Celebrating English wine, Bolney Wine Estate’s Sam Linter tells us about the country’s oldest vineyard
Head winemaker Sam Linter on the magic of British terroirs
England’s oldest vineyard, Bolney Wine Estate, was established in 1972 by founders Janet and Rodney Pratt. What was then only the sixth commercial vineyard in the England started with just three acres, before the couple’s daughter, Sam Linter, took the reins as managing director and winemaker in the 1990s.
Under Linter’s leadership, Bolney now creates award-winning still and sparkling wines – red, white and rosé – and won UK wine producer of the year in 2012 and winery of the year in 2017. The following year, construction of a new high-tech winery at Bolney, which will allow the estate to triple production to 500,000 bottles.
Now, as well as working with local Sussex businesses to support the community during the pandemic, Linter has introduced a new virtual tasting package to celebrate #EnglishWineNight on Friday 15 May, with a spotlight on Sussex, Kent and Surrey wineries. Tempus finds out more about the allure of English wine…
How has Bolney Wine Estate changed over the years, and how would you describe the wines you produce today?
Over the years we’ve built a real knowledge of wine making, learning from our mistakes, observing nature, and responding to our particular environment. We’ve learnt which grapes to plant and how to get the best from them, from heritage varietals to cool climate Pinots. We keep investing in our business to ensure that we are doing the best for our clients; our new winery being the latest testament to this. We also keep innovating as we find making wine endlessly fascinating and want to share this passion with those we work with. We’ve grown from being pioneers into being leading lights in the thriving English Wine market.
Many of your vintages are award-winning wines. What does that mean to the estate?
Bolney Wine Estate has become synonymous with quality wine in a contemporary style thanks to our exceptional winemaking. This continues to be backed up and endorsed by a string of awards. In 2019 our Bolney Bubbly, Blanc de Blancs, Bacchus, Pinot Gris, Autumn Spice and Eighteen Acre Rosé all won Silver awards. Our Pinot Noir has won Gold two years running (2018 and 2019) and our Cuvee Rosé has triumphed at a host of awards both nationally and internationally in 2019, most recently being awarded Best English Sparkling Wine, Best English Magnum and Best English Rosé Vintage for the magnum at the prestigious Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.
You make red, white and rosé wines; still and sparkling. What are the benefits of not specialising in one style, and is there one that you think thrives especially well in British soil?
We’ve worked hard perfecting our Pinot, year on year, since we started making it in the late 90s. At the same time as placing a special focus on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris still wines, we champion our traditional method English sparkling wines. Not just specialising in one style keeps us on our toes – the team thrives with new challenge and we have a very creative and innovative winemaking team. Our aim was to show the industry that England can make a wide variety of award-winning wines, capable of competing on the international stage. >>
Your summer rosé is especially well known. Why do you think rosé has become so popular again in recent years?
I think that rosé got a rather unfair reputation of being ‘easy drinking’ and therefore nothing special. But a wine can be both well-crafted and easy drinking and there are many complex rosés out there in the market, which people have started discovering. It’s a bit of a myth that rosé is just for Summer, you can enjoy rosé wines all year round. Ours pairs beautifully with summer fruit pudding, but also Asian cuisine and for Christmas, it is a wonderful accompaniment to a Mince Pie Streusel Tart.
There's been something of a renaissance in English wines over the last decade. What does English wine have that other regions don't?
Our soil is sandstone – Tunbridge Wells Green Sand to be precise. It’s something of a blessing, shared with some of the best champagne houses, as it drains well and provides good mineral pick-up. Heat radiates from it. Our wines are also slightly lower in alcohol and at Bolney we’ve harnessed our cool climate style into creating wines with a real fruit focus on the palate.
You've been giving back to the community during the COVID-19 crisis, including providing discount to NHS and curating at-home dining options. Tell us a bit about what you've been doing and why it's so important to you?
At Bolney we’re rooted and proud to be in Sussex. We have a strong commitment to our community and ensure they’re at the forefront of everything we do. In response to the current crisis, we’ve launched new initiatives online and in our Vineyard Shop to continue to support our community, particularly the vulnerable, and say thank you to NHS staff. We’ve created a range of fresh produce baskets so people can easily access everything they need, as well as a few treats to bring joy to current times. Our range includes essential, salad, veggie, meat and BBQ boxes. We’re stocking frozen meals from ByRuby to help those who may not be able to get out or cook, and we’re personally delivering these locally to ensure products get there when needed. We work closely with local businesses as we believe this is important to support both them and our community. We’ve sourced lots of new, local products for our shop to offer as much as possible to our neighbours and beyond. We’re also offering 10% off produce boxes (excl. box 1) and 25% off of Bolney wine for NHS workers.
Do you expect these activities to have an impact on your business model? Such as maintaining partnerships with local brands, like ByRuby, in the future?
Absolutely! We work closely with and support other local businesses as we know how important this is; not only to ensure that these businesses continue to thrive but to also create a network around us to share, collaborate and promote. We are proud to source all our shop and café products from as locally as possibly, as well as collaborate with local artists and businesses for our events and attend local shows and markets in more normal times. We feel fortunate to be in a position to support our local community, and we are incredibly grateful for the support they have shown us back. We’ve worked hard to grow our offerings and there are certainly many of our new initiatives that we would like to continue and develop moving forward.