Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, one of the great weekend pleasures was to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and spend a day in Sonoma, wending my way round what was known as the Sonoma Farm Trails. Napa may have had the glamour, but Sonoma, rustic and rumpled, had the variety: Aside from good wine in informal tasting rooms, I could easily find first-rate cheese, poultry like quail, guinea hens, and ducks, herbs, fruit of all sorts, just-dug vegetables, and plenty of jams, jellies, and sauces (and recipes!) from enterprising cooks. Besides the bounty, it was a good reminder that wine is an agricultural product, with good farming at its heart.
I had a pleasant flashback to those days last week in West Sussex, at the farm shop on the Cowdray Estate, one of the best in southern England. I stocked up on duck, chicken, pork, cheese, asparagus, and new potatoes—all organic—and, discovered, in a small building next door, the English Wine Company. There were wines available to taste, and we liked the Albourne Estate Bacchus so much we bought some (Bacchus is a grape that’s known as a “cross,” interbred from three German grapes, including Riesling—it’s hardy, can thrive in difficult conditions, and in good years makes a fresh and lively white wine, with a heady elderflower aroma; it’s perfect with light fish like plaice). I also picked up a brochure, detailing the South East Wine Route, showing a map and information on 17 wines with public tasting rooms, as well as another 17 open by appointment. Many have farm shops, and as we discovered on the way back home, when we stopped at Secrett’s farm shop near Milford, many farm shops now sell English wine—deliciously complete. Have a look at www.seva.uk.com.