Back in April, I visited the new Rows & Vine restaurant at Ridgeview just outside Ditchling in West Sussex. Ridgeview is, of course, one of the older vineyards in Sussex, having first planted their Chardonnay vines in 1995, and harvest time felt like a good time to go back and learn more about their wines, winemaking, ethos, and philosophy. In the event, they had completed their harvest the day before my visit and the hard work in the winery was already underway (not that it actually ever stops). With 740 tons of grapes to press, there was a definite buzz.
Ridgeview in a nutshell
Ridgeview is a second-generation, family-run, and owned vineyard, with the third generation already getting involved. The vineyard sits within the South Downs National Park and as the name suggests, the ridge of the South Downs is clearly visible. With such a vibrant wine culture in Sussex these days, it’s worth remembering that the vineyard planters of the 90s were pretty pioneering. English wine was not on the map then and most of us thought, “It couldn’t be done”. But at Ridgeview, they thought differently. Their first vintage wine was released in 1997 (and won an award in 2000) and they are now well known nationally and internationally as producers of an array of award-winning sparkling wine.
They grow the classic “sparkling wine three”: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and as one of the larger Sussex vineyards, they have their own winery and underground cellars. Their mantra is “Life is for celebrating” and their focus is on quality and sustainability. To that end, they are B Corporation certified and a founder member of Sustainable Wines GB. They are aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030.
The 2023 harvest
The summer of 2023 was an odd one for sure. The year started wet and warm, but the sunshine fizzled out in July and August. Thank goodness for the September heatwave which has saved the day. Ridgeview harvests their grapes by hand with a community of local pickers, and in the event, this year has produced their biggest yield to date. As theirs is a relatively small estate, they also use grapes from other carefully chosen local growers.
The Ridgeview winery
I was lucky enough to get a private peep into the winery. The grapes are pressed within hours of being picked and Ridgeview uses the traditional method of making sparkling wine (a first fermentation in a tank, then blending, and a second fermentation once the wine has been bottled). They’ve recently invested in upgrading their winery, although it still feels small enough to be a very bespoke experience and you can follow the grapes from the press, to the tanks and bottling and on to the cellar.
They also do some barrel fermentation and they work with other vineyards in the south that don’t have their own winery. Once in the bottle, their wines go down to the cellar for two to three years (or ten years for a magnum). The cellars are magnificent…with row upon row of some one million bottles of wine! The whole process is very hands-on, and the attention to detail is painstaking. If anything defines a labour of love, it’s this!
Ridgeview hosts regular tours and tastings, and these will lead you nicely to their tasting rooms which have views across the Chardonnay vines. They have quite a range of wines and their signature wines include the Bloomsbury, Cavendish and Fitzrovia Rosé – all non-vintage. They also make Blanc de Blanc, Rosé de Noirs, and Blanc de Noirs and have an oak-fermented wine due for release soon. We tried all six of their main suite using the specially designed English sparkling wine glass.
Their glassware sparked a debate. Do we need an English sparkling wine glass? My gut instinct, for what it’s worth, is yes we do. In the UK and Sussex in particular, we are developing our own unique wine culture, and I’m told the design of this glass is important for the aromas (which in turn are particularly important for English wines). Anyway, the glasses have been road-tested by wine experts so who am I to argue?
Wine is so subjective and I often feel a bit intimidated at a tasting. My palate seems to identify differently from others but I like the Ridgeview suggestion of letting my imagination play with the aromas and flavours, and thinking in terms of texture and even shapes. This, I can get behind. The six wines we tried were diverse. The classic Bloomsbury is described as light and elegant (ideal with a food pairing of fish and chips – again, this is something I can get behind.) Their Cavendish is richer in flavour and the Fitzrovia I loved. A sophisticated rosé and the sort of wine I wanted to take home. Although with hindsight, I’d have taken them all home.
Why a wine experience?
I’m a massive fan of the Sussex wine culture because these experiences are about so much more than just wine and you really don’t have to be a wine boffin to enjoy them. They are the vision and passion of dedicated wine producers whose understanding of the terroir, the science, and the art of wine-making baffles me. These experiences are about community and your hyper-local environment. They’re about the weather, the surrounding flora and fauna, bugs and bees, and the hundreds of little stories that go into every bottle. And of course, these experiences are about mindful living. Stopping, observing our environment, taking 10 minutes to try one wine. Slowing down. Most of us want to live more sustainably, locally and mindfully, and spending an afternoon learning about a local wine just feels like it plays an important part in this.
For more information visit: Ridgeview