September at St James

September 2, 2010

We were welcomed to our ‘Great British’ themed evening at the St James Court Hotel with a Ridgeview Wine Estate ‘Bloomsbury 2007’ (white) and ‘Fitzrovia 2007’ (rosé), which had, the previous evening, taken the trophy for ‘Best International Sparkling Wine’ in the Decanter World Wine Awards at their awards dinner. They beat five Champagnes, as well as a number of top sparkling wines from around the world.

Julia Trustram Eve, from the English Wine Producers, enlightened us about the UK wine industry, which has been growing significantly over the last few years – primarily within the sparkling wine sector. Our vineyard acreage has grown by some 50% in the last 5 years and we will see the results from 2012 onwards – a great year to be celebrating! Much of this growth is entirely down to sparkling wine production – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier combined account for about 50% of all our plantings, with Pinot Noir the most widely planted grape variety (and Chardonnay the second most widely planted).

There are currently around 400 vineyards in England and Wales, with some 1215 acres, which produce just over 2 million bottles a year. This is based on a 5 year average and will be increasing production over the next few years – anticipating a doubling in production in the next couple of years and more beyond that. We are a small region – when compared to say France (6.9bn bottles!) and Champagne alone, which produces around 340m bottles. Small is beautiful! We are exceptionally proud of our sparkling wines, much of which is produced using the traditional (Champagne) varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Many of our wines have been doing particularly well in national and international wine tastings and competitions.

It is perhaps appropriate that as England is now winning such prestigious awards and gaining such recognition. We can perhaps say, rather cheekily, that it was the English who invented Champagne! Ridgeview names its wines after areas of London. This has been chosen to recognise an important historical figure in the story of English wines. Christopher Merrett, a Londoner, was the first person to actually document the deliberate addition of sugar for the production of sparkling wine. In 1662 he presented a paper to The Royal Society, in which Merret describes winemakers adding quantities of sugar and molasses to make the wines drink brisk and sparkling. Today this would be called the méthode champenoise, the addition of dosage in order to stimulate a secondary fermentation that produces the bubbles in sparkling wine. Merrett’s paper was unearthed by wine writer Tom Stevenson a few years ago. Of course 2012 is also the 350th anniversary of that paper – more reason to celebrate.

Ridgeview itself is a successful, family-run estate, based near Brighton in Sussex. Set up by Michael and Christine Roberts in 1994, the vineyard now comprises 23 acres, and they bring in grapes from another 90 or so acres. Ridgeview only produces sparkling wines and only from the traditional varieties. Now Mike and Chris have been joined by son Simon as winemaker, daughter-in-law Mardi handles sales & marketing, daughter Tamara runs the office and they have a crèche on site to accommodate the grandchildren! A truly family-run operation. They are consistent award-winners both here and abroad for their wines.

The evening’s beer was provided by Bollington Brewing, a family owned and run micro brewery at The Vale Inn, which nestles in the foothills of the Peak District in East Cheshire. The Vale Inn pub had been empty for most of a decade when the former IT worker took it on just over five years ago. Within a year it had won a clutch of awards, including Pub of the Year and Pub of the Summer Season. Two years ago they launched their own beer making company, almost 80 years after ale production ceased in the town. The first cask of the aptly named ‘First Brew’, sold out in less than three hours.

The water in Bollington runs off the fells at in the nearby Peak District and is good for brewing and the high quality yeast is originally from Edinburgh. The brewing kit itself is currently a four-barrel plant, started at 16 per week, now up to 45 casks weekly – with a capacity to increase to 60 casks per week. They have made up and experimented with many varying beers and flavours, including bestsellers Bollington Best and Oat Mill Stout. It was these two which were awarded both Gold and Silver awards in the Champion Beer of Cheshire Competition at Nantwich Beer Festival. In the first year the beers were eligible for the CAMRA competition (CAMRA gave the beer a rating of 4.5 out of 5, which means it’s excellent) and for the first time in the competition’s history, two of the top three accolades were awarded to the same brewer. Not a bad achievement for the trio who only started up the brewery in 2008!

The whisky used in the desert, and a bottle of which was donated as a prize by our Welsh World Master Chef, was from the Penderyn Distillery, which is the only distillery in Wales and one of the smallest distilleries in the world. One of the few remaining independent distilleries, Penderyn takes its name from the old Welsh village in which it is located and nestles in the foothills of the ancient Brecon Beacons mountain range.

Just one cask per day of the finest malted barley spirit is produced, which, when matured, is recognised worldwide as one of the finest malt whiskies. Penderyn Single Malt Whisky was launched by His Royal Highness Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, on 1st March 2004 at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff. Since then, Wales’ only whisky has experienced considerable success. It is distributed to 16 countries, including 28 US states and has also won high critical acclaim and a number of prestigious international industry awards and medals.

We were honoured to have with us Chaîne Ambassador, Dr. Judith Mazza of Bethesda, Maryland, USA and her husband, who found time to stop off from their cruise to join us. Judy took this opportunity to present Tony Cox (London City Bailli) and Barbara Maw (London Bailli) with certificates and gifts of appreciation.

Of course the success of the evening would not have been possible without the planning, preparation and execution of the sumptuous menu by Executive Head Chef, Brian Henry and his team, and to them we extend our heartiest thanks. Both Brian and his Executive Sous Chef, Daniel, are Chaîne members. Our thanks also go to Abul Al Gunne and his banqueting team, who provided a warm, friendly and impeccable service throughout the evening. Both teams were present for the traditional ‘Sante de Chef’ proposed by Vic Laws (Thames Valley).

This event is from the London City Bailliage, see more London City Events.