The movement railed against the commoditisation of food as simply fuel to be taken on board as quickly and cheaply as possible. Instead, it centred on eating as one of life’s great pleasures, a vital opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family.
At Artelium Wine Estate in East Sussex, they have adopted the same ethos, except here it’s all about slowing down wine: encouraging people to relax, spend time with their wines, and really enjoy the experience. After all, wine too has played a central role in European culture for thousands of years. It’s more than simply a drink to quench one’s thirst.
But before we get too far into slow wine, there’s the small matter of the clusters of colourful upturned buckets that are suspended like giant flowers around the vineyard and tasting barn. You might wonder if they’re some kind of nutrient distribution device for the vines, or perhaps something designed to scare off birds.
It turns out they’re part of an exhibition of contemporary art.
Art is an interest that for owners Julie Bretland and Mark Collins comes a very close second to wine. It’s a central part of the whole ‘slow’ philosophy behind Artelium Wine Estate, encouraging visitors to be more mindful and consider the experience.
As Jules explains, there are big differences between winemaking and art, yet also a lot of similarities: “both art and wine are an expression of human creativity. Both aim to stir the emotions – to provoke thought, to generate conversation. Both involve an interaction between the creator and those experiencing the creation.”
In the end, Jules and Mark were able to combine their two interests. They realised that planting a vineyard and making delicious, thought-provoking wines could co-exist with collaborative spaces to display artwork, and they could commission artists for their wine labels.
In this way, the idea behind the name Artelium was created – a synergy of ‘art’ and the ‘ium’ that you find in many words denoting shared spaces: stadium, herbarium, planetarium.
Yet don’t make the mistake of thinking that Artelium is just about art. There’s some serious winemaking science going on here too. The estate sits across two distinct vineyards and employs the services of two of England’s great contemporary winemakers: Dermot Sugrue in charge of sparkling wines, and Owen Elias looking after the still.
The main Artelium East vineyard in East Sussex near Brighton sits on a south-facing slope comprised mainly of clay soil . The industry typically prefers to focus on England’s Champagne-like chalk soils. Yet Artelium’s 2020 Artefact Chardonnay achieved the highest score for an English Chardonnay at the International Wine Challenge. It was made from fruit grown solely in this clay-dominated vineyard.
However, Artelium’s more recently planted ‘West’ vineyard in Madehurst is pure South Downs chalk. Early signs suggest that wines made in exactly the same way from each site taste distinctly different. In future they could be bottled separately for interest or blended for complexity. It’s an exciting prospect.
At Madehurst the estate has also invested in a brand new, state of the art winery that at full capacity will be able to produce 1 million bottles of wine per year. Since Artelium plans a maximum production of just 150,000 bottles, that will leave plenty of space for other winemakers to collaborate and make their own wines here. In fact, Dermot Sugrue’s own wines from his Sugrue South Downs project are being made in the Artelium Madehurst winery this year.
This science has generated incredible results. At the 2022 WineGB awards, Artelium’s Blanc De Blancs 2015 won the trophy for best overall sparkling wine, and the estate was named both as Best Newcomer and Supreme Champion.
So in the end, is Artelium focused more on art, or on wine? Steve Jobs once said that “creativity is just connecting things.” It really does seem that Artelium is about making connections: between wine and art, East and West Sussex, clay and chalk, Dermot and Owen, sparkling and still wines.
And this may be where truly exciting creativity – and wine – is born.
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