New British Wine by Abbie Moulton with Maria Bell (Book Review)

The back cover of Abbie Moulton and Maria Bell’s book proclaims that “British food has had its revolution. Now is the time for British wine”. It goes on to say that “British Wine” was once shorthand for imported grape mush [but] not any more. And Abbie is right.

When I began working through my wine exams “British Wine” had a very specific meaning. It was the term used for imported grape concentrate which, when rehydrated in the UK, made for a product very inferior to “English Wine” (the “and Welsh” was added later), even though the wine falling under that second term was very rarely anywhere near as good as we produce from our own vineyards today. But Britain, now, is slowly becoming a major player in the world of wine. Perhaps not for quantity, but certainly for quality. At the forefront of this movement towards fame and glory are the explorers, the boundary pushers.

I first visited Ben Walgate at Tillingham in June 2018, and this was my first sight of qvevri in England. Ben had two at that time, one half full of cider (just 200-litres), and the second had fermented 400-litres of Ortega. With his buried qvevri and in so many other practices, Ben was one of a tiny handful of English winemakers who were experimenting, pushing those boundaries, and working at the outer edges of the English wine universe. Others included Will Davenport, Tim Phillips (Charlie Herring), Daniel Ham (Offbeat Wines) and Adrian Pike at Westwell.

Here we are, not quite five years later, and we have a book about these outcast prophets. The winemakers featured (sixteen of them if I have counted correctly) all share several things in common, first and foremost a respect for their land and the minimal intervention philosophy and techniques which we have come to call natural wine and regenerative farming. Some are making sparkling wines by the tried and trusted “traditional method” (just like Champagne). Others are making petnats by the ancestral method, or variations thereof. Others are making still wines, and in some cases are rejuvenating the hybrid vines planted in England’s first winemaking wave (1960s/70s) to make still wines fit for the 21st century.

Abbie Moulton is a young drinks writer (and broadcaster) whose writing has appeared in The Times and the London Evening Standard. She has joined forces for this project with photographer Maria Bell, whose expertise lies in food and farming. Her work with top chefs and restaurants, which has featured in national newspapers and books, was nominated, and shortlisted, for the “Food Photographer of the Year” award in 2021.

Working with Hoxton Mini Press in London, Abbie and Maria have produced a hard cover book illustrated with very high-quality photographs to enhance the well laid out text. The photos really are very good indeed, especially the portraits. But naturally it is the text and the contents that will attract you to this book, a new work in what it must be said is becoming almost a crowded market, especially as I am aware of two more books on Britain’s vineyards and wine which are imminent.

For decades, it seems, to read an authoritative book on English and Welsh Wine you had to reach for Stephen Skelton MW. He was perhaps instrumental, as a viticulturalist, writer, wine judge, educator, and vineyard consultant, in nudging our wines towards a brighter future. He has been responsible for what has been planted where over a wide swathe of Britain’s vineyards. For many years he really was the one truly authoritative voice telling us all about it. The most recent of his books I own is “The Wines of Great Britain” (Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, 2019).

A year later, Oz Clarke brought his own unique perspective to the subject with “English Wine” (Pavilion, 2020). He called Great Britain “the newest New World wine country” and brought a degree of brevity and levity to the subject.

Things got a lot more interesting in 2022 when the work of Ed Dallimore appeared. Although his book, “The Vineyards of Britain” (Fairlight Books, 2022) claimed to be comprehensive, it wasn’t quite, but nevertheless Ed visited more than 140 UK vineyards and compared to any previous works, it was considerably more thorough. It’s the largest directory of people making wine in England and Wales we have, from the big boys and girls to tiny operations producing a few hundred bottles. Ed is also a pretty good photographer as well. With a couple of pages or more per profile, you will learn much from this book, and enjoy the process of doing so (as my review of it illustrated, 24/10/2022).

What Ed’s book did was, like some of the producers we’ve mentioned already, to push the boundaries. He was the first person to really look at, inter alia, the producers who Max Allen, in his seminal 2010 book on Australian Wine, called the future makers. People doing things at the fringes today that will like as not become mainstream in a few years (Ben’s qvevris are now almost ubiquitous in any forward-looking English winery).

Some previous texts on English/British Wines

Abbie, in her selection of producers for “New British Wine”, has not tried to produce anything near comprehensive, but what she has done is select exactly the right people who would fulfil Max Allen’s class of winemaker were it applied the Great Britain. Alongside names already mentioned we have the likes of Tim Wildman, creating, with the technical help of Dan Ham, wine from “heritage varieties” sourced in some of Britain’s lost vineyards, or Matt Gregory, whose wines I only discovered in the last six months or so through his agent, Uncharted Wines. He makes wine in North Leicestershire (and Italy), having worked with my favourite New Zealand producer, Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram).

