Beacon Down

You may not have heard of Beacon Down vineyard just yet, but here at English Wine Kiosk we champion the best English wine and Beacon Down tick all the boxes. This is a name to look out for.

In the quiet village of Cross-in-Hand, East Sussex lies a lovingly nurtured vineyard. You can’t see it from the main road and, apart from a couple of signs to help visitors, you wouldn’t know it was there. This 18 acre plot of land is owned by Paul and Al Pippard.

As with many wine industry stories, Paul and Al’s adventure began in the city. Having met in the civil service in 2004 where they both worked in HM Treasury as policy officials, they began to tire of the fast-paced, pollution-filled atmosphere of London and decided to completely change the direction of their lives. In 2008, they took the plunge and made extensive plans. At one point, they were very close to moving to Scotland where Paul would enrol on a furniture-making degree…

Fortunately for us, they delayed that idea, (though I’m sure the vineyard would appreciate a lovely bench or sculpture!). On holiday, in 2012, Paul and Al discussed the possibility of “what if…”

They both already had a keen interest in the wine industry – instead of receiving the ubiquitous toasters and saucepans for their wedding, they worked with a broker in London who curated a “Wedding Wine List” from which their guests could choose gifts. They ended up over 300 bottles of wine to enjoy and learn about!

Paul and Al both gained their Wine and Spirits Education Trust, (WSET) Level 2 certificate in 2012 and with ever-increasing wine knowledge, the question of “what if we planted our own vineyard?” kept being repeated. This thought must have struck numerous couples over the years and Paul and Al weren’t sure if it would be a viable possibility due to the incredible expense required. Paul enrolled on a Wine Production course at Plumpton College whilst they were still living in London and he commuted down to Sussex for weekly lectures. At the same time, fortune was on their side as they were lucky with the London housing market. Selling their flat in London enabled them to turn their dreams into reality and afford a plot of land.

Agreeing to purchase a plot of land is a very different decision to determining exactly where that land will be. There are so many factors which influence the potential for growing vines, including soil type, aspect, climatic conditions, access…

Early 2014 saw Paul and Al driving all over the Sussex countryside, (with their first baby in tow!). They looked at lots of land before falling in love with the Beacon Down site. They committed wholeheartedly to their new venture by re-mortgaging their house, investing most of their savings and completely changing their lifestyle. This may sound drastic, but they had the incentive of being able to produce something with their own hands which could gain international renown. That’s a good source of motivation!

Beacon Down vineyard was planted in May 2015 with Bacchus, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their core range of still wines are single varietal Bacchus and Pinot Gris whilst their sparkling wines, (not yet released) will be Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs versions. Of the 18 acre site, only the south-eastern facing slopes are planted, which is about half the land. This is the best direction for the vines to flourish in. There are approximately 10,000 vines planted on a beautiful sandstone ridge. The soil underneath is a mixture of clay and loam which balances the vines’ vigour nicely. Beacon Down is located in the Sussex Weald within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It takes time and several seasonal cycles to learn the intricacies, (and foibles) of a site; Paul and Al are ensuring they understand the land and make the right viticultural decisions to create the highest quality grapes.

They are also eager to emphasise that Beacon Down is producing English wine, not a Champagne copy. They endeavour to retain a sense of locality and wish to reinforce an unique identity in the market – something dynamic, fresh and exciting to drink. The scenery surrounding the vineyard is picturesque to say the least with views looking across to Eastbourne and the South Downs. To bring a sense of identity and situation to the brand, their wine labels were designed by One Big Company to depict vistas from the vineyard.

Nothing is quite so exciting as the fact that they’ve ripened Riesling in England… many vineyards have attempted growing Riesling and have subsequently grubbed up their vines once they failed to ripen and mature. However, Paul and Al are confident in their vines and say their 2018 Riesling ripened nicely, though we’ll have to wait a little while to try it as Riesling takes its time to age!

Paul and Al don’t have a winery on-site and so work closely with two established wineries to produce their wine: Stopham Estate create their still Bacchus and Pinot Gris whilst Ridgeview create their sparkling wines. Both wineries are amongst the most knowledgeable and experienced in the English wine industry.

You may think this is a very idyllic story so far – escaping the rat-race to establish a new way of living in the Sussex countryside. Carefully tending to the vines’ every need and doing everything yourself, surrounded by nature… It is idyllic and there are certainly the most beautiful moments when you’re working in a field and your children can run around safely and investigate all the bugs and leaves, but what we haven’t mentioned yet is that both Paul and Al still work in their other jobs. Beacon Down vineyard is run in their “spare time”. It is an incredible achievement and quite frankly, we don’t know how they do it. It is testament to their courage, determination and commitment that they have undertaken this huge endeavour with two young children and two full-time jobs. However, they are totally involved in every aspect of the vineyard from pruning to harvesting, marketing to selling.

Both still wines are absolutely delicious and we can’t wait to try the sparkling wines when they’re released. We’re delighted to see how far the Pippard family has come already and look forward to championing them as the brand grows and the range expands.

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