John Hemmant from Chet Valley Vineyard in Bergh Apton is Norfolk’s original winemaker and with his wife, Bridget, they reflect on 2021 and how they are working hard to ensure that their winemaking becomes ever-more sustainable.
As autumn’s fiery colours and mellow fruitfulness give way to high clouds in crisp bright skies over the vineyard, shorter days, and sparkling crystal cobwebs, we reflect on this past year.
Young vines, planted in 2015, have given their first harvest. A new purpose-built winery now houses the large steel vats in which the 2021 vintage is currently bubbling, while visitors enjoy the unique experience offered by our holiday accommodation at The Vine House, adjacent to the vines.
As we pause and reflect on the year that is now almost over, we are grateful to our volunteer pickers; vine lessors, Chet Valley Wine Club members, friends, neighbours, and family who brought the harvest safely in. Their support is the beating heart of everything we do. Our work at the vineyard, growing grapes and making wine, constantly in contact with the soil, seasons, and local people, on land that has been farmed by our family for generations, fixes us firmly and proudly in Bergh Apton.
From these roots, the Chet Valley Vineyard continues to grow as a pioneering venture. It is the only place in the country to produce sparkling red wine using the Great British Classic Method, that is, secondary fermentation in the bottle. This wine, Red Kite, along with Skylark and Redwing, have been recognised again this year with awards from Wine GB and the International Wine Challenge.
Sustainability is an important part of our work here. In recent months, we have worked with the Bergh Apton Conservation Trust for the planting of a hedge ecosystem. We are also taking part in projects relating to biodiversity and international development of permacultures with the University of East Anglia. Even our choice of grapes, including PIWI varieties that are fungus resistant, enables us to use fewer pesticides and tread more lightly on our planet. This is something that is so very important to all of us, and with our young daughter Ruby now growing up and at High School, we are more aware than ever that we need to act now to protect the planet for future generations.
As we go into Christmas, we feel extremely fortunate to be at the forefront of the English wine renaissance, and we are delighted to be producing aromas and flavours of distinction from our East Anglian terroir. With preparations for the festive season gaining traction, the Chet Valley Vineyard has teamed up with local foodies: award-winning and sustainable chocolatiers H&J as well as the fabulous British charcutiers Marsh Pig, from Suffolk and Norfolk respectively, to bring you a range of delightful Christmas wine boxes. These boxes feature our best-selling sparkling wines with complementing food flavours as chosen by John.
As a vineyard, we are very happy with the wines that we have on offer. We currently have available four fantastic sparkling wines, all perfect for celebrations over Christmas, New Year, and Valentine’s Day. These are our aforementioned Red Kite Brut, our iconic Skylark Brut, as well as a Skylark Demi-Sec – ideal with dessert courses. And finally, we have John’s favourite, the Horatio Pink Sparkling, a Silver medal winner and is our go-to for special occasions.
As we approach 2022, we have much to look forward to. Our picnic experience launched this summer, and it proved to be very popular. Our estate is an idyllic spot for a picnic, and we offer a locally-sourced picnic for two – either a ploughman’s or a seafood basket, served with your choice of a chilled bottle of Chet Valley wine. Many who booked a picnic enjoyed a vineyard tour beforehand, making it a great summer day out for friends and families.
With our new winery now open, the balcony became a popular spot to sit and enjoy lunch, overlooking the vines and the ever-changing Norfolk skyline. We plan to host more events next year, so follow our social media to find out more and sign up to our mailing list to hear our news first-hand.