In March 2021, the world of wine-twitter was besieged with images and tweets about a new English producer, Danbury Ridge. The head wine buyer of the Tate declared them “the finest English still wines I’ve ever tasted.” There were similar compliments from renowned restaurateur Robin Hutson, from several masters of wine, and even the head winemaker of the UK’s most awarded estate, Gusbourne, citing them as “magnificent wines. A new frontier in English wine.”
At first, being the cynic I am, I was a little suspicious of these bold claims. After so many months of staying at home, had the opinions and subsequent tasting notes of these illustrious connoisseurs been affected by the well-known allure of tasting in a cellar? Understandable really, for those who usually spend much of the year visiting vineyards around the world, being wined and dined and tasting an enviable number of great wines. My interest was piqued though, and I started investigating a little more. I soon found that Jancis Robinson had tasted the wines a few weeks before, in a line-up with some rather smart 2019 Burgundy’s, where they stood up to their Burgundian contemporaries admirably. That was the clincher for me, and I had to visit and taste them for myself.
The focus here has, and always will be still wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a great deal of attention given to clonal selection. They are located 6 miles east of Chelmsford, in the warmest, driest corner of England, 40-50 metres above sea level, sandwiched between the Blackwater Estuary to the north, and the river Crouch to the south. Soils are about as good as it gets for still wine production, a deep deltaic deposite of sand and gravel over a solid geology of London clay. The average growing season temperature is a balmy 17°C, and with just 540mm rainfall. The estate is owned by Michael Bunker, who grew up locally, and after a very successful career in the city and a long stint in Hong Kong, decided to buy a farm close to where he grew up. He was immediately told of the huge potential for vines and quickly embarked on rigorous soil testing and site analysis. The results were astounding! They planted their first vines in 2014, with more plantings still going in now.
Combine these superb sites and favourable warm conditions with highly talented ex-Lyme Bay winemaker Liam Idzikowski, and my levels of excitement reached spaniel puppy level. These 2018 wines are their maiden releases and as Jancis said, “what a debut vintage!”. Quantities are tiny, with just 888 bottles made of the Octagon Block wines, and a couple of thousand of the signature wines. Released in March 2021, we don’t expect these wines to be around for long.