English Wine Week: The college at the heart of the industry

Peter Ranscombe learns how winemakers are trained at Plumpton College – and tastes the fruits of their labours – in his latest English Wine Week article.

IF I’D known it was possible to studying for a degree in winemaking then my UCAS form may have looked very different.

Plumpton College near Brighton is the only place in the UK where you can qualify as a winemaker.

It’s also at the heart of research and development for the English and Welsh wine industry, with its graduates going on to get jobs not just at wineries but also in the wider drinks trade.

There’s also lots of crossover with the brewing and distilling sectors, especially for those studying for Plumpton’s international wine business degree.

The college’s alumni include Dawn Cooper-Jones at Chateau de Monfaucon in Bordeaux, Sergio Verrillo at BlackBook Winery in London, and Davy Zym, senior wine buyer at drinks merchant Berry Bros & Rudd in London, who recently spoke about his motor neurone disease diagnosis and his colleagues’ fundraising efforts.

It could be kept busy in the years ahead; trade body Wine GB thinks that the number of people employed in the domestic wine industry will rise from 2,000 at present to 24,000 by 2040.

As well as being taught in the classroom, students also get their hands dirty out in the college’s vineyards and winery.

Plumpton has about 10 hectares of vines spread across two sites, ranging from sparkling wine trio chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir through to traditional varieties grown in England like bacchus and otega, as well as riesling, regner and rondo.

Have the students been putting their new-found skills to good use?

Let’s take a look at some of the bottles that Plumpton produces and sells to find out…

Plumpton Estate Brut Classic (£150 for six bottles, shop.plumpton.ac.uk)
Sparkling wine is the dominant force in the English and Welsh wine industry, so it makes sense for students to be drilled in its production. Lots of red apple and peach on the nose hint at its blend of riesling with cross-varieties regner and reichensteiner. The acidity is characteristically crisp, but for me needs a bit longer to knit together. The grapefruit, lemon rind and Schweppes bitter lemon flavours hint at its potential.

Plumpton Estate Bacchus 2016 (£99 for six bottles, shop.plumpton.ac.uk)
Bacchus is another mainstay of the domestic wine industry and Plumpton has a cracking example here. It’s a variety with which I sometime struggle, but the college’s bottle has a decidedly more grown-up feeling to it, with lemon curd and a touch of smoke in amongst the telltale elderflower aromas. The green pepper, asparagus and lemon flavours are nicely rounded and provide plenty of balance against the fresh acidity. There’s even a wee tropical guava note developing on the finish. My pick of the bunch.

Plumpton Estate Rock Lodge Rosé 2016 (£66 for six bottles, shop.plumpton.ac.uk)
Aye, I’ll admit it – I had to go and look up the “acolon” grape variety when I saw it mentioned on the label. Turns out it’s a crossing of Austrian-favourite blaufränkisch and dornfelder, making it well suited to England’s cool climate. The rosé has aromas of smoke and savoury roast meat swirling in amongst the strawberry, raspberry and redcurrant on the nose. There’s a noticeable bit of residual sugar alongside the strawberry, redcurrant and strawberry jam on the palate, but that helps to balance the refreshing acidity. It’s a fresh style, and lends itself to food-and-wine matching.

Tomorrow – we leave the countryside and head into the cities to explore urban wineries.

Plus, don’t forget to check out this week’s articles about Scots – and adopted Scots – who are making wine in England, as well as bottles you can pick-up from independent wine merchants or alongside your supermarket shopping.