On Friday 21 June 2019, ‘man of Kent’ and one of the world’s leading wine experts Oz Clarke opened the first annual Canterbury Wine Festival. 

“We have the biggest and the smallest, the oldest and the newest of Kent producers here and it is inspiring and exciting to think that you can all be in this together because if you look back to what made the New World work, every time it is all about coming together as a band of brothers and sisters to say that they believe in each other and that is happening in Kent tonight,” said Oz, who talked fondly about growing up in Bishopsbourne and seeing the Kent landscape change as increasing vines have been established over the years.

“Kent is just girding up its loins to become the leader in the industry. The beautiful garden of England is being turned into the vineyard of England; after all the county has always been able to grow whatever fruit was ever desired better than any other county, apples, cherries, pears and the fruit which is now most desired is the grape.”

Organised by the Westgate Community Trust and Clive Barlow, Master of Wine and independent wine merchant based in Canterbury, the new festival was designed to help Kent wine producers educate and reach new audiences and enthusiastic exhibitors included estates of all sizes from across the county. 

The friendly team from Barnsole Vineyard had travelled from Staple, just outside Canterbury, and were, among other delights, showcasing two spectacular Bacchus including the 2016 Dry Bacchanalian and 2017 Off Dry Bacchus. 

Featured in this month’s editor’s visit, Biddenden, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2019, had brought a beautiful range of still and sparkling wines, including its lusciously herbaceous, still red Gamay Noir produced from the exemplary 2018 vintage. 

Ready to pour its newly released 2018 Sparkling Bacchus was Tenterden’s Chapel Down. This new release is an exciting take on the varietal and the considered use of the carbonation method brings out the fresh, vibrant tropical notes of Bacchus while also coming onto market at an appealing price of £17 per bottle.

One of the iconic vineyards which can be seen on the drive into Canterbury from Ashford is Chartham Vineyard. Husband and wife team, Dr Roz Waller and Richard Goodenough, spoke passionately about the journey of diversifying the arable farm with eight-acres of vines and were showcasing the estate’s range including a 2017 Rose de Noir. Proving that all clouds can have a silver lining, this juicy, strawberry-led sparkling rosé was only produced after potential SWD issues that year led to concerns that they would not be able to fully ripen the Pinot noir.

While the estate doesn’t yet have any wines for sale, Domaine Evremond were busy telling visitors the story of how leading Champagne house, Taittinger, had identified Kent as the optimum UK region in which to establish vines and embark on its English wine project.

A day centre for adults with learning disabilities, one of the most interesting producers at the Canterbury Wine Festival was Elham Valley Vineyard, which is owned by the Fifth Trust. Showing its range of sparkling wines, Elizabeth Hunt explained that the day centre students all help to manage the two-acre vineyard, with income from the wines reinvested back into the not-for-profit facilities. 

With its range of premium sparkling wines on tasting, Appledore’s Gusbourne Estate were certainly one of the busiest tables on the Friday tasting session along with Hush Heath, who were showing the 2015 vintage of its iconic Balfour Brut Rosé. Meophams, were pouring a racy sparkling Reichensteiner, and Terlingham Vineyard in Hawkinge who’s natural and ‘eco-friendly’ wines were proudly emblazoned with the estate’s new branding. 

Planning to take his previously London focused estate in a new, local direction, Nick Hall from Herbert Hall in Marden was pouring samples of two deliciously indulgent organic sparklers including a 2015 Brut and 2015 Brut Rosé. 

It must be a tough act to follow Oz Clarke, but after a terrific musical performance during mic checking, Charles Simpson, owner of Barham’s Simpsons Wine Estate took to the stage with pride to talk to guests about the estate and its 2016 Chalklands Classic Cuvée which was served at the VIP evening reception. 

Travelling the furthest, from Westerham on the Kent/Surrey border, was Squerryes Winery. As well as proudly displaying its 2019 Platinum Decanter World Wine Award, which it received for its 2014 Vintage Brut, the estate was also showing the 2010 Brut and its 2016 Rosé. Perfectly in keeping the estate’s moto ‘Licet Esse Beatis’, which means permitted to be joyful, the entire range was a true pleasure to taste through. 

A surprising sight was to be seen on Westwell Wines’ stand as the producer has innovatively developed a range of wines in 20-litre key keg format and was pouring samples of its bright and fresh 2017 Ortega and 2017 Ortega Rosé from tap. Also, on tasting was a punchy, bold and unforgettable wild ferment Pinot noir and Chardonnay field blend. 

The Canterbury Wine Festival was initially opened to the trade and media on Friday, with a steady stream of visitors actively looking for new English wines to add to their lists. On Saturday 22 June, doors were open to members of the public, who were able to taste and purchase wines from each exhibitor and attend numerous workshops held throughout the day by Clive Barlow MW. 

“The wine festival was a long-time in the making,” said Clare Millett, chief executive at Westgate Community Trust (Canterbury). “We met Clive Barlow in 2010 when he helped us to petition against the demolition of the Westgate Hall. We have been good friends ever since and with the incredible 2018 harvest and the growth of the Wine Garden of England group, in September last year we decided to start organising a festival. We wanted to be able to connect the community with the smaller independent vineyards which are dotted around the Kent and we were also delighted to have support from the larger producers as well.”

The two-day event will once again be taking place at Westgate Hall, Canterbury, on 26 and 27 June 2020.