Interview With Ashton Radford-Kirby – Bewl Water Vineyard

24th May 2024

Interview With Ashton Radford-Kirby Bewl Water Vineyard

There is no denying that English Sparkling Wine is on the rise, becoming an undeniable contender to Traditional Method Sparkling around the world. To the English, it’s becoming a fan favourite and a go-to Glass of Bubbly, its quality is improving year on year and thanks to innovators and those willing to follow their dreams, the choice of English Sparkling Wine is expanding.

In this exclusive feature we speak with Ashton Radford-Kirby, the incredible winemaker of Bewl Water Vineyard, in England, let’s find out a little about his life in the English wine industry.

It’s Great To Speak With You, Ashton, Can You Tell Us A Bit About Yourself & Your Incredible Journey Into Bewl Water Vineyard?

“I am twenty one years old. During my A Levels, I wasn’t sure that University was right for me and I chose instead to begin my wine making journey at Bewl Water Vineyard in the beautiful East Sussex, when we bought it in a neglected state four years ago.

I decided very quickly that I loved it!

The Bacchus grapes that I lovingly tend are from the 1970s. That means they are about 30 years older than me!

People seem really excited by my youthful vigour and excitement and our fantastic wines. I try not to be constrained by the traditional ways of thinking. Perhaps I can be considered a bit of a rule breaker!

I’ve won a Gold Medal, sold English Sparkling Wine in a competitive tender to the Norwegian government and have recently been invited to show our wines at the British embassy in Poland.

It must be my blonde mullet haircut and my heavy metal T-shirts!”

What Part Of The Wine Making Process Do You Enjoy The Most?

“I really love it all! Whether it’s pruning in freezing cold January, driving the tractor down the narrow lanes to spray seaweed fertiliser or tending the Southdown sheep that graze under the vines in winter.

I enjoy picking the ripe and fruity grapes, deciding on what wines to make, whether to oak them, how long to leave them and how to combine them.

Also labelling bottles, driving the forklift, selling the wines – it’s all fantastic! I do occasionally like drinking it too! I have broken the rule to never sample your own product!”

When It Comes To Pairing Sparkling Wine With Food, Do You Have Any Favourite Combinations That You Would Personally Recommend?

“Our new range of Traditional Method sparkling wines are just about to be released. Here are some recommendations for each of them:

• BEWL WATER BLANC DE BLANCS 2021 is made entirely from Chardonnay. It is dry with citrusy, floral notes. It pairs well with lighter foods such as sushi, oysters, scallops and gently flavoured white fish. The lightness of the wine doesn’t overpower the delicate flavours of the seafood. I’m going to also suggest serving it with Sunday Roast Chicken: the acidity in the wine will help to cut through the richness of the chicken and bring out the delicate taste of the meat. Think of it as a sparkling White Burgundy.

• BEWL WATER BLANC DE NOIRS 2020 is made entirely from our fruity red Pinot Noir grapes. It is literally white from blacks which still amazes me! It has a red fruit emphasis – think cherries, strawberries and raspberries – normally recommended to pair with game meats, lamb or even dark chocolate puddings. My suggestion is to serve it with a medium ribeye steak and chips. It’s big and bold and a great match.

• BEWL WATER ROSÉ DE NOIRS 2021 is also made entirely from our fruity red Pinot Noir grapes. Dry, with hints of strawberries and other red fruits – the first of our traditional method rosés to come off the lees. Normally recommended to pair with grilled salmon (the colours are wonderfully matching). My top suggestion: serve it with any vegan dish or summer salad. Its limited edition delicate flavours will make those vegetables pop!

• BEWL WATER RESERVE CUVÉE 2018 – our Gold Medal winning Prize stallion! Made from our own Pinot Noir grapes skilfully combined with a carefully selected local Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir mix. 2018 was an exceptional growing year in the UK with a super-hot summer which delivered grapes bursting with juicy ripeness. Our Reserve Cuvée has fresh and intense citrus aromas, supported by notes of ripe fruit and the slightest hint of oak. A touch of biscuity honey with a creamy finish completes the tasting journey. Aged on the lees for at least 24 months. Excellent on its own or with most foods – it goes well with seafood, oysters, a mature Gouda cheese and fried foods. I’m also going to suggest pairing it with a traditional British Fish & Chips. Its dry taste works beautifully with the crispy batter.”

As A Winemaker, What Has Been Your Hardest Obstacle To Overcome In Producing English Wine?

“It is said that the weather in Sussex is now ideal for making Champagne-beating English Traditional Method Sparkling Wine and it certainly seems that way.

However, to produce top quality English Wine much hard work is required right throughout the year.

We try to be as sustainable as possible using, for example, friendly fungus, a small lightweight tractor and lots of people power! However, small batch, hand-harvested, limited edition wines come at a cost and it’s refreshing to see consumers increasingly seeing the value of supporting local produce even if it is a little more expensive.

English wine is fantastic – we need to spread the word!”

What Future Plans Can Enthusiasts Of Bewl Water Vineyard Look Forward To In The Coming Years?

“We have a lot of vintage Traditional Method Sparkling Wine on the lees as we speak. It’s picking up fantastic notes from the yeast and ageing wonderfully. In the pipeline: Blanc de Noirs 21 and 22, Reserve Cuvée 21 and 22, a fantastic Rosé de Noirs 22, and a Blanc de Blanc 22. All limited edition, small batch and hand-harvested in East Sussex! We also have a huge (for us) and outstanding 10,000 bottle batch of Reserve Cuvée 23 which will be on the lees for some time.

Still Bacchus 23 is fantastic and this 2024 harvest might see us repeat 20 and 22 with a limited edition Pinot Noir still red. A still orange Bacchus is also a possibility.

One of the many advantages of being small is that you can make wines that suit the vintage and change the wines that you produce each year.”

Can You Share With Us One Of The Most Memorable Experiences You’ve Enjoyed With A Glass of Bubbly?

“You can (and should) enjoy English Sparkling Wine anywhere but I am very lucky to live, to work and to be able to enjoy drinking my own wine all in the same beautiful place in rural Sussex.

There are many examples that come to mind. But I think just enjoying a glass at home right next to the 6,000 vines that have enabled me to make the world class sparkling wine that’s in my glass. I can look out at the gentle breeze blowing off Bewl Water, maintaining our healthy vines and watch our South Down sheep that have helped eat the weeds over winter. Here’s to the vines, the grapes, the wine! I look forward to what the future brings!

English wine is world class!”

Thank you Ashton, for sharing your story and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Ashton Radford-Kirby. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.

Oliver Walkey

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.