Well, it was a great English Wine Week last week. We tasted a fair bit (it was the only proper thing to do under the circumstances) and for us, this one’s been particularly special because we got to visit one of the most exciting English vineyards around. We’re talking about Smith & Evans and of course, it’s in the heart of Somerset!
After a busy morning selling and showcasing their wine at Langport market, vineyard owner Guy Smith (catch him on twitter @guythegrape) showed me round their hectare plot. It was an absolute pleasure spending time with him… and with Fred the dog, who’s definitely master of the vineyard!
We love wine here at the blog! We drink a fair bit of it ;) and although we’d never claim to be wine ‘experts’, what I love about Guy is that he clearly is an expert, but chatting to him was just like talking to an old friend about a genuine passion - because wow… is Guy passionate about producing brilliant wine! His whole face lights up when he talks about it. There’s no pretence with it though. No stuffiness. Just a talented producer who feels lucky to be creating awesome, award-winning wine, in a truly beautiful corner of the county. Now that’s Somerset cool!
Guy loves working the vineyard that he and his wife Laura planted in 2008, when they found the perfect site for it. It took four years to track down, on a search that spanned from Kent to Cornwall, but eventually they made the best choice ever - Higher Plot Farm near Langport.
We climbed to the very top of Higher Plot, where Guy sometimes sits in the odd quiet moment, and we looked out over the vineyard and surrounding countryside that stretches for miles. It’s a truly beautiful, warm spot in a rain shadow formed by Exmoor, the Blackdown Hills and the Quantocks… just great for the grapes!
The White Lias Limestone Ridge there has long been recognised as a perfect place for early ripening and high quality fruit and as the limestone soil matches some of the world’s most renowned vineyard sites, Guy and Laura knew they were on to a winner when they found it! They planted Burgundian Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier vines on the south facing lower slopes, and their first still and sparkling wine harvest was in 2010.
Combining a natural approach with sheer hard graft, the guys have achieved something really special there and by working in the vineyard all year - from midwinter pruning through to harvest in late summer- they can constantly watch how the vines develop and mature. We love their holistic approach and as Guy told me:
“We’ll never win any awards for the tidiest vineyard, but that’s fine with me! We want to encourage biodiversity, so for part of the year we have sheep grazing amongst the vines. We have rabbits and chickens too. It’s completely natural - no chemicals, just healthy happy vines that thrive by being in balance with their surroundings.”
For Guy, this works brilliantly as it’s all about ‘minerality’ - about how many of the natural minerals in the soil the vines take up, to give Smith & Evans wines their unique taste. As his customers at Langport market often say, “we can always tell it’s your wine” and this is one of the reasons why.
The other awesome thing about Smith & Evans is that they don’t produce homogenous wines year in, year out. They’re determined to express the different characteristics of each season and for us, that’s really exciting! As Guy explained:
“Some years the wine may be bright white and in others it may have a pink tinge, depending on what the grapes decide to do that particular year.”
So basically, you never know precisely what you’re going to get, but you can be sure it’ll be the result of minerality, lots of hard work and passion - from the pruning to pressing decisions - and that sounds great to us!
In fact, it tastes great to us too as their 2015 still wine had just arrived back from Furleigh Estate (where pressing, bottling and storage takes place) when we were there, so of course we had to have a try!
We had a mini tasting in the Old Cider House building on site, which dates back to the 19th century and the wine... well, I felt privileged to be amongst the first people to try it. For me, it was beautifully fresh and citrusy, with a very subtle hint of lime. See… told you we’re no wine reviewers, but last year Smith & Evans topped off a brilliant English Wine Week with a rave review from someone who most definitely is. Matthew Jukes, writing in the Daily Mail, said of their 2010 Pinot/Chardonnay:
“This is the inaugural vintage of Guy Smith’s sparkler and he has hit the ground sprinting… this is the finest debut English fizz of the year”
… not half bad for a man who started out with a Saturday job in a wine warehouse many moons ago! And talking of the moon, if you love your cider then try their 'Half Moon'. It’s made in the old shed on the grounds and as Guy joked
“you have to make cider in Somerest… it’s the law!”
This year, Smith & Evans wine featured in Waitrose’s English Wine Week tastings and they also showcased their wines at the Bath and West show.
If you missed all that though, don’t be down! They’re having a vineyard tour on June 26th, which includes a wine tasting and guess the bottle. You can also bring a picnic and it’s a glorious spot for one, that’s for sure!
Anyway, with the awards and accolades for their wine already stacking up, I couldn’t help but wonder what Guy’s most proud of about Smith & Evans. The answer made me smile. For Guy, it’s thinking about being part of people’s celebrations:
“I love Christmas morning when I think of people enjoying our sparkling wine as part of their day. To me, that feels really special”
And that sums it up to be honest. That word special… because Higher Plot is a special vineyard, producing special wines made by two lovely people.
Get along to the vineyard tour and tasting on 26th June if you can!