One of Northamptonshire’s best kept non-secrets is the stellar quality of the British Sparkling Wine produced under the Stonyfield Wine label at Blisworth.
They have just been awarded Gold and the Dudley Quirk Best Sparkling Blend 2021 trophy by WineGB, the industry body for winemakers and growers.
This follows their Gold in the Weetabix Food and Drink Awards 20/21 for Local Artisan Drink of the Year and a string of other awards throughout the ten year history of their single acre vineyard.
Even in Britain – a country not universally associated with wine production – there are big players in this industry who usually collect the awards for their large vineyards in the south so Stonyfield (literally named for the stony field that became the vineyard) has pulled off something somewhat against the odds.
“We’re flattered and frankly amazed to be both the first small and only Midlands-based vineyard to receive this national trophy and all the more so when you appreciate that the land on which the vines now flourish was once simply an old, stony field with no obvious use!” said John Folliott Vaughan, Stonyfield partner.
“There’s evidence of wine production in the county dating back to Roman times and while Northamptonshire may be better known these days for beer and gin, we’re thrilled to think that, even with our humble one acre, we’re helping to put the county firmly back on the winemaking map!”
The stony field where the first vines were planted was a heap of spoil unearthed from digging the Blisworth Tunnel and the Grand Union Canal well over a century ago. Stonyfield grows both Pinot Noir, a traditional champagne grape, and Seyval Blanc, a variety which thrives in England.
I have tried it and to describe the taste: butterstone fizz flashes across your taste buds into evaporating twinkles of mystery. It’s the kind of drink that makes you say: “This is champagne!” when you know you’re supposed to be thinking British Sparkling Wine.
Saying it is not champagne is a bit like saying it’s not a real princess. If the shoe fits… Of course there is no reason there shouldn’t be a British word for champagne and Blisworth is not a bad shout for our version of the monarch of celebratory beverages.
It’s a less diamond-studded word than champagne but if champagne means more pleasure than you deserve, Blisworth surely promises all the bliss you deserve and it would much wronger to turn a glass of that down.
In their own background notes for this article Stonyfield Wine tell the story of how they began:
Stonyfield Wine is made with grapes from a very small family run vineyard – just one acre – in Blisworth, Northamptonshire. We make only English Sparkling Wine (using the traditional champagne method). The vineyard is managed by John and Prue Vaughan, and John’s sister Belinda.
The field has been in our family for generations. We planted in 2011 as a memorial for Belinda’s husband Mick who died in 2010, and who had for many years been encouraging us to plant a vineyard on the site. It has been a steep learning curve, but we love what we do and are always delighted by the positive feedback we regularly receive for our wines. We have won awards every year since we started, but winning this trophy is the pinnacle.
Our harvest is small: some years we produce only 500-600 bottles. We have just over 2,000 bottles of the 2017 Trophy winner.
We have a great site:
– it is on a south facing slope running down to the Grand Union Canal
– the soil is ironstone on Northamptonshire clay, much of it the spoil from digging the canal and Blisworth tunnel in the late C18th.
The vines flourish on this terroir and our grapes are consistently of a very high quality. We blend Pinot Noir (traditional champagne grape) with Seyval Blanc (grows very well in England). Together they produce a wine with complexity and depth and the quality that English Sparkling wine is becoming so well known for.
We have a great partnership with our wine-maker, Halfpenny Green (Bobbington, Staffordshire). We work very closely with them to design the wine we want each year, and they have over 40 years of experience growing vines and have developed a very professional winery, producing many award-winning wines
– we are hugely grateful to them for all the advice and support they have given us since we started.