Given the choice between a lettuce leaf and a glass of cool sparkling wine, it seems unlikely many people would choose the first, so it’s lucky that one young farmer from Chichester saw the potential in Sussex fizz and ditched the salad in favour of vines.
Art Tukker, owner of Tinwood Estate vineyard in Chichester has had two very lucky moments in his life, so far. One, his parents, on finding farming iceberg lettuce for supermarkets was becoming increasingly difficult, gifted him a farm aged 20, with the provision that he “didn’t grow fresh produce for supermarkets”.
And two, he realised after some discussions with university pals who knew a thing or two about vines, that he couldn’t go wrong with planting some on the farm instead of lettuces.
“Every time someone described the best conditions to grow vines in, I had a lightbulb moment,” he explains enthusiastically, “it occurred to me pretty quickly that whereas so many people go looking for the best location to start a vineyard – and spend years doing it – here I was, with the best place, literally underneath my feet.”
With the decision made, Art had the first vines planted in 2007, on his 21st birthday – a far cry from this writer’s 21st, which mostly involved drinking a lot of wine. Not growing it.
A fresh approach to sparkling wine
Fast forward 14 years and Art has matured, but so have the vines, with Tinwood Estate in the top 10 sized vineyards in the UK, currently producing 200,000 bottles a year and, since the planting of a fourth vineyard, the potential for a further 100,000 to be produced in years to come.
The vineyard offers three different sparkling wines, Tinwood Brut, Tinwood Rosé and Tinwood Blanc de Blancs. As with other vineyards in the south east, Art and Tinwood specialise in using the Champagne grape varieties and method, but it’s the openness of the owner which sets this vineyard apart from the stuffy ones in France.
Art says, “After we’d planted the first vines, there wasn’t much to do except wait for them to grow. So for that first year I went and worked in Marlborough in New Zealand. Whilst there I learnt about the way they approach wines. You go along, meet the owner, try the wines and take them home. I really liked the ethos of Kiwi growers, they’re genuine and passionate about the environment. They aim for good quality and they spend a lot of time outdoors, but they’re also light-hearted and generally smiling. They don’t take life too seriously but they do things properly, I took all that on board and wanted to do the same with our vineyard.”
And meet and greet they do – with a tour and wine tasting taking place every day at 3pm, Art and the team spend a lot of time getting to know their customers.
“I’ve made a lot of friends with the customers over the years. We’d noticed the trend – even before Covid – over the last 10 years in fact, of people wanting to have a story behind what they drink. They want to go to a friend’s, or a dinner party and say “I met the owner, did a tasting, this is what we chose”. People feel proud to have the knowledge and the experience.”
Tours and tastings
As well as daily tours and wine tastings – which happen every day of the year except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (Art and the team need to enjoy a glass of wine themselves occasionally), the vineyard offers numerous other events such as the harvest experience where you get to help to bring in the crop, spend time breaking bread with others and generally enjoying their company.
Personally, I fancy the sparkling afternoon tea or the DJ party taking place on 17th July with Head Candy but there are also numerous special dinners with five courses with chefs, flights with food and wines and even, dare we mention it … Christmas parties.
“We aim to do something every month,” Art laughs, “we like to keep things fresh and keep people coming back. We also have accommodation – three lodges that are raised up overlooking the vines. They’re fitted out with every luxury imaginable, with Jacuzzi baths, super comfy beds and a fully stocked wine fridge of course.”
Stay the night
With the chances of holidays abroad still looking a bit shaky, it’s good to know there’s somewhere gorgeous to visit.
Art, understandably, agrees, “It’s been a massive year for us. For the last 14 months we’ve been closed for the last eight. It’s made things more complicated and there’s more work behind the scenes but we’re well and truly ready to have visitors again. We have a really big south facing terrace, we have so much space around us and we can sit people far more apart than the required one metre. People want to be outside and enjoy an outdoor activity – they can’t visit their favourite place in Tuscany so instead they should come and visit us in Chichester.”
Just as we’re discussing that all he needs is a long, warm summer, Art, who has been walking in the vineyard at the time pauses.
“I’ve just watched my first leaf unfurling,” he explains, which to an owner of a vineyard means he’s on high alert as the vines will now be susceptible to any frosts. But to me it feels like a wonderful sign, at a time when we’re all making our tentative first steps back out in the world, it feels like everything is ready to begin again.
The wines are available to buy from the vineyard, online (www.tinwoodestate.com) and via 20 restaurants and hotels in the Chichester area including The Earl of March, The Whitehouse, Purchases in the centre of Chichester and The Crab and Lobster.
Contributed by Lisa Brace
If you like this post about Sussex sparkling wine, you may also like: