Unless you’re lucky enough to live on a fashionable stretch of England’s south coast, then there’s a fair chance that you won’t have heard of Brighton-based winemaker Tamasine Herriott or the incredible wines she makes in her space at Freedom of the Press winery. Total production is just a few thousand bottles.
These wines, bottled under her Vindemiate label, present a fascinating – and delicious – paradox. They are at once super-traditional and ultra-modern. Vindemiate itself comes from an old Anglo-Saxon English term for winemaking. The project’s first two wines – an orange wine and a pet-nat – are made using some of the most long-established winemaking techniques, which far predate the traditional method for making sparkling wine. Yet they have so far found their market principally amongst the more youthful, forward-looking, and experimental wine bars near Tam’s home in Brighton.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that these are hipster wines suitable only for those who prefer ‘wine adjacent’ concoctions. Tam uses her decidedly classical winemaking training to make pinpoint fresh, clean, fruit-driven wines that would appeal to even the most traditional palates.
So, with this fascinating contrast of the traditional and modern in mind, let’s take a journey back in time to discover a winemaking story that would make Doc Brown proud.
If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?
Like all great Marty McFly-style heroes, Tam wasn’t looking for an adventure.
In fact, working for a firm of accountants doing trial balances and submitting VAT returns, you might say that her working life was as far away from being adventurous as it is possible to be. “I like things to be ordered and I’m quite organised,” she tells me.
Yet a point came when she realised that accountancy was, in essence, “reorganising other people’s chaos year after year.”
Tam continues, “I released that the only reason I was doing it was because it paid quite well, and I needed either to bite the bullet, accept that this was going to be my life and my career and do my accountancy exams, or do something different.
“Then, one evening in the pub, a friend suggested studying winemaking at Plumpton and I was like, ‘is that even a proper career?’ Eight years ago, English wine was still very niche.”
Nevertheless, adventure had come calling, and Tamasine was ready to jump into the DeLorean. Yet it’s one thing to study for a degree in viticulture and oenology at Plumpton – another to begin making wine for yourself. Most graduates aren’t lucky enough to have the means to own their own vineyard and winery, so they typically end up finding employment in other peoples’ cellars.
This was the route Tam expected to go – and she was lucky enough to land a prime work placement at Freedom of the Press winery in Oxfordshire. This is a fantastic startup ‘urban’ winery that buys in fruit from specialist grape growers and then makes wine under its own label.
She got on famously with Freedom of the Press’ owner Gavin Carver – who describes her as someone he ‘can’t live without’. In order to keep Tam involved at the end of her placement period, Gavin offered her use of some of his cellar capacity – and Vindemiate was born.
This new label followed the urban winery tried and trusted recipe of looking to buy the best quality fruit, from the best specialist grape growers. Yet where Freedom of the Press looked to make classically-styled English still wines from noble varieties like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris, Vindemiate turned towards England’s often overlooked hybrids.
“The more recent move towards planting noble varieties has been good for the industry as a whole,” Tamasine tells me, “as it’s raised the perception of quality. But now we’re reassessing older sites planted with hybrids like Regent, Orion, and Phoenix. Some of these have vines that are 40-50 years old – far more established than new plantings.”
Wine lovers will know that having old vines is often taken as equating to better fruit quality and more complex, concentrated wines. Yet there’s more to it than just age. “Some of the planting of Burgundian and Champagne varieties is completely unsuitable to our climate,” Tam tells me. “You get these dense clutters and a couple of days of rain, and your bunches are rotting from the inside out. So, you’re spraying and spraying and spaying.
“With hybrids, the grapes form looser clusters and are naturally more resistant. Depending on your vineyard location, it could be far more sustainable to have hybrids planted.”
Yet it’s not just “a hippy eco thing,” as Tam puts it. “If you’re a farmer with hybrids planted you don’t have to pass over the vineyard so many times during a growing season to spray, That’s saving you time and money, so it’s good from a business point of view too.”
Which brings us to another of Vindemiate’s great paradoxes – Tam wants her wines to sell, yet balances this against social purpose. “You can be as principled as you like,” she tells me, “but you have to be able to pull it off in a business sense.
“For example, we buy fruit from Bridewell gardens, which is a grape growing project set up to help people with mental health issues get some time out and learn some new skills. They work organically and don’t spray at all. I grew up in Brighton, and I’m a bit of a hippy at heart. I’ve always believed that we don’t need to be dousing our food with a load of chemicals. But there’s the practical, pragmatic part that thinks ‘well maybe sometimes we need to spray to protect yields.’ But looking at what they’re doing there – they have very little disease and the fruit comes in so clean with less that 1-2% botrytis and downy. So it can be done.
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