Kent: The Wine Garden of England A History & Celebration
By Olivia Riccini
Legend has it that Kent bore its ‘Garden of England’ title when Henry VIII was handed a bowl of ripe, red Flanders cherries and immediately after tasting ordered Britain’s first cherry orchard to be planted up in Teynham. Despite this tale being a beautifully romantic one behind the coining of the county’s title, it is likely that Kent’s identity as such was established well before the infamous King’s reign. The art of brewing, distilling and winemaking have long run deep in the county’s veins for well over a thousand years and today, the roots of these practices are firmly grounded in Kent’s rich and fertile soil.
400 years after Henry VIII was handed his cherries, Kent’s Garden of England status has taken on a well-deserved prefix. The cream of the crop, Kent has risen above other English counties and seized the throne to now claim the title of Wine Garden of England. However, this is far from a new practice in Kent. When Julius Caesar landed upon the Kentish shores of Pegwell Bay to establish the Roman era, in his wake his people brought winemaking and grapes to this fair county, making it highly likely that Kent was the first in which a vineyard was planted.
Today, one of Kent’s most endearing and beautiful points of interest that continues to magnetise visitors in their hoards from across the globe, are the luscious vineyards that sprawl across the county’s sunny slopes. Soaking up the summer sunshine and warm climate that Kent is famous for, it is no surprise that these vines grow in abundance to nurture and nourish magnificent grapes that are taken through the ancient and perfected process of winemaking. Kent’s sunny south-facing slopes, fertile soil and warm climate has even attracted world renowned Taittinger to grow vines here, a solid testament to the quality of the county’s grapes. But with a newfound appreciation for local produce, artisan products and independent businesses, the wine market and food industry have seen a rapid rise in popularity and real appreciation for the boutique and independent vineyards and wineries of English wine country.
With over 50 individual vineyards in Kent, a number which is increasing rapidly vintage by vintage, it is not just the wine itself that consumers want to experience. In an age of experiences, discovery and the need for knowledge, tourists flock to Kent to admire the vineyards for themselves and learn about the process behind what may, or may not be, their favourite tipple. With more and more vineyards opening their gates to welcome guests and teach them their miraculous ways, the art and appreciation of wine and its making has become more accessible. Kent has seen everyone, from tourists and locals to wine coinessuers and non-drinkers, visit vineyards and appreciate their beauty with perhaps a glass in hand, in their hoards. Wine Tours of Kent, as featured on pages 112-113, can vouch for this having seen a huge rise in business especially since lockdown. ‘We are seeing more and more people come from further afield wanting to embrace English wine,’ says Abi Ireland, so much so that Abi has organised a brand new music-meets-vineyard experience, with her Heard it Through the Grapevine festival which will see guests tour round a collection of Kentish vineyards whilst enjoying both wine and live music, such as Ibiza-style saxophonists in glorious settings – this already creates idyllic sunset images of long summer evenings indulging in the best of Kent’s beauty and wine.
Another event which embraces the county’s vineyards and wines takes place this month, on the 29th May. The Wine Garden of England Summer Festival invites guests to meet the top seven wine producers from Kent alongside carefully selected local food at the iconic Squerryes Court in Westerham. Partnering with Produced in Kent, the festival also brings the very best food from Kent to pair with the wine, of which your ticket includes 21 different wines to sample!
Canterbury Wine Festival takes place on 25th June, although not hosted at a vineyard it provides the opportunity to indulge in our county’s vibrant viticulture, meet the growers, try a range of sensational locally produced wines and buy your favourites to take home. Plus you can book a masterclass to hear Master of Wine Clive Barlow share his insights and expertise to enhance your experience.
The most well-known English wine producer however, is Chapel Down. Chapel Down can now be found in supermarkets and shops across the country and is a famous name in the wine world. It comes as no surprise that Chapel Down has hundreds of acres of vineyards in Kent. Just last month the prolific producer announced that they had partnered with the English Cricket Board and have thus become its official sparkling wine. The partnership will see Chapel Down’s sparkling wine offered to winning teams on the podium at all Men’s International, Women’s International and Domestic Finals – watched by millions worldwide. Previous partnerships include Champagne, further solidifying the fact that this partnership is yet another testament to the brilliance of Kentish wine.
England’s highest ranking still rosé also comes from Kent. Having launched last year, folc impressed wine critics and accrued numerous awards both nationally and on an international scale. This month, Harper’s Wine Stars awarded folc three awards in their 2022 resultannouncement including a 4 star medal, the ‘Star Design’ and the coveted ‘Star of Kent’ award.
folc’s 2021 vintage is a unique blend of six different grape varieties: all sourced from family-run vineyards in Kent and neighbouring counties. Once harvested, the grapes make a short trip to Canterbury where they meet folc’s talented winemakers with a combined 60 years of winemaking experience. Behind the brand are remarkable founders, couple Elisha Rai and Tom Cannon who have always had a passion for wine and in particular the amazing quality of wine that is produced on English soil.
With Elisha as one of the very few female BAME co-founded UK wine producers, folc recognises that the wine industry has some way to go when it comes to diversity. The team looks to demystify wine and truly represent and speak the same language as their customers. After championing English rosé for four years, folc has recognised and brings issues such as sustainability and inclusion to the fore to match the product’s unrivalled quality. Their winery is accredited with the WineGB Sustainability Scheme, reducing the environmental impact of wine packaging and levels of greenhouse gas emission as well as the volume of water used and the carbon footprint per bottle.
With Kent playing such a prestigious role within the English wine industry, English Wine Week 2022 will be an important occasion for the county. A campaign put in place by WineGB (www.winegb.co.uk), this year it is set to be a glorious midsummer event taking place from 18th to the 26th June. At its core, English Wine Week aims to provide an opportunity to help vineyards and wineries sell wine, and inspire more people to get to know the country’s wonderful English wines better by encouraging them to buy from local vineyards. Marking the ‘the start of summer’ with Summer Solstice on 21 June and Midsummer Day on 24 June, English Wine Week is set to be the perfect timing to enjoy vineyards in all their glory, bathe in summer sun with flowering likely to have started – the advent of fruit growing and promising prospects of the summer ahead.
During English Wine Week, vineyards across Kent will get involved in the celebration and share the knowledge behind English wine. It will be the ultimate chance for vineyards, retail outlets and influencers across the country to celebrate and promote English wines together and will therefore be a wonderful opportunity for wine-connoisseurs or those simply with an appreciation of a beautiful vineyard and homegrown produce, to come together and celebrate one of Kent’s crowning glories – the title of Wine Garden of England.