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Journal

The bulk of the harvest is now in. The steady, calming rhythm of fermentations tick along in the winery, where I sit now. When I last wrote, back in May, fledging green shoots were unfurling in the vineyards and we were beginning to adjust to the new normal of what has proven to be a most abnormal year.

This vintage has seen our very first grapes from our still establishing vineyards. The three years of hard work and nerve racking experimental, biodynamic practices have paid off. Despite an early touch of frost, a dry summer and a bit of thievery by the birds, the crop has been beautiful, and we have the making of three very special wines. All field blends (multiple varieties picked and fermented together) with an aromatic white, a red wine made from predominantly Pinot Meunier, and a pale, pretty red made from both red and white varieties.

The three wines above will be the first Tillingham estate wines, and as such, to differentiate them from the négociant wines that we make (and will continue to make) from grapes grown by others, they will have a totally new identity: new labels basically. Expected spring 2021 onwards.

Since we reopened our restaurant and rooms back in August, we have been inundated with visitors and this has helped enormously in clawing back the lost revenue that resulted from the lockdown. We still have a long way to go to get back on track, but with fingers crossed and the continued support of our customers the outlook could be a lot worse.

The quality of the food and service is more than I could have dreamed of when we started this project three years ago. The team we have assembled, in such a short space of time, are quite remarkable, relocating in the most part, to this sleepy corner of East Sussex. As we get into our third month since reopening, in addition to our dinner service we are expanding the food offer, with a very exciting lunch menu on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday from the 23rd of this month. The very successful Pizza operation closes next Sunday (the 18th of October) to reopen when spring returns.

Who knows what lays ahead, between now and then. All I know is what great solace, comfort even, we can draw from the natural world that surrounds us. If we immerse, invest and connect ourselves with that, then the better we will be for it. If not, there will always be wine.

BW


This is the third season for our 10,000 vines, planted in the summer of 2018, all being well we will have our very first grapes this autumn. We had bud burst in the early varietals at the beginning of April and as I look out the window now, the fragile green shoots of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Ortega in our Saw Pit block are being jostled about by a blustery south westerly breeze. The oaks and chestnut that predominate in the surrounding woodlands are greening up, the ewes and lambs enjoying their lustrous green pastures.

We are busy in the winery, especially on the wet days, blending and preparing the wines for bottling. We’ll be bottling two to three days a week from now, until well into the summer. New releases are imminent, our first ever Piquette and ATHINGMILL, both a lot of fun to drink, will be released in the coming weeks.

The closure of our rooms and restaurant as a result of the current pandemic have been a huge blow to the business. We were busy and looking forward to a busy spring/summer season, the impact on our overall cashflow is devastating. It’s also been sad to see the place empty and also to have to furlough our wonderful employees. The place is looking beautiful and we’ll be ready when we’re allowed to reopen. We are taking bookings via the website and also selling vouchers which can be redeemed anytime over the next 12 months. It goes without saying that we need as much help from our followers as ever if we are to weather this storm.

The silver lining to having to close our burgeoning tourism business is that it has allowed me to focus much more on the farming aspect here. My interest in wine is very much tied to farming, it’s where I came from, and it was in a field in Burgundy twenty years ago, that I decided, somewhat naively, that farming grapevines was to be my future.

Regenerative farming is a relatively hot topic, I didn’t know it until recently, but this term absolutely nails what it is I have been working towards and inspired by since first being introduced to Biodynamics many moons ago. When people have asked me about our approach here, I’ve struggled to explain it easily, saying that it is an amalgamation of practices etc. In essence, regenerative agriculture is about repairing and rebuilding the soil and the wider farmed environment, in the knowledge that it is all connected, that there are both symbiotic and subtle connections between plants and animals on all levels. It isn’t just a way of farming though, it is also a way of life, about balance and respect. Far from the finished article we are just at the beginning of our journey, I just hope that with all the support we are lucky to have in the world it’s a one we will be able to continue for the foreseeable.

BW

It’s been four months since I last sat down and put pen to paper about the goings on here at the farm, not for a shortage of content but the perennial problem of being far too busy.

Throughout September, we had a big push to get the rooms and restaurant open. A year after construction began, we finally opened our doors, and have been welcoming visitors for 8 weeks now. The 11 rooms are available 5 nights a week, and the restaurant is serving a fixed, four course dinner Thursday to Saturday. The downstairs bar and tasting room is open 7 days a week and we’ve been offering small plates alongside a selection of our favourite wines from around the world. We’ve also been stocking up our shop with lots of beautiful, high-quality products and books that are aligned with our ethos and that we love too.

It’s been fantastic to see it all come together and also to see all the new people that we have working here make it happen. This time a year ago, there was just myself and Serena, now we have 18 people involved in the business. From February we increase our opening hours to 7 days a week and will be extending our food offer too. Watch out for more events, our first residential sourdough course in January has sold out, but more dates are available on our events page.

No year growing grapes is ever the same, especially with the high wire act that is growing grapes in the UK. This year was on track to be very good, a slightly later start than normal, but with a solid summer. Harvest got off to a good start, but then the weather turned at the end of September and the rainfall from then on was pretty incessant, with data suggesting well above average rainfall due to the jet stream sitting further south than normal. This rainfall meant lower than average sugars and delayed ripening, however we had some lovely fruit with great flavours, it’s just not the blockbuster year that 2018 proved to be. Some of the 2019s are already in bottle, the Pet-Nats and variants of, we also made more of our R (our carbonic maceration play on Beaujolais Nouveau) which is almost sold out. Visit our wines page to see the current releases.

