11 English Natural Wine Producers You Need To Know About
The rugged, grape-strewn landscapes of Italy and France might still be the places that you think of first when it comes to biodynamic bottles of vino but the English natural wine scene is really taking off, MOB. Trust me. Gone are the days when English wine was a punchline to a joke. There are now plenty of excellent wine producers on England's pleasure pastures that you should be exploring. And many who are embracing the natural wine movement, too.
Before we get too bogged down in the weeds of classifications and certifications, it’s worth clarifying that natural wine is more of a philosophy and a way of thinking and approaching winemaking than anything else. There’s currently no official definition of natural wine in the UK, so to speak. Which means you don’t necessarily have to farm your grapes organically in order to call yourself a “natural” wine producer. But, to be honest, it does really help if you do. France’s National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), which regulates French wine denominations, have established a ‘Vin Méthode Nature’ classification in an attempt to provide some clarity (and consistency) to the definition. In order for a natural wine to meet this 'Vin Méthode Nature' criteria in France it must: be made with certified organic, hand-harvested grapes; only be fermented with indigenous yeast; contain no additives, and have little to no added sulphites among a host of other strict rules.
Definitions of natural wine outside of France are a lot more lax. To quote Isabelle Legeron, the first woman in France to become a Master of Wine, "natural wine is a continuum, like ripples on a pond. At the epicentre of these ripples, are growers who produce wines absolutely naturally – nothing added and nothing removed. As you move away from this centre, the additions and manipulations begin, making the wine less and less natural, the further out you go. Eventually, the ripples disappear entirely, blending into the waters of the rest of the pond. At this point, the term ‘natural wine’ no longer applies. You have moved into the realm of the conventional.”
With Legeron’s flexible definition in mind, these are the English winemakers and vineyards who sit towards the centre of that pond. Not all of them are completely organic and might not meet the VMN definition but, hey, nobody’s perfect, right? Something that all these producers share; however, is that they all give a damn about the spirit of winemaking, they all care about sustainability, and they don’t want to add Mega Purple food dye to your bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
From O.Gs like Will Davenport at Davenport Vineyards to relative newcomers like Ben Walgate at Tillingham, these are the best English natural wine producers that are doing fantastic work in the domestic wine scene. Support them by buying a few bottles, MOB.
Tillingham is an exciting winery set on the rolling hills and woodlands of East Sussex. The philosophy at Tillingham – which has resulted in some of the most exciting bottles to come out of the UK wine scene, and that’s including both natural and conventional contenders – is all about sustainability. The winemakers work tirelessly to ensure the best (and most efficient) scientific approach is always taken in the creation of their wines while also taking care to champion ancient winemaking traditions. Whether that’s by ageing some of their wines in clay Qvevri or adhering to biodynamic principles which aim at naturally restoring soils to an optimum level of organic matter. Tillingham is a new school natural winemaker with a refreshingly old school approach.
Limeburn Hill Vineyard
Located near Chew Magna on the edge of Bristol, Limeburn Hill Vineyard is a biodynamic and organic-certified vineyard that’s looking to change the way that English winemakers roll. Limeburn Hill adopts a preventative approach when it comes to fighting crop disease, refraining from the use of any chemical pesticides and using compost teas and plant-based sprays to help nourish their vines instead. Limeburn currently produces a range of crisp and refreshing pét nats as well as some amber and skin-contact whites. All are worth exploring.
Will Davenport started growing vines in Kent in 1991 and was responsible for spearheading the English natural wine movement when, in 2000, he made the decision to convert all his vines and the winery itself to organic systems, as certified by the Soil Association. To this day, all of Davenport Vineyards’ grapes and wines are certified organic and they continue to make their wines as naturally as possible (which, in this case, means very low sulphites, natural yeast, minimal or no filtration, and no sugar added). While you won’t find any ancient amphora on the estate, top brass cuvées like the Davenport Horsmonden dry white – a blend of Bacchus, Ortega, Faber, Siegerrebe and Huxelrebe grapes – are partly fermented in large foudres to provide a smooth and creamy texture that doesn't have an overly oaked flavour.
Oxney’s 35 acres of vines, which stretch languidly across the East Sussex landscape, produce an impressive 20% of all (!) the organic grapes grown in the UK. The winemaker’s range of still and sparkling wine – from their flinty Chardonnay to their fresh and fruity Pinot Noir rosé – are made as low-intervention as possible with wild ferments, no filtration, and minimal use of SO2. The results are, frankly, rather impressive. Oxney Estate remains a big player in the English natural wine scene thanks to their care for their vines and the consistency of their end-product. Grab a bottle for whatever special occasion you’ve been meaning to celebrate. And maybe buy a few more for when you just need a Tuesday pick-me-up.
