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Details for Brightwell, Oxford Gold

CountryUnited Kingdom
Brightwell Vineyard
(click to find out more)


The Romans brought the vine to England, and the Saxons inherited their vineyards.  The Domesday Book records 46 vineyards, and this number expanded thereafter to satisfy the Norman taste for wine.  By the time of Henry VIII there were 139.
Many were owned by the Church, however, and did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  This roughly coincided with the start of the “Little Ice Age” with Frost Fairs on the Thames, leading to a further reduction in the surviving vineyards that had flourished during the preceding Medieval Warm Period.
The real deathknell came with the Civil War.  The victorious Puritans grubbed up the vineyards, and by the time of the Restoration the skills required to tend them had been lost.  A few noblemen continued to produce wine on their estates using imported expertise but the last of these, at Castell Coch in South Wales, was ploughed up in 1916 as part of the wartime food production effort.
Modern English wine begins in 1951, when Hambledon in Hampshire was planted with Seyval Blanc to become the first commercial vineyard since Castell Coch.  Others followed, based initially on Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau, augmented in the 1970s by other early-ripening German crosses like Reichensteiner, Huxelrebe and Schönburger.  The style was quite Germanic too, which suited the public taste at a time when Liebfraumilch was the UK’s biggest-selling wine.
The shift to full-bodied dry whites in the Eighties caused a lot of wineries to close – you can’t make Aussie-style Chardonnay in the English climate, even in the good years (two or three each decade).  But plant Chardonnay they did, because it was realised that England is well suited to produce Champagne-style sparkling wines, where underripeness and high acidity are actually required.  Much of southern England, especially the North and South Downs, lies on the same chalk as Champagne.
Today the Champagne grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are England’s most-planted varieties, and English sparkling wines compete in quality (and price) with Champagne.  Still whites are now made in a dryer style and largely from Bacchus, which is usefully similar to Sauvignon Blanc.

Brightwell Vineyard

The largest of Oxfordshire’s half a dozen wineries, Brightwell Vineyard lies a mile north of Wallingford on the south bank of the Thames.  Its 14 acres were planted on flinty chalk greensand and gravel between 1988 and 1990, all using the Geneva Double Curtain trellis system.  The rain shadow of the hills surrounding the Thames Bowl make this one of the driest places in England.
It was bought at the turn of the century by New Zealand-born Bob Nielsen and his wife Carol who have extensively renovated it, planting new varieties and expanding the vineyard.  They now have 18 acres from which they produce nine different wines.  There is one traditional-method sparkling white, but the rest of the range is still and includes a remarkably Chablis-esque chardonnay, a rosé and, unusually, two reds.

about this wine About this wine

I hope you enjoyed our distinctly retro but suitably English intro video.  I wanted to use this wondrous live version, but sadly it won’t play outside of Youtube.  Check out Tony Hadley’s outfit!
Back in 1982 English wine was regarded as just a curiosity – even a bit of a joke.  It was very much a cottage industry; there were about 100 wineries but only 300 hectares of vines in production.  Today there are are only a few more wineries – 135 at the last count – but they have more than 2000 hectares of producing vineyard, and our sparkling wines beat Champagne in blind tastings.  Climate change can have its upside.
Sadly we can’t feature sparkling wines: even assuming the pouch arrived intact, can you imagine what would happen when you snipped the corner?  But while sparkling wines from the traditional Champagne varieties now dominate the industry, they didn’t exist until the late Eighties.  English wine then, and non-sparkling English wine today, is based around varieties bred in Germany to ripen in sites where the great Riesling would not.
These have unfamilar names like Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner, Ortega and Schönburger.  The most-planted is Bacchus, which is also the one you’re most likely to see on the front label, at least partly because its name isn’t as impenetrably Germanic as the others.
This wine is made from one of the impenetrable ones: Huxelrebe (say it “Hook-sill-ray-beh”).  On English labels it tends to travel under the unofficial alias “Flint”, at least for dry wines.  Chapel Down’s Flint Dry is based on it, and in cooler years Brightwell make theirs into a piercingly sharp, bone-dry white called Oxford Flint.
But it was bred in Germany to make sweet wines, and its innately high acidity rather suits some sweetness to balance it.  (Or some softer varieties as blending partners – Chapel Down use Chardonnay and Reichensteiner.)  2014 was an excellent English vintage, with a magnificent warm and dry September, so Bob Nielsen, Brightwell’s owner and winemaker, let the grapes hang on the vine to produce this late-harvest style – Oxford Gold.

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