Yotes amazeballs: Yotes Court vineyard launches its first own label wines
Touring the vineyard and tasting the brand new still wines from this gorgeous little corner of Kent
If it wasn’t for the weather, I could easily have convinced myself I was on holiday in Bordeaux. But despite the rain, and the wind, and the cold, all in May, Yotes Court vineyard in Kent was looking rather stunning. As I toured the blocks in vineyard manager Tony Purdie’s Isuzu D-Max, we spotted deer, all kinds of birds, and even a few rabbits (on the wrong side of the rabbit proof fence… oops).
In some ways, this is the newest vineyard on the ever-growing map of English wine. Back in 2016, Master of Wine and viticultural consultant Stephen Skelton planted the first 95,350 vines on the site, declaring it the ‘Best site I have planted to date’, but it’s only very recently that Yotes Court has started selling wine under its own name. For the last few years, it’s been selling grapes to Chapel Down to make its award-winning sparkling wines.
I like to think most people now have an idea about the incredible quality of wine coming from England. Ok, so maybe we still have more of a reputation for drinking it than making it, but times they are a’changin’ and people are really getting on board with our wonderful home-grown wine.
Vineyard manager Tony Purdie – Image: Yotes Court
English wine has beaten a lot of major Champagne houses in competitions (a line people often like to bring out, and understandably!), and we’re now getting recognition across the globe. Traditional method sparkling wine has captured a lot of hearts and businesses, and currently accounts for 65% of production.
As you can imagine, the majority of England’s vineyards are in the south of the country, as it’s a little bit warmer (!) and a little less wet (!) than everywhere else. And you need the warmth and the dry to help those grapes ripen.
Vines for days – Image: Rachael Hogg
Kent is one of the three biggest wine growing regions in England – along with Sussex and Surrey – with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Ortega being the main grapes grown in the region.
Yotes Court, in a little village called West Peckham near Maidstone in Kent now has a few more than 127,000 vines planted, with each and every one being looked after by the wonderful Tony Purdie. The majority of vines (25 hectares) are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which are the three main grapes used to make traditional method sparkling wine. However, there are also sections of Bacchus, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Divico. The Bacchus and Pinot Blanc are currently being used to make Yotes Court’s first still wines, along with some Pinot Meunier.
Yotes Court owner Susannah Ricci – Image: Yotes Court
As mentioned earlier, 65% of England’s vineyards are producing sparkling wine, but Yotes Court vineyard owner Susannah Ricci wanted to make wine she drinks regularly, and not necessarily wine that needs to be served at a big occasion. I’m sure we’d all like to be the kind of people who open a bottle of fizz on a Tuesday evening, but being honest with ourselves, it’s more likely going to be a still wine in the week, right?
Hence the still wine at Yotes Court. Susannah is the first person to admit she didn’t know much about the wine making process, but also wanted to be heavily involved at every stage, and has learned huge amounts as she’s gone along. Yotes Court doesn’t have the facilities to make the wine itself, so the grapes get sent to nearby Mereworth Wines and Defined Wine.
Yotes Court has now released four vegan-friendly wines under its own label. It’s also one of the first British vineyards to formally achieve recognition for its sustainability credentials, being awarded the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain certification. There are currently only 20 accredited members of the scheme.
On to the tasting...
Image: Yotes Court
On the Bridle 2020
Bacchus (made by Mereworth wine)
This Bacchus is super zesty, with some Sauvignon Blanc vibes about it. On the nose you get lots of tropical fruit which made me feel like I was somewhere considerably warmer and less soggy than Kent, along with some floral notes too. Then you get bags of lovely green apple yumminess, a bit of apricot, a spritz of lemon, and some grassiness too.
The vines are planted 140m above sea level, which is quite high, but the spot is warm, sunny (usually) and sheltered, and Yotes Court got the first crop of ripe grapes in October 2020. The vines were planted in 2018 on the site of an old apricot orchard, which I didn’t know before trying the wine, and doubt it's why I picked it up, but you never know...
‘On the Bridle’ is a horseracing term meaning a horse with natural talent, a strong performer who wins without having to try too hard – which Susannah says is a perfect description for her Bacchus.
On the Nod 2020
Bacchus (made by Defined wine)
It might be surprising to find two different Bacchus in the line-up, but they are made by two separate winemakers, and it’s really interesting to taste the quite obvious differences between the two. This Bacchus, made by Defined wine is all about the honeysuckle on the nose. I felt like I’d buried my head in a whole bush of it. This one is also more citrussy on the palate, a bit more zesty, and has peaches and nectarines on the finish.
The grapes are from the same part of the vineyard, all 140m above sea level as well. The ‘On the Nod’ name is a horseracing term to describe a horse winning in a close, exciting finish. Does that cryptically mean Susannah perhaps prefers this Bacchus?!
Driving round the top of the vineyard – slightly ominous weather – Image: Rachael Hogg
Hands and Heels 2020
Currently, there’s not much Pinot Blanc grown in the UK. According to the Great British Vineyards Guide, 17 vineyards (out of more than 700) are growing it at the moment. Susannah had tried another English Pinot Blanc and fallen a little bit in love. At first, vineyard manager Tony was a little reluctant to plant it as it’s not the easiest thing to grow, but he went for it, planted the vines 140m above sea level in sandy soil, and this is the delicious result. My personal favourite of the four, this wine is all about the stone fruits. They describe it as ‘reminiscent of walking through an apricot orchard’ and I can’t really beat that description. It’s got a hint of oaky creaminess and a really long finish, which I love. This wine would also go really well with food, and could stand up to some spice.
‘Hands and Heels’ means riding a horse without using a whip.
Best Turned Out 2020
It might be a cliche, but cliches usually exist for a reason… Rosé wine is the perfect summer drink, and this is one bottle you’ll want to be sipping outside on the four days of sunshine we get a year. It’s light, fresh, a gorgeous rose gold colour with a refreshing acidity that genuinely just makes you want to go back for more. Warning with this one, it’s a bit of an easy drinker, but it’s also one you’ll want to savour. There’s loads of red berries on the nose, and then all that yummy strawberry, lemony, dessert deliciousness. Grab a bottle of this, a big cheese board, and have a great time.
Unlike the others, these Pinot Meunier grapes are from one of the lowest parts of the vineyard where the land flattens out. The soil is fertile and has a high clay component, which means the vines can get lots of nutrients and grow big leaves to help the grapes ripen.
The name, ‘Best Turned Out’ means the best behaved horse in a perfect condition.
Buy the wines direct from Yotes Court if you're nearby, or online in cases of six, or a mixed case.
Why so neigh-ny horse references?
You might be wondering about the horse references in the names. Susannah and her husband Rich (self-described ‘maddest f***er on the planet’) are big into their horse racing, and have owned many successful winning horses, trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland and Venetia Williams in the UK. The branding of the wines is based on Susannah’s famous pink and green silks, although a couple of different colours were needed to differentiate the four wines.
Hallo horse! Image: Rachael Hogg
The pink and green combination runs throughout the vineyard too, as you’re greeted by a large pink and green horse statue as you arrive at Yotes Court.
There are plans to make other wines in the future, including a red using the Divico grapes, but for now Susannah is working on other ideas, including utilising the newly-built tasting room, arranging picnics on the lawns (with wine, of course!) and self-guided walking tours (again, well-lubricated ones) around the gorgeous surrounding areas – which will also soon be home to a huge film crew for the new series of The Larkins, a comedy drama about rural life. It couldn’t be set in a better place.