Raising a glass to Donna Barbour - Wildflower Magazine 10, Jul 2022
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We meet winemaker, Donna Barbour and discover how a dream of a vineyard in California led to planting vines at Woodchurch in Kent; and how a low intervention approach produces award-winning wines.
WWC: When was your first ‘ah-ha’ wine moment?
I had always over-ambitiously dreamed of owning a vineyard in California – and then in 2009, my husband, Graham took me to visit some vineyards in Kent and Sussex including Chapel Down, Biddenden and Ridgeview. All beautiful vineyards with delicious wine, there was something about the sparkling wine and the experience at Ridgeview that persuaded us to pursue the idea that we could plant a vineyard.
WWC: English wines were still somewhat of a novelty then though?
When we planted the vines at Woodchurch the English wine market was still shaking off its bad reputation from the 1970s when ‘British wine’ was a dodgy semi-sweet wine. Around 2009, big names like Nyetimber and Ridgeview were beating champagne in international competitions. The tide was beginning to turn and wine critics have become more interested in English wines ever since.
WWC: You now have a boutique low intervention vineyard; can you explain what this entails?
We encourage all kinds of wildlife in the vineyard. As well as owls and kestrels there are hares, badgers, foxes, pheasants and partridges. We don’t use herbicides or insecticides and we strive to keep any other chemical use to a minimum. We also keep the grasses on the perimeter of the vineyard long to promote wildlife and wildflowers. Nature provides a balance, and, in my experience, it has proved better not to interfere with nature.
WWC: Your vineyard is open to visitors, can you tell us what they can experience?
Our cellar door shop and terrace bar are open all year round. We serve wines by the glass and bottle, and you can sit inside or outside on a sunny day. We also serve delicious cheese and charcuterie boards from local artisan producers and run tours of the vineyard which can be booked through our website.
WWC: What is so special about Kent when it comes to growing grapes?
Kent is a wonderful county to grow grapes in. The warm dry summers are key to ensuring ripe fruit. Our southerly slopes also mean the vines get more sunlight throughout the year, a necessity for anyone planting vines in the UK!
WWC: 2018 is famously regarded as the best vintage in England to date, obviously your sparkling wines are a little older than this, which vintage is your favourite?
Wines and especially sparkling wines can often surprise you. You may think the grapes have not reached the optimal ratio of acidity and sugar, but with the right wine making techniques that wine could become an award-winning vintage. Wines also develop in the bottle, so the longer the wine is left to age the rounder and more delicate the flavours can become. I don’t know if I can call out a specific vintage as being exceptional, all the wines we have on sale now are delicious with their own qualities.
WWC: You’ve been producing wine since 2009, over the last 12 years what have you noticed as the biggest changes in the UK wine industry?
A lot more vineyards have been planted – in fact, UK wine production has more than doubled over the last 10 years. There has been a recent shift from sparkling to still wine production, however this can vary from year to year due to the weather and grape ripeness.
WWC: Woodchurch Sparkling Rosé won Kent Wine of the Year in 2020 at the annual Taste of Kent awards, with so much competition in Kent, this is a great accolade.
We were thrilled. As you say to win against the other quality wines Kent has to offer made us incredibly proud. The fruit grown in Kent is exceptional and our wine maker creates fruit forward wine which the judges loved, and we received some amazing feedback. We are still glowing.
WWC: You produce award-winning sparkling wine and you’ve also ventured into still wines.
More people are turning to traditional method English Sparkling instead of champagne for celebrations and weddings, it is lovely to see that gradual shift. Still wine is also seeing an increase in popularity, we are selling out of our still wine ranges both at the cellar door and via our trade customers. There is no longer a need to buy wine from anywhere else in the world!
WWC: What would you suggest we match with your still wines?
Our still Chardonnay is crisp with fresh fruit flavours, soft butter notes and a hint of almond followed by a generous and well-balanced finish. It pairs well with any type of seafood – our favourite is fish pie. Our still rosé is packed with fruit flavours with a long and savoury finish and makes a great match with chicken dishes.
WWC: Favourite wine movie?
Let’s go with Sideways! If you love wine and visiting vineyards, this is a must-see film.
WWC: Which local wine producer (other than Woodchurch) should we be watching right now?
We have three producers who have recently planted close to us. Wayfarer wines intend to concentrate on still wines, Hamstreet Wines are biodynamic, and Warehorne Vineyard have planted grape varieties for still red wines. It will be exciting to taste all their wines when they are released.
WWC: Desert Island wine, other than your own?
I might have to choose something from Kent that I haven’t tried yet as I love discovering new wines. Perhaps a bottle of the limited edition Biddenden Ortega late harvest.