Oxney Organic Estate Rosé, English Sparkling Wine
Oxney is Britains largest single organic wine estate, on the River Rother in East Sussex, six miles north of Rye’s historic and charming port. That means it’s also in the High Weald, a designated Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. Oxney is also certified organic by the Soil Association. Indeed, this organic mixed farm now has 14 ha of vineyards and so responsible for producing 18% of the UK’s organic grapes. Founders Kristin Syltevik and Paul Dobson planted their first vines in 2012 and have been organic since the start.
Undertaking organic viticulture is challenging, especially in Britains capricious wet climate. The significant risks come from those fungal diseases that can potentially wipe out a year of work in a few hours. However, successful organic viticulture is possible here, and Oxney (and a dozen or so others in Britain) prove that. One natural advantage at Oxney is its local microclimate. The vineyards are close to sea level; warmth comes from east or west-facing aspects and proximity to the English Channel, with added protection from ancient oak trees. The local soils are sandy but sit on heavy Weald clay, so the vineyards had additional drainage installed before planting the vines.
However, in Britain, a favourable microclimate doesn’t mean you can get the deckchairs out! Organic viticulture takes a lot of attention to detail, commitment and sheer hard work, particularly with weed control and ensuring the free flow of air to reduce humidity in the vine canopy. Hence, cover crops grow in the vine rows, with organic manure for fertiliser. Oxney also uses garlic and baking powder against fungal diseases, plus they deploy the harmless Bacillus subtilis, a natural inhabitant of soils and plants that kills fungal spores.
The result is healthy, balanced and natural grapes, which at Oxney are mostly the classic Champagne trio of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. There is also Seyval Blanc, one of the stalwarts of the early English vineyards. Though now eclipsed by the Champagne varieties, Seyval Blanc makes an excellent base for sparkling wines and makes a good insurance policy for poor harvest years.
In the winery
As Oxney occupies a former hop-farm site, the winery is within a converted Oast house in the middle of the vineyards. Oxney uses only its own-grown grapes, with whole-bunch pressing, indigenous yeasts and low sulphur. The wines go through malolactic fermentation, are unfiltered and vegan-friendly. All the Sparkling wines use the Classic method, just as in Champagne.
For sparkling rosé, one of the challenges is always how to achieve colour consistency, as the colour changes with the vintage conditions. Warm vintages create more colour and vice-versa. The key here is to make the base sparkling wine relatively pale. You then adjust the colour along with the final sugar dosage after disgorgement. As for time on the lees, this appears to vary according to the specific cuvée rather than having a set period – all part of winemaker Salvatore Leone’s combination of art and science.
The result is that Oxney now makes an excellent range of still and sparkling wines and has become no stranger to awards either. My pick from these is their Estate sparkling wine, the Estate Rosé.
Oxney Organic Estate Rosé, Brut, English Sparkling Wine, NV. 11%
The Estate Rosé is a non-vintage blend of all four of Oxney’s grape varieties, namely Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc. These come from Oxney’s Dobson, Hunt and Thomson blocks, each separately fermented in stainless steel to make the base wines. Though it comes in a green glass bottle, pouring from it reveals one of the prettiest pinks you’ll find in English wine. A delicate salmon pink wine with hints of onion skin, while streams of bubbles break the surface invitingly.
There’s plenty of aromas here as well, such as apple, cranberry and redcurrant. With hints of yeastiness, leesy influences play a back-seat role. Instead, raspberry, strawberry and cranberry fruit takes centre stage. There is a refreshingly acidic lift before a long, dry, and more-ish finish. That means it’ll make a splendid apéritif or a fine foil for creamy softer cheeses and salads.
As for the ratio of grape varieties in the blend? Unknown, though, Seyval Blanc has a good proportion, and the percentages probably vary according to the harvest year. How long on the lees? Perhaps a year? Level of dosage? It’s a well-balanced Brut style. Frankly, though I like technical information, all those details become unimportant after one sip of this. Just enjoy a sparkling rosé that ranks amongst the best that Britain has to offer and one that can teach the Champenoise a few things about rosé too.
I’d drink this wine now, while at its most exuberant, though keeping it for, say, 2-3 years won’t do any harm.
In the UK, you can find this wine at Waitrose for £25.99 or at Vintage Roots for £25.00. Alternatively, you can buy it directly from Oxney or various stockists in London and the Southeast of England. If you live in Norway or Germany, you’re in luck too!
I’m delighted that Terre à Terre in Brighton, arguably Britains best vegetarian restaurant, has Oxney’s wines. Although temporarily closed because of Covid, they are instead doing nationwide deliveries. I can’t think of a more delightful match than this Oxney rosé with one of their selection boxes. Alternatively, get a fresh Burrata and serve this excellent cheese with lemon and extra-virgin olive oil. The Rose’s acidity matches the creaminess of the cheese spectacularly well.
It remains a disappointment that there are not more organic and biodynamic wineries in Britain than there are. But this is still a small and relatively young industry, and now wine drinkers realise that English sparkling wines are world-class while the demand for organic wines continues to increase.
So raise a glass of this rosé and celebrate English wines, particularly those that are organic. Here’s to them!
Oxney Organic estate