A Produced in Kent Special Report

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As a wise man once said, the times they are a changing. And they are changing for the better, with both the culinary cavaliers and beverage bastions moving from mainland Europe to our little island.

And it starts with grapes. No longer is it the French who lead the way in vineyard know-how as English still and sparkling wines take a rightful place in the competitive market. And no small part of the British vineyard contingent comes from Kent. In fact, we are heading the revolution. But why? Why has Kent become the haven of British grapes?

The Mount vineyard in Sevenoaks is one of those leading the way since its creation in 2004. The boutique vineyard on the slopes of the Darent Valley is run by the husband-and- wife team of Simon and Lissa Greenwood, who bought The Mount in December 2011.

Lissa said: “Kent has fantastic chalky soil, which allows the vineyards in the area to produce some spectacular wines. As more and more people try English wines and realise the quality is increasing year on year, the word is spreading that they are worth giving a go.

“We produce a variety of wines, including a still white Bacchus, still rosé, two still reds including a Pinot Noir and a rosé sparkling. A number of these have won awards and most recently we won a silver at the International Wine and Spirit competition for our Rosé Sparkling 2009, which we are very proud of.”

And The Mount is not planning to stop there, with growth on the horizon. Lissa said: “Our aim for the future is not only to expand our vineyard and potentially build a winery but also to focus more and more on the quality of the wine.

“We aim to sell as much of our product as possible to people in the area and also sell our wine on our website, to independent wine merchants, fine-dining establishments and at events such as weddings.”

And, as A Taste of Kent has shown, local foods and drinks are very much becoming the staple ingredients in every household kitchen.

Lissa said: “I think there is an increasing trend for English people to buy local due to a much higher awareness of what they eat and drink in general. It is really important in the current economic climate that people buy local – it is imperative that we keep the English traditions and people in business in these hard times.”

The local approach is very apparent across the vineyards in the Garden of England despite their increasing status across the UK and indeed internationally.

At Terlingham Manor Vineyard in Hawkinge, near Folkestone, owner Lorna Wilks is looking to the future with local identity at the forefront of her plans.

The vineyard on the south-east coast of Kent already produces sparkling white and rosé wines, as well as still white, rosé and red wines.

She said: “Within the next five years we would like to produce a world-class sparkling wine. We also want to provide a place for an apprentice to come and start as well as create a job or two. I want to organise tours so many people can share the beauty of the vineyard experience at Terlingham.”

Well-established vineyards within the county like Biddenden and Chapel Down are already making a name for themselves and expanding the mindset of what can be achieved by local- produce companies in Kent.

And Lorna is another owner very much of the opinion that it can only be a positive thing. She said: “Using local produce assists with all sorts of things, from job-creation to building community spirit and pride in local identity. I think the public is starting to appreciate how wonderful English and sparkling wines are and how suitable the terroir is for growing grapes here in Kent.”

The air of optimism among Kent grape-growers is infectious and, as the old saying goes, com- petition is healthy and will hopefully drive the vineyards forward to gain further recognition.

Andrew Weeber, of the Gusbourne Estate Vineyard, near Appledore, is equally boisterous about the future of the Kentish wine industry.

The team at Gusbourne can produce 150 tonnes of grapes per year and has already bagged awards for the Gusbourne Estate Brut reserve 2006 and the Blanc de Blanc 2006 at the International Wine and Spirit Competition, while also taking a silver medal at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2011.

Andrew said: “Honestly, if people ask me ‘Can you produce grapes as good as Champagne? Can you produce top sparkling wine?’, I believe the answer is yes.

“The English wine industry can produce wine as good as anywhere. Kent in particular is the perfect location. There is sunshine, there is warmth, there is also low- lying land that lowers the risk of frost damage. There is smart money in Kentish vineyards. Even if I had the chance to choose again, I would choose Kent.”

The team at Gusbourne is using the most up- to-date techniques of farming grapes and caring for its crop and the surrounding farmland, while the commitment to the county is there for all to see.

Andrew said: “We believe in using local labour – all our grapes are picked by local people. I very much believe in the local aspect of everything. Ultimately we are a family business and one that is totally committed to the community at all levels. We are proudly English… moreover, we are proudly Kentish.”

As a county, Kent has emerged as a destination for great food, great entertainment and now spectacular wines. And just like a fine wine, only time will tell just how good it gets.

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