Forty Hall Vineyard
Forty Hall Vineyard is an exciting social enterprise that has established a 10-acre community vineyard in Enfield, north London. Yes, you read that right: community vineyard. Forty Hall might be largely looked after by local volunteers but that hasn’t stopped it from being the first commercial-scale vineyard in London since the middle ages. They’re certified organic and dedicated to demonstrating environmentally sustainable farming and vine-growing practices. Just take FHV’s Ortega as a test case: that single varietal organic white wine is produced exclusively from grapes grown at Forty Hall Vineyard. Those grapes are then driven to winemaker Will Davenport (of Davenport’s Vineyard) and pressed on the same day to retain their natural flavours. It’s that bootstraps operation and inspirational narrative which makes the bottles all the more interesting, in my opinion.
Albury Organic Vineyard
Nick Wenman lived out every wino’s most intimate fantasy when he planted Albury Vineyard on the southern slopes of the Surrey Hills in 2009. After retiring from the IT industry, Nick made the executive decision to pursue a lifelong passion for winemaking, and he hasn’t looked back since. The success of Albury’s wine is down to the vineyard's commitment to organic and biodynamic principles and dedication to producing organic fruit without the use of chemicals like herbicides and fungicides. Albury’s still rosé is a corker if you can get your hands on a bottle. Not only do they refrain from any chemical nasties but Nick and Co. also follow biodynamic principles on the vineyard (burying cow horns filled with manure each winter). It’s that devotion to the cause that makes Albury one of the finest English natural wine producers around.
Offbeat Wines was established by Daniel Ham with a simple aim – to produce pure, unadulterated, and enjoyable English wines with environmental preservation and sustainability at the forefront of everything they do. They might not have their own vines just yet but Offbeat Wines source fruit from all over southern England (including spot like Bridewell Gardens in Oxfordshire) and work primarily with organic and biodynamic growers to ensure that the journey from grape to glass is also kept as seamless as possible by employing age-old winemaking techniques. The winery’s two-tonne, 50 year-old Coquard basket press – which is used to press the wines down before they’re left to ferment spontaneously in amphora and neutral oak – is its pride and joy. Hell, the winery even runs on solar power. Keep an eye for Offbeat Wine’s bright and interesting wines, available through distributor Wines Under The Bonnet.
Laverstoke Park Farm
The vineyard at Laverstoke Park is comprised of nine neat hectares of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes set within the lolloping Hampshire countryside. The vines are managed organically and biodynamically with a focus on developing the soil to support the vine. The wines themselves are sparling and bursting with tales of the area’s rich and fertile terroir. Laverstoke’s Biodynamic Vintage Brut is clean as a whistle with an almost bready finish; an excellent showcase of the sort of crowd-pleasing wines that domestic natural winemakers are capable of producing.
Self-described as using “minimal intervention in the vineyard and winery”, Westwell Wines are a wine producer that believes that small, simple, acts can – when they’re all totted up – make a very big difference. Westwell’s vineyard is located just beneath the Pilgrims Way on the North Downs in Kent; all the wines are made on-site from fruit grown on the estate with a mind to minimise intervention at every step. They might not be certified organic as of yet – considering it too much of a risk in such a marginal climate – but, since 2017, the winery has moved towards a more natural approach, having halved herbicide spraying with an aim of removing it altogether from 2021. Westwell’s Ortega Skin Contact is a lovely drop that’s created using low-intervention techniques – the Ortega grapes are fermented on skins slowly using wild yeasts, then aged in old Burgundy barrels for 9 months before bottling. Notes of dried apricots and a slight mineral edge make it a bottle worth purchasing.
Domaine Hugo, which is named after its founder, the renowned wine guru Hugo Stewart, is a producer of biodynamic sparkling wine that you can find nestled on the chalk downland of south Wiltshire. Domaine Hugo’s first vintage of barrel and amphora-fermented natural wine will be released late spring, early summer this year with the winery’s main point of sales being through Wines Under the Bonnet. Be ready for it when it drops, MOB. Hugo’s bottles are going to be some truly grailed finds.
Black Mountain Vineyard
Black Mountain Vineyard is an organic English vineyard set in the bucolic Herefordshire countryside. The organic principles that founders Laura and Mark Smith employ at their vineyard were inspired by the duo’s travels and first-hand experience working harvests in Languedoc and Fronton in south-west France. They’re currently in the process of converting their vines to organic standards through the Soil Association and use no synthetic pesticides in the vineyard. The duo also likes to keep things hand-crafted where possible, doing tasks like riddling the sparkling wine and disgorging by hand. Black Mountain’s natural sparkling wines are crisp and elegant – made using minimal additives they are low in sulphur but packed full of fresh, fruity aromas. The sublime Col Fondo 2018 was the first cuvée gleaned from Black Mountain’s first year of organic conversion, and a prime example of why natural wines can be so much fun – it’s a vibrant and refreshing stone fruit bomb of a wine that tells a different story with every sip.