You need great grapes to make great wine, and the record number of hot summers in recent years has helped English and Welsh vineyards to win many prestigious awards in international blind-tasting competitions – especially in the sparkling wine categories.
Evidence is scant, however it is sometimes said that the Romans introduced viticulture (grape-growing) and wine-making to Britain some 2,000 years ago. Certainly the Doomsday Book noted a number of vineyards. On 17th December 1662 English scientist Christopher Merret archived papers at the Royal Society of London describing for the first time anywhere the process for making sparkling wine. Technological advances in glass-making – specifically at Newcastle Upon Tyne where coal was used instead of wood – produced much stronger bottles. These bottles gave English sparkling wine the advantage of secondary fermentation in-bottle without fear of explosion.
Fairmile Vineyard Henley-on-Thames is proud to continue this long heritage. In 2011, local couple Jan and Anthea Mirkowski recognised that the foothills of the Chilterns on the outskirts of Henley would provide the ideal terrain and microclimate for viticulture. The steep south-facing slope helps vines capture the most sunlight – in fact 30% more sunlight during October, when the grapes are ripening, and the sun low on the horizon, than if the vines were planted on level ground. The slope also causes Spring frosts (being denser than warm air) to fall downhill away from the delicate buds, whilst sufficient air movements along the valley carry away excess humidity, reducing the chance of fungal attack by mildew. Vines prefer well-drained soil, and Fairmile Vineyard lies on the same flinty chalky marl that stretches across South-East England to the white cliffs of Dover, then under the Channel into Northern France.
Henley-on-Thames even has a similar climate to Northern France, whose capital of the Champagne Region, Epernay, lies just 150miles south in latitude. The relatively cool nights enable grapes to retain the acidity essential for sparkling wines. In 2013 we planted the same three grape varieties which traditionally go into the world’s greatest fizz – Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. 12,000 rootstocks were established across 3 hectares using GPS-guided machinery for accuracy and optimum spacing. Three great summers helped the plants establish strong root systems; then we picked our first harvest in 2015 to turn it into white and rosé sparkling wines which reflect the character of Henley and its area of outstanding natural beauty.
Ours is a family-owned business committed to promoting the Chilterns’ quality of life, tourism, and the local community. Our logo depicts a rowing oar, which Henley’s Royal Regatta has made famous, crossed with an opened bottle of sparkling wine. We are so proud of the beautiful colour of our rosé that we bottled it in clear glass (just take care not to expose it to ultra violet light which can oxidise the contents).