To mark English Wine Week at Harveys, Cherry meets Mardi Roberts, Sales and Marketing Manager at Ridgeview Wine Estate.
Mardi is also married to Simon Roberts – Winemaker, Director and Ridgeview family member.
Cherry: Please can you tell us a little bit about Ridgeview’s history and how you came to plant a vineyard?
Mardi Roberts: Ridgeview was one of the first vineyards in England to concentrate solely on the production of traditional method sparkling wine. Mike and Christine Roberts began Ridgeview after selling a very successful computer business. They always had a love of wine and England so wished to combine the two. They looked to our nearest neighbour in France and thought the wine best suited to our cool climate and chalky soils of the South East of England was sparkling wine in the style of Champagne. Mike is a chartered accountant and this is evident in everything we do. From Ridgeview’s first year of sales we have always been profitable and sustainable. We now have five members of the Roberts family actively involved in the management of our business.
When did you first plant vines? Have you continued to expand the vineyard?
We planted our first vineyard in 1994 on the original Ridgeview site. Since then we have worked with a variety of partnership vineyards and we now source grapes from various sites in and around the South Downs National Park.
Which varieties do you have planted? Are you thinking about planting any others?
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. We are not thinking of planting any other varieties at this stage. In the style of the old world we would like to focus on what we feel suits our terroir the best, which in our opinion in the chalky soils with cool climate conditions is traditional method sparkling wine.
What issues do you face in terms of viticulture, e.g. weather, frost, pests?
Cool climate winemaking is always a challenge however when you get it right can produce wonderfully fruitful wines with care and diligence. The weather will always be an issue in any agriculture and like other producers we are always at risk of frost early in the season. We use bougies candles for frost protection and light these by hand when at risk. We then have other worries such as mildew which we manage by careful vineyard management. Pests such as birds can be a concern for the last few weeks before harvest and we use a variety of methods to scare them away such as helium kites.
Your sparkling wines are incredibly successful, would you consider ever producing still wines?
We feel that England is really establishing itself as a world class producer of quality sparkling wine and we would prefer to focus our time and attention on this.
You’ve trademarked the term ‘Merret’ as an English equivalent to ‘Champagne’, do you think this will catch on with other English vineyards? Will we eventually be talking about a bottle of Merret rather than a bottle of English Sparkling Wine?
We trademarked the word “Merret” named after the Englishman Christopher Merret who recorded the process of making bottle fermented sparkling wine in 1662, 30 years before the process was documented in Champagne. At Ridgeview we have always had long term vision for our industry and really the trade mark was to at least have options to work with in the future. We have always aspired that the Merret trade mark will be associated with the very best quality sparkling wine.
With many different expressions across your range, if we push you to an answer, which is your personal favourite?
Honestly we would all say that each of our blends of wines suits different occasions, different foods, time of day, weather, time of year. Sorry to be so non-committal but it’s the truth!
What have the highlights of your career with Ridgeview been?
It would have to be the night we were awarded the trophy for the world’s best sparkling wine Decanter World Wine Awards 2010. This was totally unexpected for us and the audience, a truly magical night and moment in our lives. Also when we found out our wine was served to President Obama at Buckingham Palace.
Your wines have been tasted at many high-profile events, could you tell us about a few of these?
Our wine was the official wine for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations which was a fantastic honour, as well as the Queen’s 80th Birthday celebrations and served to Her Majesty on her recent visit to Harveys. We have been served at some high profile celebrity weddings and recently the wine of choice by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson when launching their latest edition of the World Encyclopaedia of Wine in New York.
What does English Wine Week mean to you and the industry/how will you be getting involved?
English Wine is a great promotional opportunity to raise the profile of our industry in the national press. There are lots of local events where the general public can participate at the wineries, restaurants or tastings with local wine stores. We are kicking off English wine week with our English Wine Bus tour from Brighton with our friends at Bolney Wine Estate and Brighton Hove Food Festival. In regards to press we have had features in the Telegraph, Mirror and our wines will be tasted on the Simon Mayo show next week.