We also have Black Chalk, perhaps the most conventional of an unconventional bunch, but who under Jacob Leadley, assisted by Zoë Driver, are making the most exciting new English Sparkling wines I know. These people really are, to borrow from Max Allen again, England’s own “future makers”.

In addition to the producers, the scope of this book is widened considerably by the inclusion of the places we can find these wines, whether they be restaurants, wine bars or bottle shops, and some of the individuals responsible for these wines’ promotion.

We have P. Franco in East London, which encompasses all of the above; we have Spry Wines, a remarkable wine bar not too far from my home, in Edinburgh; and we have contrasting restaurants from the very smart (in several senses) Berners Tavern in London’s Fitzrovia to Angela’s, a tiny seafood restaurant in Margate. All of them promote English and Welsh wine, as do India Parry Williams of Edinburgh’s Cork & Cask wine shop and co-founder of Edinburgh’s Wild Wine Fair, and Dominic Smith, an accomplished sommelier who also works in the music industry under a name you will have undoubtedly come across, Dynamite MC.

There are profiles for a dozen places to sample British wines, including the above (a list which is very far from being London-centric), and a handful of “industry voices” (including India and Dominic), making for a very rounded and cosmopolitan survey of the whole of the British wine scene, from vineyard to glass. I can think of a couple of highly influential individuals I might have chosen to include here, but I am not the one to question Abbie’s selections.

Maria Bell’s pics of Matt Gregory and India Parry Williams

It is normal in a work such as this, one where the author makes personal choices, to get tempted into suggesting that some people or places have been missed out. I mean, the book is called New British Wine, and the italics are the authors. So, I can’t argue that Breaky Bottom should have been included, despite the fact that Peter Hall makes such a magnificent sparkling wine from a heritage variety (Seyval Blanc) that others now are trying to emulate what he’s doing. He’s been doing it, after all, since 1974.

No, I think that the personal nature of the choices are actually a strength of the book. I do think some are inspired. Matt Gregory has gone from a name few (including myself) knew a year ago to a man whose wines sneak into either the foreground or background of photos here with some regularity. Maria has taken the best portrait ever of one of English Wine’s true philosopher-genius’s, Tim Phillips. Abbie has also included a couple of London’s exciting urban wineries, along with London’s only commercial vines, the community-focused Forty Hall Vineyard. These have been very obviously conspicuous in their absence in the older books on the subject, although within the capital city the urban wineries have created quite a stir.

In summary, the author and photographer have done a magnificent job. The overall design, led by Alex Hunting, is excellent, and of course because Hoxton Mini Press is an environmentally conscious publisher, the book is printed on eco-friendly paper, and, a nice touch, the cover board contains 15% grape waste.

I can recommend New British Wine unreservedly. With all the photos it does read swifter than I expected, but in part that is down to the readability of the text. It’s definitely a feel-good read. Not only does the author carry you along, like the long finish of Black Chalk’s Sparkling Rosé, but it also makes you feel very good about the future direction of one important part of British Wine, its artisan innovators.

The book is geared up for a wide readership, so you will need to accept several descriptions of skin contact winemaking, clay fermentation vessels and such like if, like many of my readers, you are already deeply lost in the subject and know your qvevri from your concrete egg. The other side of the coin is that I was introduced to several places I didn’t already know in which to try these wines, and indeed to the as yet untried wines of Ingrid Bates (Dunleavy Vineyards in Somerset’s Yeo Valley), who I don’t recall Ed Dallimore visiting.

Finally, if you do decide to purchase this book, and you really should if you can spare the cost of a decent bottle of British natural wine (£35), please consider buying direct from the publisher ( I got a very nice card with the book thanking me for a direct purchase. They will plant a tree for every direct sale, but more importantly (which they don’t mention), they will receive all of the price of the book. Other sites might save you £6-or-so, but Hoxton Mini Press do not charge postage on this product, so you won’t really be losing out. Hoxton Mini Press, and ultimately Abbie and Maria, might benefit quite a lot. Wine writers almost never get rich but they can get poor and how we purchase their work does make a difference. Meanwhile, my British wine library grows apace.

Note on Photos: This is an article about the book, and sometimes people comment that the photos used to illustrate the book are not presented professionally by me. This is deliberate. It is not my intention to use other people’s work to enhance my article, yet having some idea of what the photography is like is obviously important in a book where the photographer gets equal billing with the author. I hope that explains my logic for what is, after all, a blog (rather than magazine or newspaper) article. I also hope it allows you to see how good the photos are without using exact copies.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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