A few years ago, one simple fact summed up my knowledge of English wine. Apparently, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge had served their wedding guests a sparkling wine from a vineyard called Chapel Down. My view? They were doing their duty to be ‘on brand’.
A Tale of Chapel Down Sparkling Wine and the Royal Wedding
No doubt with stiff upper lip, their guests politely knocked back an ‘obligatory’ glass. Safely ensconced in the inner chambers of Buckingham Palace however, the champagne corks must have popped and flown across the gilded reception room. I pictured a fountain of bubbly cascading over a mountain of coupes with something very French and definitely vintage. After all, we do know the Royals like a good drink (Winston’s Réserve anyone?) And who doesn’t need at least one decent glass of champagne at a wedding reception with all that standing around?
Bizarrely, I actually met Prince William on the eve of his wedding.
Eager to soak up the buzzing atmosphere on the streets of London, a friend and I had decided to walk along the Mall followed by a celebratory drink at Skylon, a bar with one of the finest views of London at night. It was a breezy evening with a real nip in the air so we walked briskly, amused by the diehard royalists who were camping out over night. Festooned in red, white and blue, they were determined to catch a glimpse of the happy couple the next day. Smiles happily burst out from faces painted with the Union Jack and right on cue for the television cameras – flags, homemade banners and royal tea towels were waved with great gusto.
As it started to get dark, we noticed a small group of people standing outside Clarence House and out of curiosity, wandered across to see what was going on.
And that was when it happened.
Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a tall figure working his way along the short line of people. In what seemed like a spilt second, he was suddenly standing in front of me all tall and smiley in that shy Diana-like way. We shook hands, the TV camera behind him shone in my face. From the depths of my shell-shocked and windswept being, I somehow managed to utter the words “I’m really looking forward to watching you on TV tomorrow”. His response? He said that “he hoped he wouldn’t be too nervous”.
So there, in a discreet little corner of the Mall, unnoticed by the thousands of people camped out on the pavement around me, I became one of the last people to shake Prince William’s hand the night before he married. I was still giddy with excitement the next day as I watched the royal wedding on TV with friends and 300 million other people around the world. We ate little passion fruit profiteroles dusted with icing sugar and toasted the happy couple with flutes of bubbly. Except ours wasn’t from this little-known English vineyard called Chapel Down. It was French.
The Rise of English Wine
Today, the Royal couple are celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary. Me? Well, I’ve tasted a lot of humble pie since I embarked upon my English wine education and started visiting vineyards around the country. There are now over 400 of them. English sparkling wine has been winning prestigious awards and it’s giving the French such a run for their money that they’re starting to buy up vineyards in England.
Last summer, I visited the Chapel Down winery in Kent where I toured the vineyard and tasted the sparkling wine that was served at the Royal wedding. Both were excellent. In fact, so much so, there’s a bottle chilling in my fridge ready to be cracked open in honour of the occasion.