English Wine: Red Kites and Roman Forts

During the current Covid pandemic most of us have been buying so many things online that couriers like DPD are up and down our small street every day. Then a week ago a large box arrived on our doorstep recently and had us wondering what the heck it was, we couldn’t remember ordering anything the size of a case of wine in the past few days, unless my daily browsing of The Wine Society had resulted in an inadvertent click and I had ordered more …….! Anyway, we opened it up and lo and behold it WAS wine, a surprise present from our daughter Sharon from an English vineyard, Kerry Vale, less than a couple of hours drive away from us. 

Kerry Vale Vineyard is located in rural Shropshire on the English-Welsh border, family owned by Russell and Jan Cooke with 6 acres of vines. Although the vineyard was established in 2010, Russell and Jan bought it in February 2020, a very brave decision considering Covid had just kicked in. Planted mostly to the red Rondo and white grapes Solaris and Phoenix they produce 4 white wines, 2 rose, 2 red, and 3 sparkling. One of the sparklers is a red made from the Rondo, not something you see very often though we do buy one regularly from Gratien & Meyer in Saumur, Loire, made from the Cabernet Franc. 

Without any criticism of the current owners I have to say that this is an unusual portfolio of grapes without any Bacchus, probably the most common white grape in England at present, or Regent and Dornfelder to accompany the red Rondo, all being suitable for ripening in cool Northern European climates. Then there is the absence of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both currently spreading across England like a rash in the scramble to compete with Champagne just as Nyetimber and many others are now doing. It’s probably a terroir issue, soil, aspect, climate etc but I can’t find any detail on the website so I will definitely do some “digging” around! One of the chapters in my upcoming book is Wine With History and a cursory glance at a map of the area plus some good stuff on the Kerry Vale Vineyard website tells me that this place is well worth a visit ……. it’s not about the wine! Here’s the summary from their website:

A Roman Vicus

Pentreheyling Roman Fort

The land on which Kerry Vale Vineyard sits is of great archaeological interest.  It was once part of the ancient Roman site of Pentreheyling Fort, a vicus (a provincial civilian settlement) and is on the edge of a number of Roman marching camps. As well as our Roman history, two decades of archaeological research show the site was once occupied by Bronze Age funerary monuments, a druid road, and a medieval settlement! With Offa’s Dyke just a field away. The Roman fort, settlement, and marching camps were first discovered by aerial photography in 1969 and 1973. Subsequent excavations have uncovered a quantity of Roman pottery – including a large amphora handle, glass, and metalwork, including coins, and metalworking residue comprising iron smithing debris and litharge cakes (a by-product of extracting silver from argentiferous lead only known at a very few Roman sites in Britain).” [Bayley and Eckstein, 1998].

Tintern Abbey along Offa’s Dyke

Open the box!

The gift box from Sharon contained 6 wines, all red, and made from Rondo grapes. First out was the Red Sparkling wine, then a Rondo Reserve 2014, and finally Red Kite 2014 named for the rare  bird of prey found in the area. I entered them into my cellar app and stored them in one of my chillers. Sharon visited us a few days later for lunch so I opened a Red Kite and decanted it. There was a little sediment, not unexpected for a Rondo of 6 years and it was a typical dark red, not as dark as a Tannat but more than a Cabernet Sauvignon. First sniff ….. earthy, farmyard …… not unusual, I get this with some Cabernet Franc wines from Chinon too. First taste ….. still earthy, low acidity but a sourness to it, difficult to sense any fruit. Sharon looked very disappointed. I told her that I had never really got on with Rondo at tasting sessions in other English vineyards, but that with a good aeration of the wine there was always an improvement. We left it in the Decanter and had a glass of the award winning Winbirri Bacchus instead. Be patient!

The next day I poured a glass of the Red Kite from the decanter and …….. what a difference! Here are the general tasting notes I recorded in my cellar app:

First opening, farmyard aroma, sour taste. Left in decanter for 24 hours and the change was amazing. Sourness gone, cherries and liquorice taste, very much like a warming cote du Rhône. Dark red in colour. Some sediment. A good Everyday wine of 3 stars”

The tale doesn’t end there, because later that day I sent an email to the owners at Kerry Vale, why not, wine collecting as a hobby goes well beyond merely buying and quaffing wine. I told them of my experience, asked for their view generally, as well as their opinion of the “apogee” (peak drinking year) for the Red Kite 2014. My experience is that you will always get a reply from vineyard owners to genuine questions and sharing of information, because “feedback is the breakfast of champions” and I had a reply from Russell around 8pm the same day:

Hi Brian and thanks for your message.  I happen to agree with you in the case of Rondo wines, the day after opening allows the wine to present itself much more favourably.  Of course we don’t always get the opportunity to do that so I typically use an aerator on the bottle.    I think now is the time to drink our 2014, typically a red wine would be peaking around that age. Hopefully you will be able to get over to see us at some point and we can introduce you to our other wines from our Solaris and Phoenix if Rondo isn’t for you.” Russ. 

What more could you want, a friendly, informative, helpful reply from a vineyard owner who has probably been working with the grapes and vines all day? As usual, it’s not about the wine, this hobby of ours is about so much more!

Our new book released November 30th


Categories: England, Wine, Wine with History

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4 replies

  1. All roads lead to Rome! I’m starting to feel a bit embarrassed I’ve never tried some of the grapes you’ve mentioned. Let’s hope they have a secure future and don’t get run over by the international varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Part of what makes Italian wine so interesting is the incredible amount of different grapes. I’ve got to see about ordering some! By the way, did I read words like “earthy”, “cherries” and “liquorice”?

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    • I think that English reds from Rondo and Dornfelder especially will struggle. However a lot of our vineyards have planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for making sparklers because of early and less ripening in our climate. Some vineyards have made some passable Pinot Noir sill wines such as at Brightwell near us, and an absolute stunner at Gusbourne. Big price difference though with Gusbourne PN costing £30! Our whites are sensational though, especially the Bacchus which is winning awards all over the place especially from Winbirri in Norfolk. Blog about them on December 2nd. And ….. yes, I learned those 3 words from you, not sure what they mean but they look good in a post to hide my deficiencies 😂🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿🍷

      Liked by 1 person

      • Excellent, I’ll know who to talk to when I order some English wine. Makes sense that there is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for the sparkling wines and it would be interesting to compare the differences with Champagne and Franciacorta! “Earthy” may be a bit more subjective, but surely you know what “cherries” and “liquorice” mean in terms of the senses. I think with wine descriptors sometimes less is more- just a few aromas that really popped out to give a sense of the wine. Have you heard of Luca Turin?


  2. What a nice surprise form your daughter. Enjoy the wine!

    Liked by 1 person

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