I love this definition of a non-conformist: a person who does not conform to prevailing ideas or practices in their behaviour or views. Rebels are seemingly even more attractive: someone who fights authority.
We have a good few wineries and individuals in our wine business whose strong characters and beliefs have enabled them to stand out from the crowd. Of course, this can act against you if the wines you are making and selling don’t appeal to the consumer, but if you get the message right and have the courage of your convictions then fame (or should that be notoriety) will surely follow.
Non-conformists come in all shapes and sizes. Some have their individuality forced on them and once they realise this, and they embrace and augment their differences, they inevitably flourish. We have a lovely band of old-timers in the English wine trade balanced by a legion of bright young things. There is a lot of good wine out there too, and it is getting better and better as every year passes.
Styles and sub-regions are starting to emerge, and consumers are figuring out what they ought to expect in the bottle long before they have opened it. This reliability and dependability is to be encouraged, but to bring colour and movement to the category we need a few independent minded sorts who are prepared to occasionally upset the apple cart and make a bit of noise.
It’s a good job that the vast majority of so-called non-conformists in this country actually make rather beguiling wines. I happen to think that genuine rebels are essential for any market to thrive and evolve. As a word of warning, fake rebels, those who drive the wrong way down a one-way street, often come a cropper and in our highly sophisticated market they will not only stick out like a sore thumb, but they will also suffer swiftly. We have so much choice in the UK, that only great wine will survive. If you can make great wine while hitting a few nerves, then go for it.
NV Blanc de Noirs
Surely Exton Park is not a rebellious outfit? Let me tell you that this winery is bucking the trend and doing it incredibly well indeed. This is a half bottle of elite sparkling wine and halves are so rare these days that I yelp when I spot one. I can remember a time when they were all the rage (albeit 30 years ago), but when the big Champagne brands started to pull out of this format for reasons of variability, cost and, perhaps, naked greed, I felt genuinely aggrieved.
You need clean corks and an elite level bottling line in order to ensure that this smaller size stands no chance of magnifying any fleeting anomalies in your wine. Assuming that most wineries should be able to manage this I am amazed that so few wineries are doing it. A great half bottle of fizz is a truly wondrous creation. A half pours one large glass for two people – it is what sparkling wine was made for.
Thank you Corinne Seely and your team for giving us this gift. It is a 100% Pinot noir stunner with Corinne’s trademark touches of distinction and flair and I urge every single person who reads this to live a little and buy some.
2017 Charmat Rosé
If you can avert your gaze from the drop-dead gorgeous design of this bottle, you might be able to read the word Charmat on this label. Wine snobs look down their noses at Charmat method sparklers preferring to sing the praises of traditional method wines. This is because Prosecco is made in the tank-fermented Charmat method and Champagne, and the vast majority of our top-class English sparklers, are made from the traditional, secondary fermentation in bottle, method.
But why are we so blinkered? Are those Charmat bounders cheating, with their immediately appealing, deliciously appointed, crowd-pleasing wines? Of course not! They are making wine the best way they can to suit the style which they feel extremely passionate about.
Flint Vineyard does such a cosmically astounding job with this wine that I thrilled to say that it is the finest Charmat-method wine I have ever tasted. It is also the very first released in the UK. Owner / winemaker Ben Witchell and his wife Hannah are two of the most thoughtful people I have encountered in our home grown wine scene. This wine is a beacon of excellence and the Witchells are quintessential non-conformists who have turned the game on its head.
2016 Madeleine Angevine
I have always felt that Danebury is somewhat of a non-conformist estate. For a start, their respected sparkler, Cossack, is made from Auxerrois blanc and Pinot gris and this gives it a unique stance in our market which is understandably drenched with Chardonnay and Pinot noir.
I happen to like Cossack and celebrate its uniqueness and, while it is an outlier, in our wine trade it shows serious confidence sprinkled with a dusting of nostalgia. This estate was planted back in 1988 and 30 years ago Chardonnay and Pinot noir didn’t get a look in but this doesn’t matter because Danebury has stuck to its guns.
My chosen wine is perhaps even more of a non-conformist than Cossack. Danebury’s Madeleine Angevine (MA) has always been a quietly enjoyable wine but in 2016 this discreet winery has made a thoroughbred beauty. This MA does not confirm to type – it soars above expectation for this demure variety. It will floor you with its charms. In fact, every new release from this winery is a cracker. Non-conformists rarely shock like this one.