Friday, 21 May 2010

Village enterprises and vinous surprises in Surrey's green and pleasant land

Surrey Hills villages are full of suprises, many of them pleasant, such as a recent event in a village hall in Shalford. Ben Watkins, owner of the rather grand sounding Guildford Wine Company, threw a wine tasting bash for his local clients and fans. Unlike most tastings we have attended this was for real people, the”punters” who actually buy and consume the product, as opposed to wine experts. It was a beautiful sunny day and glasses of wine from all the usual country origins, plus a few less well known areas such as Lebanon, were carried out onto the grass and enjoyed, picnic-style with Paul Cancelliri’s delicious Italian charcuterie and cheeses.

As an independent retailer Ben puts long hours into his business and he is obviously aware that he has to offer something different than the supermarket shelves. He carries a wide range of wines from Mediterranean and new world countries and feels very qualified to offer advice on them as he has “tasted 95% of them”!  Dedication indeed...

Here are two recommendations from our man in Shalford – Domaine Bergon Vermentino Sur Lie, 2008 – Vin de Pays D’Oc, France £7.99. A perfect all round white, crisp and dry with delicate peach and nectarine fruitiness. We love the name of this one, Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, 2009 – Victoria, Australia £10.99. Great value Pinot Noir from the relatively cool climate of Victoria in Australia. A good example of the style showing vibrant, ripe strawberry fruit in a silky elegant way. Excellent for summertime quaffing.

“We have never had a bad bottle from you” is the statement from his clients that this entrepreneur says makes it all worthwhile.

Further surprises were in store as just along the A281 in Bramley, tucked away in the bluebell woods is The Organic Spirits Company, a family firm who are the purveyors of the FIRST AND ONLY ORGANIC SPIRITS IN THE WORLD, fair-trade and holders of the Royal Warrant to boot!

What makes their products so different, was the question we asked of Christopher Parker, MD and local resident. “One taste is worth a thousand words”, says Chris, and luckily you can prove this for yourselves as his products are sold in Waitrose, The Guildford Wine company (featured above) and various other select outlets. Christopher is rightly proud of his gold, silver and bronze medals awarded not just for his best seller Juniper Green Gin but also for Papagayo organic Rums, Utkins UK5 organic Vodka, Highland Harvest organic Scotch Whisky and Prince Charles’ favourite, Organic Sloe Gin.

Every aspect of Juniper Green Gin’s production is 100% organic which results in a spirit of unparalleled purity. The finest ingredients and biodynamic farming – a sustainable form of agriculture which maintains soil fertility and works in harmony with nature – are key to quality. As a man of much marketing experience Chris knows that in the Hotel, restaurant and bar trade one in ten customers prefer organic products, a number on the increase. This thought can be compared to the fact that just ten years ago very few venues offered vegetarian food. Today no menu is complete without the vegetarian option. When you try these spirits for the first time swirl and sniff and savour in the mouth as you would with wine to appreciate their depth and finesse, then you had better add a bit of water, tonic or soda as appropriate or you will be reeling in seconds flat!

Bramley Bramble cocktailmix together 50ml Juniper Green Gin, 37.5ml lemon juice, 12.5ml blackberry liqueur. Serve on ice.

Before leaving Bramley and in the name of art we would like to mention two charity events, the first one featuring postman Lawrence Moore who, like his famous namesake, is a sculptor. Lawrence, who in most weathers delivers naked from the knee down, makes striking and unusual objects and pots from various stoneware clays and porcelain. He will be exhibiting together with painter Mary Hainline at “Pentire” Snowdenham Lane, Bramley on Friday 21st May until 9pm on 23rd May in aid of research into Motor Neurone Disease.

Celebrating the Sculpture exhibition at Birtley House on Saturday 15th May, artists of a different hue, yours truly Heather Dougherty and Heather Aitken will be exhibiting their own particular brand of wine lore at a dinner to benefit The Surrey Foundation. Tickets from .

Moving on across the valley, hidden away behind a kitchen furniture supplier in Artington is a quirky wine wholesaler known as Les Caves de Pyrène. Why the unpronounceable name we wondered? The shortest answer (there are several), is that they started out as a specialist importer of wines from Southwest France and wanted to reflect this in the name – hence Pyrène as in Pyrenees. Their range from this fascinating corner of France is still probably the best in the country. Many of their bottles end up on the wine list of top notch restaurants in London, including their own jointly-owned venture, the superb Terroirs. So popular is it with those in the know that it’s unofficial name is the wine trade canteen.

“Les Caves” have now expanded their stock range to include wines from Italy to New Zealand and most places in between. Adrian Scholes - the man with the tattered black book - has been with Les Caves since the beginning. He is a friendly, big daddy-ish but sometimes rather fraught-looking director who logically, sympathetically and diplomatically sorts out wine dilemmas. Heather Aitken (roving reporter?) paid a visit to experience their Mediterranean tasting evening featuring Corsican wine. To set the mood there were serenading Corsican balladeers, who sounded better and better as the evening wore on.

The good news for Surrey residents is that this place is not just for “the trade”, anyone can browse and buy providing it is a minimum purchase of 12 bottles. This is the place to head for if you have a thirst for vinous adventure and are keen to discover what les Caves call “real wines”: many organic and/or biodynamic and always made with individuality and care. If you delight in tongue- twisting names, try Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, (say it, drink it and then try saying it again), from Domaine Berthoumieu from Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng grapes. Like walking through an orchard of almond blossom, this wine is a unique and delicious experience (£10.75 a bottle from les Caves).

“I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome” Julius Caesar

There are an abundance of hidden gems in our neck of the woods and it is a pleasure to discover and highlight them in our wine and lifestyle columns. Do contact us at to let us know your favourite places and people that make Surrey such a “green and pleasant land”.

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