Britain: Ye Olde Wine Country?
Not everything about climate change is negative. Just ask the folks making wine in the UK.
Next time you happen to be visiting England or Wales, you might want take some time out from London or Cardiff to check out what’s on offer in British wine country.
Let me repeat that: British wine country. The very idea just appeals to my counter-intuitive, semi-contrarian nature.
(Just don’t go into British wine country and ask for “British wine.” The difference, and it’s important, will be made clear in a moment.)
Right now, just take a few seconds to wrap your mind around the idea that there are people actually making serious wine in Great Britain, a land notoriously not known for serious wines.
That snickering you hear in the background is coming from all those famed winemakers in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy and above all, France.
Having been one of Rome’s most distant colonies back in the day, Britain was no stranger to wine or winemaking. But the Romans did seem to find it easier to produce wines across the English Channel in Europe and send them to Britain than to produce their own in the country’s often harsh climate.
And the Romans eventually faded away in the 400s, British winemaking pretty much went with them… and stayed away, more or less, for the next 1,500 years.
Then in 1969, a family ventured into Kent to give winemaking a go. Biddenden Vineyards has been going ever since, and their wines get pretty decent reviews.
Now, Mother Nature may be having the last laugh on all those wine-snob regions. According to The Guardian newspaper of London, temperatures in Britain are trending higher.
That’s right, I said it: British wine country.
Enough warmth and enough time eventually could transform this island into jolly olde wine country.
But why wait when you can visit Kent County — and sample its under-the-radar wines — right now? Besides, there’s more to do and see in green oasis than just drink wine.
Kent County occupies a little toe of land in the southeastern corner of England, just east of Greater London. If you took the Chunnel Train, you passed through it on the way to Paris.
It’s known as “the garden of England” because of all its orchards and hop gardens, the latter being crucial for the brewing of all those British ales.
Did you ever read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales when you were in school? Well, Chaucer may have made up his tales, but he didn’t invent Canterbury. It’s a real place, complete with museums, castles and a trio of churches and cathedrals that, together, are recognized as a World Heritage site by the United Nations.
Dover, with its famed white chalk cliffs, is in Kent County. And if all that Englishness gets to be a little too much, rent a car in Folkestone and drive aboard the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle train. About 35 minutes later, you’re in France.
Calais, to be exact.
Indeed, from this spot on the English Channel, you can day-trip all the way to Belgium if you like.
As much as I love London, there are times when you want to break out of the crush of cars and crowds and trade the urban vibe for a bit of cool, green tranquility. That, and a good glass of wine.
For that reason, Kent County, along with the rest of British wine country, is on my list.
If you think Kent County might be worth a visit, check out the Visit Kent Web site.
ENGLISH WINE v. BRITISH WINE
This one throws off a lot of folks.
Right now, your logical, rational mind is thinking, “Well, if English wine comes from England…and England is still a part of Great Britain…doesn’t that automatically make it British wine?”
Well, not really.
High-quality wines from England or Wales are produced with grapes grown in those two regions. “British wines,” on the other hand, are indeed fermented and bottled in Britain, but not from British grapes. Instead, a grape concentrate is used to make British wine.
The grapes in that concentrate could be from anywhere…and usually are. It’s a bit like putting Asanti rims on a Yugo — or slapping an artsy label on a bottle of Thunderbird.