Court Garden Vineyard
In the lea of the South Downs, in Ditchling, East Sussex, Court Gardens Farm has a long history of farming. In Saxon times the farm was known as the Manor of Ditchling Garden, from the middle ages to the reformation it was held by the monks at the priory in Lewes. After a short spell owned by the crown the farm became known as Court Garden. The farm appears on one of the earliest maps of Sussex, Yeakell and Gardner's map of 1778-1783, just to the north of Ditchling. Not much has changed in the landscape since then.
The vineyard was established in the spring of 2005 on a beautiful south-facing slope with the South Downs as a backdrop, and is now one of the more charming vineyards in England. The family run single-estate vineyard now extends to 17 acres, mainly planted with the three traditional Champagne varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. In 2008 we added the still varieties Pinot Gris, Ortega, Dornfelder and Rondo.
Sussex shares similar geology to north-east France, the chalk of the downs runs beneath the Channel into the Champagne region. In Sussex we have a more maritime climate which is perfect for the production of sparkling wine.
Our Vineyard Year
In January last year’s growth is dormant and the team start pruning the vines. By March, just as the sap begins to rise, the work is completed by tying in a pair of canes from which the fruit will form. During April buds are swelling; they begin to burst at the beginning of May and we start to worry about frost. The temperature in the vineyard is monitored throughout the month and candles are lit in the night if the temperature falls below zero. By the end of May the vines have produced a few leaves and we can breathe a sigh of relief.
In June we start bud-rubbing and are looking out for flower spikes. Bud-rubbing removes unwanted shoots from the trunk and, as this is back-breaking work, we often use a giant toothbrush.
In July the inflorescence should be expanding into flowering. Really warm and dry conditions aid the fruit set. By now the vines are putting on a lot of growth and the battle is on to keep them under control by tucking them into the wires on the trellis and mechanically trimming.
Regularly spraying to keep any fungal disease in check; mowing the grass between the rows and controlling any weeds amongst the vines keeps us busy through August and September.
By October we are monitoring the sugar and acid levels in the grapes to ensure we harvest at the perfect time. Our resident kestrels patrol the vineyard, but we also fly hawk kites to discourage the attention of greedy starlings. The grapes are picked by dedicated friends of Court Garden and brought immediately to our modern winery on site. The fruit is gently pressed, beginning its journey to become award-winning wine, using the traditional bottle-fermented method for the production of our sparkling wine.
In November and December our sheep are on duty in the vineyards to tidy up and keep the grass under control.
Check the current weather conditions here at Court Garden with our online weather station.
For more information about the farm, past and present, or for vineyard weddings in our beautiful Sussex Barn please visit the Court Gardens Farm website.