Although we may now have just short of a hundred vineyards in Sussex, each one seems to have its own distinct personality and ethos. Which happily for the wine tourist, means that each Sussex wine experience is unique. It was with this in mind that I set off to help with the wine harvest at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, eager to learn more about what makes them tick. And I wasn’t disappointed.
A little bit of Leonardslee background
These days, the gardens at Leonardslee are famous in the surrounding area for their stunning lakes, woodland walks, Christmas illuminations, spring rhododendrons, summer festivals and of course, for their wallabies and impressive sculpture (by South African artist Anton Smit). The house is also known for its afternoon tea and Michelin-rated Interlude restaurant. There was much chagrin when in 2010, the gardens were closed but then equal delight when South African entrepreneur, Penny Streeter OBE, bought and subsequently re-opened Leonardslee in 2017. But this is just the latest step in a long journey for this estate.
Planting and landscaping of the grounds started as long ago as 1803, using plants and seeds that had been gathered from across the world. Having changed hands a number of times and with the grounds being extended and improved over the years, in 1889, Sir Edmund Loder bought Leonardslee. His father already owned nearby High Beeches (at Handcross) and another family member later bought Wakehurst (at Ardingly). Sir Edmund Loder created new areas and habitats, a rock garden, and the renowned rhododendron collections. He also added a colony of wallabies whose descendants are still there today. The estate remained in the Loder family and continued to evolve until 2010 when it was forced to close.
Wine at Leonardslee
When she acquired Leoardslee in 2017, Penny Streeter had already bought nearby Mannings Heath Golf Club (and planted vines in 2016) and Benguela Cove Wine Estate in South Africa. On the Cape Coast, Benguela Cove produces Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Semillon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. And they are producing some award-winning wines.
Mannings Heath now has 37 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for their sparkling wine with the first estate wines expected to be released in 2023.
To complete the set, Leonardslee has now been planted with four acres of Pinot Noir and Pinotage grapes, making it the first UK vineyard to grow Pinotage. Pinotage is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, and is more resilient to our English climes than other red wine grape varieties. The first harvest took place in the Autumn of 2020 with the first release of their English red wine set for 2023.
A unique wine experience and a fusion of cultures
On a sunny October day in amongst the vines (and with impressive views of the South Downs), we were joined by Adam Streeter (Penny Streeter’s son and the estate manager), Barry Anderson, Managing Director at Mannings Heath Golf & Wine Estate and Michelle Waldeck, Assistant Winemaker at Benguela Cove and were greeted with a glass of sparkling wine and some pastries. What a way to start a day.
Adam had in his hand, to taste for the first time, their new red wine, and what immediately struck me was how genuine and welcoming the team were, as they thanked us for joining them for this special moment. It had a real family feel to the occasion.
They are happy to admit to trying something new here, to experimenting and to being bold under the watchful eye of their wallabies. They come across as genuinely excited about what they hope to and have already achieved and that excitement is infectious.
First wine of the day drunk, we headed into the vines, with secateurs and buckets to get picking, with members of the Leonardslee team working alongside us and preparing to transport the grapes to the winery at Wiston. Michelle will join the grapes there to oversee the wine-making but as we walked, talked and worked, I started to understand what a real fusion of two cultures, two countries and two families this is.
It’s a pleasant act of symmetry, that the great-grandson of the Pinotage creator took part in the planting of the Leornardslee Pinotage vines. The Streeters appear to love England as much as their homeland of South Africa, and there’s a determination to make this trans continental winemaking a unique success. The Leonardslee family really does seem to be a blended one.
Grapes picked and it was back to a large marquée for a South African harvest lunch with a shared platter and some wine tasting. Think sliced roast porchetta, Boereworsa with chakalaka, and an amaretto syllabub served up by Garlic Wood Catering. That was a nice touch because Garlic Wood is super local and uses only local, sustainable, and ethically produced ingredients. I was lucky enough to be seated next to some South African visitors, and as the sun moved over the estate, and the estate hospitality flowed easily from bottle to glass, I started to feel that sense of connection and the beauty of bringing two cultures together in this unique way (although perhaps that was just the wine talking).
They are very excited about what they’re doing here, and rightly so. Now, all we have to do is look forward to the release of those first Leonardslee Pinotage wines and make a point to revisit soon. They have lots of other wine experiences going on at Leonardslee including their wine and cheese pairing and their “Sabrage” experience. You can find out more here: Leonardslee Wine
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