Celebrating 10 years of Oxney Organic Estate
We planted our first vines on a wet and muddy day 10 years ago this month. The journey from that day to this has been an incredible one – an adventure full of ups, downs, experiments, successes, lessons learned and daily hard graft.
It’s always good to take a moment to stop and enjoy the scenery, so we thought we’d take this milestone moment as a chance to reflect on the years from 2012 to 2022. Here’s our whistlestop retrospective of a decade of Oxney Organic Estate.
Fuelled by a brainwave the previous year on a road trip round France in our VW Camper, we set to work preparing four acres of our organic farm for grape-growing. By May 2012 we were armed with viticulture reports, soil analyses, organic certification and a small crew of volunteers, and ready to start planting. In went tiny Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines, all planted by hand in a field we named Thompson. The Oxney Organic project had officially begun.
Well and truly bitten by the bug, we planted eight more acres of the three Champagne varieties in a new field – Dobson. Tripling the size of our area under vine meant that we could no longer rely on friends and family to help out, so in Year 2 we machine-planted.
By their third growing season, grapevines are already producing a crop of fruit, albeit a small one. 2014 saw us bring our virgin harvest into a winery completed just in time for the task of making our first wines: our vintage Classic sparkling wine and a still rosé. Earlier in the year, we also planted a third field – Hunt – with Pinot Noir and our first blocks of Seyval Blanc.
The moment of truth: we released our first bottle of Oxney Organic Estate wine – the 2014 still rosé. It will very well received and we knew for sure that all our hard work growing grapes organically in England was literally bearing fruit!
The Indian summer of 2016 provided us with a healthy crop of beautifully ripe grapes and, in addition to making what proved to be a very popular Classic 2016, we added a vintage sparkling rosé to the range. We picked up our first major award this year, with our 2015 still rosé scooping a Top Trophy at the UKVA Awards. And we officially opened the Oxney gates to visitors for our Saturday vineyard tours & tastings.
After three increasingly abundant vintages, we suddenly learned the perils of growing grapes in England. Spring frosts devastated our budding vines and we lost somewhere in the region of 70% of our 2017 crop before that year’s grapes had even started to grow. In better news, we won another prestigious award this year – an Organic Masters Gold for our Classic 2014.
Following the frosty famine of 2017 came the feast. 2018 was England’s vintage of the century, when the long hot sun-baked summer left the vines groaning with grapes come harvest time. We brought in an astonishing 3 tonnes/acre of grapes and quality levels were through the roof, as evidenced in our game-changing 2018 still Chardonnay (more on which below). 2018 also saw us increase our area under vine by 75%, planting yet more Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with Pinot Précoce – an early-ripening relative of Pinot Noir showing great potential in the UK.
Suddenly Oxney Organic is very much the business. More gold awards came our way, for the Classic 2016, from both the International Wine Challenge and the Organic Masters. In the winery, production volumes continued to rise and our range of still and sparkling, vintage and non-vintage wines took shape. 2019 also saw us start retail conversations with Waitrose in the South East, as well as exporting our first wines overseas… to Norway, happily enough.
Life changed in the most profound ways in the grip of the pandemic. In amongst the shock and loss, new ways of living emerged during the lockdowns. As people drank at home, we received many more direct orders and Oxney was introduced to a wider audience. Two things further broadened our appeal: first, sealing the deal with Waitrose and appearing in their stores around the South East; and second, receiving a perfect 20/20 from Matthew Jukes for our 2018 Chardonnay – the first English wine to do so. The release of our supremely tasty Classic Pinot Meunier 2017 fleshed out our range even more.
2017 was our first taste of hard times in the vineyard. 2021 was a challenging growing season for different reasons: a summer-long torrent of rain curtailed our crop, impacted ripening and ramped up disease pressure in the vines. A perfect storm in every way, only in characteristically drizzly English fashion! But that didn’t stop a nation of staycationers descending on Oxney to enjoy the comforts of our accommodation through the summer. The vineyard was abuzz with people and, as we discovered, birds too. A University of East Anglia study found 27 species of birdlife in our vineyard, including four rare species. 2021 was also the year we made an organic sparkling wine exclusively for the lovely folk at River Cottage.
We are ten years old and as excited about the future as we have ever been. Early indications are that the 2022 growing season is on track to be a good one. Our range will very shortly expand again to include our very first still red – a 2020 Pinot Noir (watch this space). And our teenage son Isak has said he may be interested in taking over one day. We hope he’ll be on hand to bring you a similar retrospective on our 30th anniversary in May 2042!