Export has really taken off over the last 6 months, with the wines now finding themselves in nine countries, in no particular order: Norway, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Australia and Georgia, with three very exciting new countries coming online next year.

As you can imagine, it’s been an exhausting year, but also rewarding and very exciting. As I’m effectively signing off the year, it goes without saying that this wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the amazing individuals we have working here, who have gone above and beyond, and for all those people that have got behind Tillingham and supported us one way or another.

 

 

The vines have established well and our preparations to open the farm to the public are drawing to a close. Grapes are ripening and the excitement that surrounds harvest time is nearly upon us.

No two years are the same. This coming harvest will be our third vintage, ’17 & ’18 were very different and ’19 will be different again, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you may be concerned that because we’ve had the odd bit of iffy weather, that ’19 would somehow fall short of ’18. This is England however, and a bit of iffy weather is par for the course in August, so although harvest is looking to be about a week or two behind last year, as it stands the quality is looking excellent and yield just a touch behind last year. We’re working with some new growers this year and looking forward to bringing in some new grape varieties into the winery and again we’ll be experimenting and honing our craft ahead of our first grapes coming in next year.

As I’ve touched on the subject of our growers, I wanted to talk about where we sit in regards to natural wine and biodynamics. As we farm naturally and make wines in a natural way (low intervention, minimal or zero additions to our wines), we are keen to champion a more natural way of working and have pushed this agenda in our communications. While we’re waiting fir our own grapes to come online, we work with a selection of English grape growers, these growers are Organic, Biodynamic, some with certification, some without, and some are conventional, however all are farming well and what is essential in this early phase of our development is quality.

I have chosen to buy in grapes, as it’s a commercial necessity to us and yes it is a compromise. However looking to the bigger picture, our ambition, like our vision, is not small, neither is it anything less than altruistic, we believe passionately in farming without chemicals and allowing natural processes to do the heavy lifting for us.

The finishing touches to the rooms, restaurant, shop and bar are almost done. We will be opening our doors, finally, in late September. Initially we’ll be finding our way and opening up the various elements bit by bit.

The 11 rooms will be available five nights a week, Wednesday to Sunday starting on the 9th of October, with breakfast available on each of those days. However, while, we’re getting started, dinner service in the restaurant will be just three nights, Thursday to Saturday. The booking engine for rooms is going to take a bit more time to install than we thought, so for now, we’ll be taking enquiries for rooms on: stay@tillingham.com. Please visit our Stay page for details on the rooms and dates currently available.

The restaurant will be open to non-residents too and we’ll be opening a reservation system before we open. In the meantime you can email eat@tillingham.com for enquires for tables from 1st October onwards and check out the Eat page.

The downstairs bar/bottle shop will be open 7 days a week from 09:00 till 17:00 and later for residents and on the weekends, from the 9th of October.  We will be open for drop ins and wine tours, and will be selling our wines, & ciders, as well as naturally made beverages from producers we love. We’ll be offering small plates and wood-fired pizza (weekends only). Residents can make use of this on the nights when we’re not opening the restaurant, in addition to the first-floor lounge.

See you here soon.

B

Like so many vineyard journals ours is a little neglected, I dearly want to share the stories about what is happening here at the farm and how the wines are progressing, but time is always in short supply.

Since harvest finished back in October, the building project at the farm has been a hive of activity. We reached practical completion last week and with a small push, with fit out and landscaping, we look forward to opening in early August. In order to get the rooms, restaurant and shop and tasting room open, we do require some additional funding, the Tillingham Bond, which we launched this week, is our way of inviting our loyal followers to support us on our journey and in return, be repaid through wine and exclusive, priority  access to every release and use of the facilities here at Tillingham. If you would like to receive more information about the Bond click here to send us an email, and please ask for a pack to be sent out in the post, including your postal address.

We’ll be releasing 17 wines this year, primarily from the 2018 vintage. Two wines (PN18 & R) have already been released and subsequently sold out. We’ve just released another three (Rosé, White and End Grain), which have just been released, and already our second tranche is being prepared to be sent out from the winery to keep up with demand. We are thrilled and grateful for the reaction to the wines and hope very much that the next 12 wines meet with such a warm reception. We’ve been busy exporting too, with the wines now available in Australia, Norway, Sweden and France, with wine about to leave for Canada, before the end of the year we hope to add America, Denmark, Japan and Germany to our list.

At the farm, we have welcomed back cattle and sheep to new grazing leys that were sown in September, alongside our own meat, we have been busy growing veggies in the walled garden, herbs and salads and flowers are ready to start picking now. After planting 10,000 vines last year, we added another 26,000 this year, taking our total area to 20 acres under vine. In and around the vineyards, we have been busy planting trees and wild flower meadows.

In the space of a little over 12 months, it is remarkable just how much the farm has changed, how Tillingham has gone from nowhere to being enjoyed in some of my favourite wine bars and restaurants. With the farm opening its doors to the public this summer, I am looking forward to sharing our progress with you then. As well as winery and vineyard tours, and the rooms, we have a series of dinners, takeovers, yoga workshops and other classes, and even pizza nights already taking shape. We’ll be sending you updates as soon as dates are announced.

BW

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