“What is it that’s quintessential about an English wine?” it’s a question that James Thomas, wine maker at Knightor Winery, and I are pondering. My nose, at this point, has just been given a polite introduction to Knightor’s own blended aromatic white wine called ‘Trevannion’. A mix of Siegerrebe, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Grape varieties suited to the vagaries of the British climate. If I’m to use English character to describe its taste, quintessentially speaking, it is definitely worthy of respect. This just might be the Stephen Fry of wines: pleasantly aromatic, a little fruity and refreshingly acidic.
“For example, Aussie wines,” James, says, “are frequently described as being robust in character. All that sunshine boosts the grapes and apparently packs a healthy punch of fruity flavour into their wines.” However, rather like the British character, “Grape varieties suited to the English climate and the wines they produce are modest, understated and much more subtle.
Knightor is a brand new winery just a mile from the Eden Project. Being situated high above St. Austell Bay on the edge of the clay country is perhaps not the most obvious location for a new boutique winery producing its own high quality wine. However there is logic, “Knightor is actually equidistant”, explains the owner, Adrian Derx, from each of their two vineyards. Currently, Knightor has 16,000 6-7-year-old vines in production across 5 ½ hectares on one location, to the west near Porthscatho, and the other in the east near Downderry.
Harvest from these two vineyards is not all that Knightor relies upon. “We also work with other English growers to ensure we can maintain quality supply in poor seasons,” James reasons. “At Knightor we use predominantly ‘whole bunch’ pressing which gives a very fine, high quality juice, then the fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, with small parcels also aged in French oak barrels”. In addition to two white wines, Knightor also have a First Vintage Rosé 2010 which won a gold medal in the United Kingdom Vineyards Association awards, “and our sparkling wine is going through secondary ferment in bottle to be ready next year,” James adds.
James’ parents have their own vineyard on St. Martin’s on the Isles of Scilly which started his interest in wine making, although it wasn’t his initial intention to follow a wine making career. It just happened that he found himself in Australia working his visa on a number of Australian vineyards, most notably Bannockburn Vineyards and Pettavel. However, one winemaking mentor encouraged James to go back to university and properly study the winemaking process.
“The process of making wines in the New World is ultra scientific to ensure consistency and I have certainly been very influenced by winemaking techniques from Australia,” James tells me, “but it doesn’t mean that I plan to conform to this sort of ‘New World’ model for mass-produced supermarket wines. At Knightor, we take a more ‘artisan’ approach to winemaking that comes from working with small parcels of fruit, from known vineyards. It’s a leaf out of the Old World, letting each wine say something about it’s own origins, to be it’s own point of reference and not mimic anything else. It’s too early days for English wines to talk about that elusive concept of terroir, however, we can still make wines that are honest and true to their origins. Wines with a certain precision and elegance displaying character as well. Our wines are ‘English’, first and foremost and by combining the two approaches, we will be able to produce distinct vintages of very special wines.”
Knightor is not just about wine. Uniquely it’s also a winery with a restaurant. The winery-restaurant concept is widely known in the New World, where the aim is to promote the synergy between the two, but it’s a relatively new in Britain. The chef, Angelo Bruno, who has had experience from working in top restaurants in London, Italy and the Balearics, brings an eclectic mix of Mediterranean flavours to his dishes and the dishes always compliment the wines. “Some people will come here because it’s a restaurant and will be pleasantly surprised to be able to order a glass or a bottle of our own wine,” Adrian explains. “Other people will come for the wine first and foremost but when they eat freshly prepared tapas and mezze dishes they’ll discover a new element to the wine.”
Outside its typically Cornish ‘out of season’ weather. You can almost taste it on the tongue: A chill drizzle, damp earth and a misty grey sky. The cool fermented Madeleine Angevine 2011 that James has just given me to try is light and very refreshing but at the same time infused with aromatic floral flavours. A glance through the window has me thinking, could be that English wines taste like our climate? In the case of the Madeleine, it’s like elderflower blossom drenched with Cornish crisp, coastal mizzle.
Not only are these English wines refreshing, I’m actually glad to be enjoying a crisp white on a winter’s day. Food and wine matching is obvious but maybe the English quirk would be to also match wine with our weather?
For more information:
Knightor Winery and Restaurant, Trethurgy, St. Austell, PL26 8YQ
Tel: 01726 851101