Just a few years ago Charlotte was an insurance broker working in Mumbai. She had 2 maids, a driver, boozy brunches, and amazing holidays. But Charlotte missed the English countryside. So much so that she gave up ex-pat life and bought a place in the village of Shotley in Suffolk. It has the most amazing views across a field and out to the estuary and Felixstowe port.
“When we heard the field was up for sale, we couldn’t bear the thought of losing it. So, we found the money and bought it. We didn’t have any grand plans, other than to protect it.” And here’s where the happy accident happens. In amongst the weeds there were rows of 25 year old Rondo vines in really good health. Charlotte, who was on maternity leave with her son became involved: she did loads of research and got totally hooked. When her son was born, she didn’t go back to her insurance job.
“I do have a little team to help, especially in the café, and I bring in people for the more pressured jobs in the vineyard. But it is predominantly me” explains Charlotte. “I’ve gone from an office job onto a tractor. You think you can’t do these things and years ago I would have been calling my dad or my husband to help me fix the tractor. Now I just think … how hard can it be … so I just get on and do it.” Charlotte is also learning a lot about business and her words of advice are to find what works and stick with it.
For Charlotte that means making still English Bacchus, rosé and Pinot Noir with minimal added sugar. She has a strong local following, partly because she’s situated along the path of a stunning country walk in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Hikers can get a cup of tea, cake, and a glass of wine. In 2022 Shotley Vineyard made around 9,000 bottles. They sell out every year.
Charlotte is by nature cautious and it’s why she’s resisted the temptation to experiment with the other grapes she grows. But she’s quick to recognise their potential. Rondo and Ortega are favourable in this climate. “I feel passionately that we should be doing more with those varieties. I do think we perhaps try and emulate what’s going on in France, especially with Champagne. We know we can make great sparkling wines in this country, but let’s see what we can do with the Rondo and the Ortega. We’ve got the potential here to be global trendsetters with these varieties.”
When we leave, Charlotte is straight back in the vineyard. In leggings and T shirt it’s a far cry from the glamorous ex-pat life style of a few years ago. “Shotley Vineyard was a happy accident. I find this much more fulfilling. I have a great balance of family life and I’m out in the field I love nurturing the vines. It’s also great to see my passions grow.”
There is something special about the fruit in Suffolk. Slightly warmer and dryer than the rest of the country it’s starting to emerge as a region with a reputation for succulent, ripe grapes that make characterful wine.
Shotley Vineyard Bacchus has classic aromatic elderflower flavours, but they are not overpowering. That’s because the vineyard is just a few meters from the sea and this wine also has a wonderful saline, oyster shell minerality.
English Bacchus is a really versatile wine, especially for spring and summer seasonal dishes. It works brilliantly with fried foods and aromatic herbs and is a great partner for Vietnamese dishes. Here we’ve paried Shotley Vineyard Bacchus with spicy late summer fritters and home made sriracha.
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