Tonight’s forecast 99% chance of wine
It’s more than two years since Riddle Magazine first paid a visit to Greyfriars Vineyard. With the advent of a new wine region, “The Vineyards of the Surrey Hills,” and the launch of Greyfriar’s 2018 vintage still wines, there couldn’t be a better time to catch up with Mike Wagstaff, owner and winemaker
Article by Catherine Ferguson
2018 was the summer of champions for many English vineyards and Greyfriars was no exception. Mike was delighted with the vintage, if not somewhat exhausted. “In England we have much greater variation between vintages both in terms of quality and yield than other regions – it’s the peril of being on the extreme margin of where you can make wine. 2018 was blessed by both fantastic yields as well as amazing ripeness. Our total harvest was over 200 tonnes (over 65% up on 2017 our previous record) and far more than my wildest expectations. In fact the harvest was so big and went on for so long that it nearly killed us!
Greyfriars 2018 still wines were released in early June to coincide with English Wine Week. Mike was delighted with the vintage, “The quality was amazing. They’re much fruiter and higher alcohol levels than previous vintages, giving them more body.” He’s keen to ensure that Greyfriars wines are utterly unique, “I hate to even begin to compare our wines with classic benchmark wines, as we are always trying to produce wines that reflect Greyfriars rather than copy another region’s wine,” he tells us.
Mike describes the third release of their still rosé as “unashamedly easy Summer drinking, dominated by Pinot Noir, but with a dollop of Chardonnay, giving it great freshness and a hint of citrus. This year we have also decided to bottle it in a ‘sexier’ shaped bottle.” Sexy-shaped bottle or otherwise, we found it to be bursting with pink grapefruit and strawberries, certainly one for sipping at a summer party on a sunny day.
When it comes to their Sauvignon Blanc, Mike believes it is, “by far our best vintage yet. While it has the classic notes associated with Sauvignon, it also has a hint of English Spring countryside.” With gooseberries and elderflower dominating the palate, we couldn’t agree more with the English hedgerow analogy. There’s a definite lemon and lime edge too, once more screaming ‘summertime picnic’.
Since we last caught up with Mike, we were intrigued to find out what has changed at Greyfriars and what he’s learned along the way. “The more I learn the more I realise how much we don’t know. We are continuing to be amazed at the volatility of the English climate (for both good and bad!) which makes managing the business much more challenging. To be honest, I wish we had known earlier how big last year’s harvest was actually going to be – it was 25% bigger than even my most optimistic estimates which ended up causing some real stresses!”
While our focus has been firmly with the 2018 still wines, knowing just how good Greyfriars fizz can be, we had to ask Mike how he thinks English still wines are measuring up to their sparkling counterparts. “Our 2018 fizz is fantastic but it will be 2022 before the outside world gets to try it. English sparkling wine has proved itself to be world class over the last few years and while English still wines have come on in leaps and bounds they are probably not quite up with English Fizz yet.”
Mike tells us that there are huge challenges for English winemakers on the global stage, “What we have seen is that investment in the sector and increasing professionalism in English wine making has spilled over into still wines and we are now making some great light, crisp whites and rosés. The challenge, of course, is that there are so many amazing still wines produced all around the world and to produce still wines that can compete on both quality and price is a big ask.”