Wait a minute, what is this? A winery in England? Yes, although this picturesque vineyard could be anywhere in the wine-growing world, from Italy to Napa to even Israel, this particular patch of grapevines, called Sedlescombe Vineyards, is located in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, about 45 miles southeast of London. Sedlescombe was founded in 1979 by Roy Cook, who is still the owner and winemaker more than 35 years later. Sedlescombe is famous for being an eco-friendly, biodynamic winery, using organic methods of viticulture, no chemicals and with sound principles that are socially and environmentally responsible.
The winery began with a single grapevine that Roy Cook added to the organic garden he planted near here in 1978, seeking to live self-sufficiently at a time before many people knew what that kind of lifestyle was. With the help of some German winemakers, Sedlescombe was on the rise during the 80s and now produces two kinds of white wine, a host of reds, some rosés, and even some sparkling wines. (The English evidently do not toss around varietal labels like cabernet or chardonnay as casually as others in the world do). Their 2011 Regent won an award as the best red wine produced in the UK. And of course it’s biodynamic.
The idea of wineries in England–though there are certainly good ones, as Sedlescombe proves–is a bit of a touchy one for environmental historians. For a very long time, deniers of climate change have relied on several pseudohistorical tropes to try to argue that the Earth is cooler now than it has been in the past, and one of these is “In the Middle Ages they used to grow wine in England!” This silly argument ignores the plain fact that wine is grown in England today, and has been continuously since Roman times. The success of Sedlescombe should put silly misconceptions like that to rest.
I was last in the UK in 2003. It’s long past time that I return, and when I do I’d love to sample some British wines and visit some wineries. This one would be high on my list.