Finding myself wandering through the town of Kent, I decided to stop by the oldest continually producing vineyard in the area. Biddenden’s former life as an apple orchard lives on in its production of ciders alongside its current line of wines. This 22-acre estate grows Ortega (a hybrid invented in 1948), Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Gamay, Scheurebe, and Huxelrebe among other experimental varietals. No more apple trees can be found here, but Biddenden buys apples from local orchards and does cider production on-site.
Here’s a little history of the estate: Biddenden was established in 1969 by Sally and Julian Barnes. They invested in a sole acre of land after an article appeared claiming vines were the next big cash crop in the Kent area. They slowly expanded, planting land they bought with German varietals as they went. After three years of perfecting their training and pruning methods, Biddenden had its first official harvest in 1973.
|Ortega vines outside Biddenden's tasting room|
The Barnes’ turned to mainly German varietals due to the availability of information regarding the adaptation of these grapes to the unique Kent terroir. The cool climate is similar in some ways to the grapes’ native terrain; Kent, however, is much wetter, often being enveloped in fog. This humidity brings the area’s major problem: powdery (oidium) and downy mildew. Luckily the weather dries out a bit in the crucial months of March through August, but mildew and rot are challenging enough to require numerous copper sulfate sprays.
This estate’s philosophy is to express their winemaking skill in the wines they offer. Terroir is not the focus here; rather, the ability of the winemaker to turn a difficult area for grape growing into a prime winemaking opportunity is the highlight. It’s quite interesting to taste these unique wines, especially if one knows the history behind the wine region here.
|cider tanks at the Biddenden estate|
I was welcomed pleasantly by my hostess Vikki Wright and offered a taste of both lines of wines (Gribble Bridge and Biddenden) and the line of ciders. Here’s what I tasted:
2009 Gribble Bridge Ortega
A simple but nice display of Ortega grapes grown in a rather warm year. Crisp and mild with medium acidity. Full of soft apples and white peaches. Nothing remarkable, but pleasing nonetheless.
2009 Biddenden Ortega
Similar aromatic and flavor profiles to the Gribble Bridge version: Red Delicious apples and white peach, but with a little more acidity. Again, nothing spectacular, but a nice example of Ortega.
2009 Gribble Bridge Dornfelder/Acalon Rose
Probably two grapes most people have never encountered. Acalon, by the way, is not a certified fine wine grape, but is a French varietal used typically for making jam or eating. Here it acts as an experimental varietal. This rose was truly interesting… full of funky, earthy cherries, with a gamey aroma that would make it pair nicely with rabbit. A hint of sourness in the background; I’m not sure if that is from the Acalon or Dornfelder, or from a natural wild yeast in the area.
2009 Gribble Bridge Dornfelder
Again loaded with sour cherries. This wine would be a great replacement for a Beaujolais Villages, or a Gamay from the Loire. I would serve it slightly chilled. This one was pretty good.
2004 Gribble Bridge Sparkling White
2007 Gribble Bridge Sparkling Rose
This 100% Gamay sparkler was the most impressive wine I encountered in the lineup. Sweet cherries and rose petals make this one a delicious, easy drinking summer wine.
If you’d like to visit Biddenden, or for more information, check out their website or email Vikki Wright.