I’ve been saying it for a several years already: the south of England, particularly in my corner of the South Downs in Sussex, is becoming more and more dedicated to viticulture.
According to the English Wine Producers website, at last count, there are currently 4500 acres of vines in England and Wales. That’s approx 1800 hectares.
Whether you believe that English wine is really growing in amplitude or if it’s just an echo chamber within a small community of wine nerds is up for debate.
There definitely is a certain dynamism to the movement and it excites me to witness the start of something new and promising. I’ve been to visit Upperton and Jenkyn Place, I’ve championned the Balfour Brut Rosé in France and I’ve tasted a whole range of cracking still wines with the Exceptional English Wine Company.
It does, however, still come as a little surprise to see so many hectares of vines planted on slopes which were previously unused fields.
Nyetimber have a selection of their vineyards near the small village of Tillington, on the A272, near Petworth. It’s on a warm, sunny, south-facing slope, adjacent to the Upperton vineyards.
It just so happens that there is a public footpath that runs along the top of the vineyard. On one sunny afternoon, it was the perfect place for a walk with the dog and a pub lunch.
What I wanted to talk about in this blog post was a particular type of vine training system that I noticed on this walk. It’s called “la taille Vallée de la Marne” and there were two variations in use at Nyetimber.
The website Champagne.fr gives some information on the four accepted systems for Champagne:
The textbook says that this rare pruning technique is exclusively used in the Champagne region (hence the name) for Pinot Meunier… and that information is true (I’ve seen this form in the Tarlant vineyards) … but is clearly now out-of-date.
Delving a little further into the matter, it appears that this “Vallée de la Marne” style is particularly useful in areas at risk from frost.
Frost is an issue in England. In these Nyetimber vineyards (and it’s the same at Upperton, just next door) the vines are trained much higher than I regularly see in France or Italy. They’re probably at 60 or 70 cm. In contrast, Monsieur Bulles says that the taille “Vallée de la Marne” in Champagne cannot be higher than 50cm. The English vines are grown higher in order to give the plants the best chance of surviving a late frost.
I would be very interested to know what other advantages this system offers and why there are the two variations of it, even within the same vineyard. If anyone knows or has a suggestion, please leave a comment.
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