Greyfriars Vineyard in Surrey has some of the oldest chardonnay vines in the UK. Their sparkling wines are outstanding and suberb value. Here’s their story.
Greyfriars’ two vineyards are located on the south facing slopes of the North Downs, also known as the Hog’s Back. This long chalk ridge has long been woven into the tapestry of our lives. It’s height above the forests below made it a natural pathway for pilgrims and traders way back in the Middle Ages. In latter centuries it was a route for Londoner’s escaping to the country and was popular with the Jane Austin set. Many of you will know it now as a busy and important commuter route.
Yet there’s much more to this ridge than road. Today, it’s fast gaining a reputation for being prime land to produce English Sparkling Wine. And that’s because the chalk seam that runs along this ridge is great for the grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The soft, porous nature of the soil makes it free draining which is very important in a wet country like ours. This is because vine roots like to dig deep and they don’t like to be water-logged.
But it takes more than chalk to make a great vineyard. At Greyfriars the vines are planted on south facing slopes and catch the sun throughout the day. This means the sun can dry out any morning dampness and heat up the soil in the afternoon. This is particularly important in our cool climate wine making region. The slope angles at Greyfriars mean they receive 10-15% more solar energy per square metre than a flat level vineyard. This extra percentage makes all the difference.
The Greyfriars Vineyard was originally set up in 1989 and was one of the first in England to plant the classic Champagne varieties Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meuneur. This makes them some of the oldest vines in the country. In 2011 current owners Mike and Hilary Wagstaff took over with the aim of expanding the vineyard to its current size of 40 acres.
As Mike, recognises, it’s been a steep learning curve. “Over the last 13 seasons at Greyfriars, we’ve learnt a lot about the site and geology here from amazingly warm years such as 2018 and 2022 through absolute stinkers such as 2012 and everything in between. While overall we think we have two pretty amazing vineyards here in the Surrey Hills, producing consistently good yields of great fruit which we have been crafting into ever better wine, it’s not been without challenges on the way and some important lessons, some learnt the hard way.”
Greyfriars Non Vintage Sparkling Cuvée is one of the best value English Sparkling Wines in the country. Fresh and fruity, the wine is soft and dry with intense lemon, apple and mineral flavours.
The crisp finish makes it a perfect aperitif and equally a great wine pairing with light fish dishes or any type of seafood.
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