Discovering the wines of Essex


“You’ve come a long way baby!” is definitely applicable when talking about English wines. As climate change drives longer and warmer growing seasons, the southern parts of England are becoming prime candidates for producing higher quality grapes and impressive wines. This past week I visited Dedham Vale Vineyard in Boxted, Essex, only an hour and a half drive from London. I was looking forward to exploring the wines and vines of this area, as I am mostly familiar with those found in more southerly counties of England.

When I say the weather couldn’t have been better for a late September day, I’m not kidding. It really was the perfect day for a vineyard tour. After meandering through a small village of picturesque thatched cottages, I approached the long drive up to Dedham Vale Vineyards Honestly, it was a hidden gem in the Essex countryside: a set of quaint dark wooden, red roofed outbuildings greeted us and further beyond was planted a small, lush vineyard strategically aligned next to a grove of trees.

Upon arrival, a few signs guided me towards the tasting room where I was welcomed and offered a cup of tea. I have to say that I would have preferred a glass of wine (rose or white) but I had to remind myself that I am in England and tea still rules! While sipping my cup of tea, which by the way wasn’t included and I was reminded would need to be paid for on the way out, I was keen to explore this vineyard site. Looking out from my vantage point, a lovely pond awaited with various trees gracing the banks. Truly a calming and wonderful place to enjoy a glass of wine…oh wait, no, it’s tea I’m drinking…oh well!!

Eventually, the tour started once all the guests had arrived. Approximately, 30 people were touring alongside me…quite impressive for a Thursday morning. Our tour was led by Tony who provided a sufficient amount of insight concerning the vineyard and the wines. The 5 acre vineyard is farmed conventionally (relying on herbicides for pest prevention) with a further 3 acres to be planted in future. The vineyard has 11 grape varieties and during a successful harvest will produce around 2 tons of grapes/acres which equates to 1500 bottles. I have to say that I have never been to such a small vineyard with such a diverse number of grape varieties, many vitis vinifera and some hybrid varieties. A few grown on site are Rondo, Dornfelder, Dunkelfelder, Bacchus and Pinot Noir.

After walking through the vineyard, we toured the winemaking area, which was housed in one of the outbuildings. As this is quite a small scale vineyard, the equipment wasn’t as high-tech as other wineries I’ve visited. To my suprise, all wines are fermented and stored in quite basic stainless steel tanks that require continuous cold water flow to regulate temperature during fermentation. Barrel storage is not something this vineyard wishes to contend with because they believe that the barrels impart too much of an oaky flavor in the wines and are too fussy. Personally, I prefer oak storage when appropriate (depending on the desired outcome of the wine), but it does require an additional amount of effort and quite a sophisticated wine maker to oversee the process. The wines are made using added yeasts and are then clarified.

After touring for an hour, we were finally able to sit down and enjoy a tasting of 4 of the estate’s wines and one wine from a nearby vineyard. The wines tasted are as follows;

Dedham Vale Romanus 2016 (11% alcohol)

  • Price: £13
  • Grape: Muller Thurgau and Reichensteiner
  • Colour: pale yellow
  • Aromas: subtle peach and yellow apple
  • Flavor: Dry with apple and lemon
  • Finish: Bright acidity on the mid palate with tannins on the back of the throat and subtle oxidative flavours.

Toppesfield Bacchus 2018 (11.5% alcohol) – I purchased a bottle!!

  • Price: £15
  • Grape: Bacchus
  • Colour: very pale yellow, almost clear (pale platinum)
  • Aromas: Elderflower and grassy notes (almost like Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Flavour: yellow fruits and elderflower
  • Finish: Dry, yet lively acidity on the palate with a pleasant finish. Subtle tannins

Dedham Vale Rose 2018 (11.5% alcohol) – The link shows their 2017 but I tasted the 2018

  • Price: £13
  • Grape: white phoenix and pinot noir
  • Color: salmon pink
  • Aromas: strawberries
  • Flavor: Sour cherries and stewed berries
  • Finish: Quite tart with strong tannis and slight oxidative flavours.

Dedham Vale Sparkling Brut 2013 (12% alcohol)

  • Price: £25
  • Grape: Chardonnay and Orion (hybrid grape)
  • Color: straw yellow and subtle effervescence
  • Aromas: subtle pear and apple notes
  • Flavor: toasted brioche and yeast
  • Finish: Balanced flavour but short finish on the palate

Dedham Vale Reserve Red Blend 2018 (10% alcohol)

  • Price: £13
  • Grape: Rondo, Dunkelfelder, Dornfelder and Pinot Noir
  • Color: Medium red with a bit of purple and cloudy
  • Aromas: Earthy plum notes
  • Flavor: Earthy notes with fruits of the forest
  • Finish: Quite heavy tannins mixed with a tart finish.

After the tasting, I enjoyed a traditional English buffet style lunch of salad, cured meats and cheeses as well as a cream tea to finish. Feeling quite full, I decided to head back to London with a bottle of Bacchus in my hand.

Overall, my experience at Dedham Vale Vineyard was eye opening and I realize that I definitely need to further explore the wines of Essex in order to come to a better understanding and appreciation of what this area of England can offer the world of wine.