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Spotlight on: Greyfriars Vineyard, Surrey Hills, England

All eyes are on English wine at the moment. Let’s face it; there’s not much else to be proud of about our country right now, so the fact that English wines are soaring in terms of quality and innovation is just what we need. 

A welcome break from the madness of London, we three took a trip down to Greyfriars Vineyard in the sunny, Surrey Hills. You may have whizzed past them on the Hog’s Back at Puttenham on the way out West but we very much suggest you stop in next time. Alternatively, you can jump on a train from Waterloo to Guildford and be there in less than 40 minutes. 

Greyfriars has been part of the English wine scene since 2010 when owners Mike and Hilary Wagstaff took over, having decided to make the move to winemaking from engineering and law respectively. Their aim was to expand the vineyards already there and to grow them from hobby scale to boutique commercial scale. When they took over the vines from the previous owners, they were planted mostly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which was quite unusual at the time, but rather fortuitous given how well those varieties are now performing. “Most people were growing horrible German hybrids,” says Mike. Luckily for them, the chalky hills had already proved their worth for the vines. All that was left was to smarten up the winemaking and do some planting. “We’ve now gone from 1.5 acres to 40 acres, so 16 hectares,” says Mike. “Big enough to be serious but we’re not a huge conglomerate.”

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The Wines

In the nine years under the Wagstaffs, Greyfriars have made a splash with their distinctive, authentic wines and eye-catching branding. They now boast and impressive range of thirteen  wines, each with a signature style, reflecting the unique local soils and climate.

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The Non Vintage Sparkling Range

Three crisp, refreshing sparklers await you at a seriously impressive price for what they are. The non vintage sparkling cuvée (£18.50) is an elegant blend of the three ‘champagne’ grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and touch of Pinot Meunier. The non vintage rosé (£18.50), made from 100% Pinot Noir is pale and pretty with a red apple skin tang. The unique non vintage sparkling fumé (£18.50) however is certainly one to try. 100% bubbly Sauvignon Blanc, it’s zippy, herbaceous and citrussy. A true point of difference. All three are excellent for the price and happily, relatively low in alcohol at 11.5%! 

The top-end non vintage wine however is the blancs de noirs (made entirely with black grapes). It’s 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and has a moreish, fleshy texture with beautiful red fruit aromatics. £30 and worth every penny. 

The Vintage Sparkling Range

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Seriously special, these vintage wines feel like a big step up. The 2014 Classic Cuvée is fleshy and rich (£23). The limited edition Cuvée Royale 2015 is extraordinary. A blend of 50:50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is has an unctuous mouthfeel with brioche notes and poise from the red fruit. And finally, there’s the 2014 Oaked Blanc de Blancs: a wine made from 100% Chardonnay with a tropical note and vanilla finish. Delicious!

The Still Wines
Greyfriars make a range of still wines too, usually single varietal and grapes you don’t usually associate with England: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and also, a strawberry- scented still rosé. All priced at £13.50, you could try a mixed case and taste them all!

See more about Greyfriars Vineyard on the website here.

Buy the wines here.

Address: Greyfriars Vineyard, The Hogs Back, Puttenham, Surrey, GU31AG, England, UK

4 Reasons to love the Small Beer Brew Co.

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In the unassuming back streets of Bermondsey, South East London, an industrial estate is home to a tiny company that’s making big waves across the London drinks scene and beyond. It’s called the Small Beer Brew Co. These guys have found a much-needed niche in the brewing industry and are absolutely nailing it with their premium products and quirky packaging. Here are four reasons why you need to get to know Small Beer even if you don’t really drink beer. Yet…

1)    Low ABV, High Flavour

“We wanted to create something with world class taste, but a sociable ABV.” Felix James, co-founder.

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Small Beer founders Felix James and James Grundy created their own beer brand from scratch after searching in vain for truly delicious, well-made beer under 3% ABV (they would snatch precious minutes from their busy jobs to catch up with a beer before getting back to an afternoon of work). Everything they found was either too strong or too thin, with that cardboard, boggy flavour that gives away a low or no alcohol beer. There was literally no one making what they wanted: refreshing, aromatic, flavoursome beers well under 3% ABV that tasted like they were 5%. There was still work to be done in the afternoon; they didn’t want to reek of booze after a couple of pints after work; they wanted to remember - and enjoy - evening events without feeling like they were missing out on the epicurean, sociable side. So, they quit their jobs at a well-known distillery where they had met and began building their brand. Small Beer Brew Co. now produces four labels representing key beer styles, all of them aromatic and rich in flavour with an unctuous mouthfeel that belies the low alcohol level:

Lager (2.1%): Pale yellow, floral, crisp and citrussy. A classic pilsner style.

Steam (2.7%): Amber in colour, dark fruited and hoppy with notes of liquorice.

Session Pale (2.5%): Vibrant ‘session’ pale ale with tropical, pineapple notes but a super-dry finish. New!

Dark Lager (1%): Dark, malty and mocha. Incredible flavour and texture for a 1% beer.

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2) Small Beer is good for you!

Ok granted, we have to be careful what we say here. Everything in moderation and all that, but did you know that under 3% ABV, beer is hydrating rather than dehydrating? Above this level it becomes a diuretic. Lower alcohol also means fewer calories, which is another huge bonus. An equivalent serving of standard lager, for example, is around 180 – 200 calories. The Small Beer lager has only 79 calories and the dark larger, despite its mocha richness, has only 49.

As if we didn’t love it enough already, Felix goes on to explain to us that Small Beer is also isotonic and is packed full of minerals such as selenium, which is great for skin hair and nails. If you think about it, it’s little wonder that back in the 17-1800’s, ‘small beer’ was drunk instead of water as sanitation was so bad, water could make you sick. By the middle ages, they had realised that fermented drinks were less likely to make you ill, so everyone drank it, including children. Made to around 1% ABV at this time, it was also incredibly cheap. This is where the expression ‘small beer’ came from, meaning that something isn’t particularly important.

3) It’s authentic, small scale - and they know how to party!

Created by two friends with a simple, good idea for a product they saw the world needed, Small Beer’s home is in London, near the city and near the founders’ family and friends. It’s a modern, high quality take on a centuries-old English staple, it’s unique, looks great and it serves a fantastic purpose. Despite only having been trading for 18 months the capital has taken Small Beer to its heart and you can already see Small Beer in bottle shops, butchers and cheesemongers etc. as well as on draft in pubs around London (especially the South East, where James hand-delivers samples and personally talks through the range).

4) Did we mention that it’s all naturally gluten free AND vegan?

Nuff said. Stop by for a quick tour of the brewery and a drink. If you’re lucky, there will also be an amazing pop up there, or a music or comedy gig. Felix and James have even hosted weddings on site!

Seriously, check them out. The three of us just got back into beer.

You can find all their details here:

By Helena Nicklin