irma Cook took the plunge in the late 1970s and established Sedlescombe. They now own 23 acres in a few plots including the original 10-acre south-facing plot by their friendly visitor centre and shop. Here you'll find many of the original Germanic grape varieties which began the English wine renaissance.

Designed so that the vineyards are in tune with the earth cosmic rhythms, the biodynamic conversion was completed in just one summer because the vineyards were already certified organic.

Following the success of the early partial cuveé wild yeast fermentations Sedlescombe's wine making owner Roy Cook has gained confidence with this method, and uses it exclusively rejecting bought in yeasts entirely. "The advantage is that the wines are an even truer reflection of their 'terroir' and display along with their uniqueness a greater complexity than before", says Roy. 

Their aptly named 'First Release' was the UK's first biodyanmic Real wine. A Dry White, which appeared in December 2010. With Their 'Bodiam Harvest' (medium-dry) and 'Regent' red appearing in 2011 and the first English Natural sparkling wine, their 2010 Premier Brut appearing in 2012.

If you're wondering when to visit, try May and don't miss the bluebells in the woodland walk. Whether you choose the self-guided tour or join up with a group, all visits end with a tutored tasting of a selection of Sedlescombe wines, fruit juices and liqueurs. Nearby there's the delights of Bodiam Castle for the young and those young at heart. Often used in films, the vineyard, which Sedlescombe has managed there since 1994, stretch down to its borders.

To explore these International Award Winning Real Natural Biodynamic Wines just click the links 'WINES' above left.