I think I’ve mentioned Ed Dallimore a few times in recent articles, and a while ago I promised a review of his book, The Vineyards of Britain. Now I’ve finally found time to put fingers to keyboard to tell you about it. The keen-eyed readers amongst you will know that I liked it, because I did say don’t wait for my review to buy it. Nevertheless, I guess a few readers would still like a more detailed review, so here it is.
Ed Dallimore has, according to his back flap biog, worked in the wine industry for fourteen years. Ed left university in 2008 and not really knowing what to do, joined Majestic Wine’s Graduate Scheme. In 2012 he headed out to Sydney, Australia, and bagged a job working for Mount Pleasant Wines. Fast forward the best part of a decade and Ed is back in the UK already having had the idea for this book. The leg work was done, after three months planning, between April and November 2021, and I read on the Worldofbooze blog (see below) that he reckons he covered 18,000 miles for his research, often visiting producers more than once.
The book contains something like 140 wine producers, of all shapes and sizes. Initially, Ed planned to include 250 but as was pointed out to him, not only would that have taken an impossible amount of time, it would also have made for a very long, and expensive, tome. Although Ed has therefore missed out a decent number of wine estates and vineyards, and despite the slightly misleading suggestion on the inside of the front cover that it is a “comprehensive” guide, this is certainly the most comprehensive book on English and Welsh wine out there, and I think it fair to say by quite some distance.
Before running through the book’s contents, I want to highlight one thing that really makes this a thrill to read, the photos. Some wine writers manage to employ a professional to enhance their work. Others, Simon Woolf comes to mind, have a co-author who’s a dab hand behind the lens (Foot Trodden with Ryan Opaz). Ed is lucky to be an exceptional photographer himself. There is no way, I am presuming, that he could have employed a photographer, so it’s pretty lucky that he has been able to populate the book with at least one exceptional photograph on each of the producers visited. The images really bring each visit to life.
The Vineyards of Britain begins with a really good introduction. Just enough history of viticulture in Britain, without succumbing to the myths, before a couple of pages noting the pioneers here. There’s a page on terroir, one on climate change, which Ed thinks is likely to have the biggest impact on British viticulture in the decade to come, and then a couple of pages on the opportunities which are there for the industry to grasp. The intro wraps up with an explanation of Ed’s philosophy. I’ll leave the reader to discover what that is, but it certainly accords with mine.
This is not the only thing I have in common with Ed. As the book works its way through the wine regions of England and Wales, from the Thames Valley and Chilterns on page 26 to East Anglia on page 332, Ed is not afraid to indicate who has really impressed him. Whether it is the incomparable Peter Hall at Breaky Bottom (who Ed has taken the definitive photo of), new stars Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver at Black Chalk, England’s greatest wine thinker, Tim Phillips (Charlie Herring Wines with his magical “clos” near Lymington), Adrian Pike at Westwell in Kent, or Daniel Ham’s Offbeat Wines, Ed seems to pick out for special recognition pretty much all those producers I rate most highly. He’s also excited for relatively new names like Ham Street Wines and Hugo Stewart (Domaine Hugo), who I am trying equally hard to follow when I can get bottles.
Each producer profile gets a two-page spread comprising usually text and a photo. That’s enough to give a pretty decent precis of the vineyard and the wines. Each is preceded by their Instagram name (if they have one), web site, usually the address, info as to whether you can visit and when, and one or two recommended wines to try.
Those producers who Ed considers the most important get four pages, and consequently a little more detail. Although less than two pages of text doesn’t seem like a lot, to me this seems just right. You get a flavour and you can always go off and hit Google for more. There are, of course, other books on English and Welsh Wine, and they might have a little more detail on some estates, but I have found that with Oz Clarke and Stephen Skelton MW these tend to be the older, established, names. Ed’s book is not only far more comprehensive on the number of producers covered, he also has a younger man’s finger, more firmly on the pulse so to speak, of new developments.
Of course, I do not mean to underplay the importance of the big names within the industry, the likes of Nyetimber or Rathfinny for example. Nevertheless, as I have said many times before, it is those small, innovative, artisans who are driving the industry forward. Such producers may often be doing things at the fringes, but their absolute focus on quality usually bears results. Ben Walgate was the first person I knew to use qvevri in England. Now, qvevri, amphora and all manner of other similar vessels are creeping into wineries up and down the country, even into Plumpton College.
