When a friend gives you a bottle of local sparkling wine, produced at a Sussex vineyard in Ashburnham, you’re duty-bound to find out more, aren’t you? Tumbling Brook is fresh, crisp, fruity and light, perfect for a warm sunny evening in fact. It comes from a small vineyard and although it may not be publically available at the moment, it’s definitely one to look out for. Producer Dave Thomas told us more:
What’s the story behind the vineyard – how long has it been going and how did it come about?
I’d always had this pipe dream of one day sitting and overlooking a vineyard sipping on a glass of my own wine but it really wasn’t something that I ever thought would be achievable. I happened to mention this to my wife’s parents many years ago, who run a dairy farm in East Sussex. They then kindly offered me a small plot of land to plant vines if I was interested in doing so. The name Tumbling Brook came from the small stream that runs through the woodland on the farm.
I was also aware that Plumpton College was offering courses in viticulture, which happened to be local to me, so I then realised that I had no excuse not to make my pipe dream become a reality. I did the course at Plumpton on the Principles of Vinegrowing which I completed back in 2009 and then bit the bullet, and ended up planting 400 vines in 2010. All the vines were planted by hand with an awful lot of help from family members.
Tell us about your terroir and any challenges you’ve had?
The knowledge gained on the course certainly helped me in deciding on a Sussex vineyard location where many factors had to be taken into consideration. I was extremely fortunate that the land being offered to me was in Sussex which had already proved to be an area where quality wines could be made, so I knew I was off to a good start.
I opted for a site that was located on a slight incline to aid drainage and to maximise the capture of sunlight but also where good access was already in place. Importantly, it was an area that wasn’t too susceptible to frost either which can be an issue in growing vines. Although the site I had chosen ticked many of the boxes there were still a few improvements needed. These came in the form of mole ploughing the soil prior to planting to assist in the drainage and also the planting of over 60 alder trees to act as a wind break for the protection of the vines.
The main expense however was the erection of an 8 ft deer fence around the vineyard due to regular sightings of deer in the woods nearby. Unfortunately, deer aren’t the only animals that pose problems when trying to run a vineyard with birds and badgers having more than their fair share of the grapes over the years which has resulted in netting the grapes prior to harvest on a number of occasions.
What grapes and blends do you use?
I opted to plant the grape varieties that I enjoyed drinking the most to be honest. As I’ve been a big fan of English sparkling wine since I first tried it some 20 years ago I decided to plant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which are two of the grape varieties that are commonly used in making sparkling wine in this country.
I also decided to plant Bacchus as I’d enjoyed a number of still white wines made in England from this variety of grape. As a bit of an experiment, I thought I’d plant a couple of varieties that aren’t so commonly planted which were Regent and Ortega and I’m pleased to say they have proven to be very successful.
Can you tell us a bit about your production processes?
Due to the fairly small size of the vineyard, I’m able to tend to each vine personally, which I believe can only help in trying to achieve the best quality in the grapes I grow. Everything is done by hand, from pruning the vines in preparation for the growing season in the spring, right through to harvesting of the grapes in the autumn.
Once harvested the grapes are taken to one of the many local wineries in the area, however, it’s becoming ever increasingly difficult to find wineries that are able to make the wine due to the small volumes involved. During an average year I can yield somewhere in the region of just half a ton of grapes from the 400 vines. This is the minimum a winery and its equipment can really deal with and equates to approximately 500 bottles of wine.
What wines do you produce and where can we buy them?
Until now I’ve been producing a sparkling wine along with a single still white wine which is made with a blend of all the grape varieties planted. Unfortunately, due to the size of the vineyard and the relatively small quantities produced there’s currently no wine available for sale but watch this space for future vintages!
Could you give us a pairing suggestion?
In my opinion, both the sparkling and the still wines would pair extremely well with most shellfish, especially lobster. Your idea of a sharing platter, possibly of fresh shellfish, sounds like a perfect pairing to me. Failing that, I’d personally be more than happy to sit on a Sussex beach and enjoy a glass of the fizz with traditional fish and chips.
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