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Details for Brightwell, Oxford Regatta

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

Surprisingly, more than one in three English vines bears black grapes.  However, 95% of them are the champagne grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and their grapes are destined for sparkling wine, not still reds.
Making properly red wine in the English climate is quite a challenge.  It’s quite a challenge in Germany too, but industrious plant breeders at German research institutes have risen to it, producing a range of new varieties designed to resist disease, ripen early and generate deep colour.  Just as almost all English still white wines are made from German-developed varieties, so too are the reds.
Apart from the odd Pinot Noir, virtually all English red is made from just three of these new German varieties: Rondo, Regent and this one, the properly Teutonic-sounding Dornfelder.  Although it sounds like something that used to drop bombs on the Thames Valley, Dornfelder can now be found growing in it, at Brightwell’s vineyard by the river a few miles south of Oxford.
It has a complicated parentage, involving virtually every traditional black variety found in Germany.  Auguste Herold created it in 1956 by crossing two other varieties he had created, Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe.  Helfensteiner is a cross between Fruhburgunder (an early-ripening clone of Pinot Noir) and Trollinger (a variety originally from northern Italy where it is called Schiava Grossa).  Heroldrebe is a cross between Blauer Portugieser (which despite its name comes from Slovenia, not Portugal, and is mostly found in Austria) and Lemberger (the German name for another important Austrian grape, Blaufränkisch).
Having unwisely used up his own name on the not-terribly-good Heroldrebe, Auguste was forced to name his most successful creation after Immanuel Dornfeld, the 19th-century founder of the Weinsberg research centre where he worked.  Dornfelder proved to have most of the good points of its four grandparents and few of their failings.  It was easier to grow than Pinot Noir, was earlier ripening than Lemberger, had more resistance to rot than Portugieser, stronger stalks than Trollinger, and better ripeness levels than either.
There’s rather a lot of it now in Germany – over 8,000 hectares, mostly in southerly Rheinhessen and Pfalz.  There’s also 20 hectares in England, which amounts to about 1.3% of our rather more modest vineyard area.
This one comes from the excellent 2013 vintage.  There’s about 10% Dunkelfelder in here too, which is (surprise!) another German cross.  It’s a teinturier variety, which means that its grapes have red flesh as well as black skins, making its wine even darker than Dornfelder’s.  This wine was hand-picked and fermented in stainless steel, before being aged for four months in oak barrels.

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