I do have one or two niggles with the book, and I guess I should mention those. I have already said that Ed’s original idea, to be truly comprehensive, had to be curtailed. There are one or two producers I was surprised not to see included by way of a profile. Bolney, in Sussex, for one example, because they do get a mention in the context of their contract winemaking in another producer’s profile (they do make wine for a number of other vineyards). Bolney makes a very tasty red sparkling Dornfelder – how could you leave that out!
Equally, I would not have necessarily expected to find Matt Gregory included, but it’s a shame he wasn’t as he’s typical of many young pioneers pushing the boundaries, literally, of English Wine. He makes wine in Piemonte and North Leicestershire, and is distributed by the innovative Uncharted Wines in the UK.
Ed mentions some urban wineries, but there’s nothing on London’s very first, London Cru, based in the West London premises of Roberson Wine. I also think that the Lost Vineyards Project and the subsequent petnat called Frolic, made by Daniel Ham on behalf of Tim Wildman (previously best known for his brilliant, fun, petnats from Australia) is one of the most interesting things going on in UK wine at the moment, with its focus on heritage varieties and unloved and forgotten (in some cases) plots of vines. But perhaps this is too recent a project to have hit Ed’s radar before publication.
That said, I accept that you can’t include everyone, in a book which goes far beyond what anyone else has written about English and Welsh wine. My major gripe is a lack of a producer index (there is a Glossary of terms). I consider myself quite knowledgeable about the English wine scene, but I have found myself wanting to look up a producer I have merely heard of but don’t know which county they are in. The fact that they do not appear to be in alphabetical order within their county or region adds to the time it takes to locate a winemaker. It doesn’t detract from how good I think the book is, but it does make it slightly frustrating to use as a guide for reference once one has read it cover to cover.
Anyway, there’s a rumour Ed might have another book on the same subject up his sleeve, and my guess is that some of the more recent developments in the vineyards of Britain may appear there.
As I mentioned, there are other books on English and Welsh Wine sitting on my shelves. Stephen Skelton’s “The Wines of Great Britain” came out in 2019 as part of the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, and is the latest of a number of books he’s written on the subject. Skelton has been, perhaps, the biggest name at the coalface of our wine industry since the mid-1970s, when he helped establish Tenterden Vineyard (now home to Chapel Down) in Kent. He’s now a consultant and has, inter alia, located and advised on many of the UK’s best sites for vines in recent years.
Oz Clarke needs no introduction to most readers. His “English Wine” (subtitled the newest new world wine country) came out in 2020 under the prestigious Pavilion imprint.
Skelton is authoritative, but whilst Clarke specifically points out that his book is not comprehensive, he does give us an almost complete, and entertaining, overview. Both are worth reading.
Ed Dallimore goes way further than both of the above if you want to read about individual producers. Of course, you get all of the major players, but you also get a good number of new and exciting names (I really need to locate wine from Balbina Leeming’s Bsixtwelve vineyard near Winchester, Ed’s praise matched by another author soon to publish an English and Welsh Wine travelogue, Ruth Spivey). If anyone can help me here?
But in addition, Ed also includes a large number of producers many of us are unlikely to ever come across unless we live nearby. Some of these names have been producing wine for years, decades even, whilst others are more recently on the scene, but they are all united as wine growers (some make wine, many send their harvest to a contract facility) whose output is sold mostly at the cellar door, occasionally in a local pub, restaurant or farm shop. They may not be big names, but they are going to receive a visit from me if I’m in the neighbourhood. I’m always curious.
That’s the real beauty of this book. You get producers large and small and so our knowledge of the vineyards of Great Britain is so much the greater for it. We are lucky to have Ed’s dedication to put in months of hard work, tasting and traveling, to bring this knowledge to us. He’s sure not going to get rich on it, though I suspect that this book should sell very well for all the reasons I’ve outlined.
Ed Dallimore’s The Vineyards of Britain was published by Fairlight Books in 2022 (368pp, rrp £19.99, which is pretty cheap for a wine book these days). It’s a soft cover/paperback which in the months since I bought it has withstood a pretty serious amount of flicking through (especially because of the lack of index). I can’t see why any wine lover living in the UK wouldn’t want a copy, to be perfectly honest. Again, I must say, the photos are a bonus.
The book is available at some major bookshop chains, good independents and online platforms, or directly from Ed (I believe) at his web site, 59vines.com. This is where you will find more of the author’s photos and his own wine blog.
I also think it’s worth mentioning the article I read on Henry’s World of Booze, another WordPress blogger like me ( https://worldofbooze.wordpress.com , 17 July 2022). Well worth reading if you want to find out more about Ed.
I follow Ed Dallimore on Instagram at @59vines .