Fox and Fox Vineyard
Fox and Fox is a nine hectare family-run vineyard in the heart of the High Weald of Sussex, producing sparkling wine. With passionate beliefs on environmental elements and hard graft, the business is akin to the Champagne grower-producer model.
Fox and Fox is owned by husband and wife team, Gerard and Jonica Fox – hence the name. Gerard works in London whilst Jonica previously enjoyed keeping sheep in the field that became their first vineyard. Unfortunately, due to the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, sheep farming was no longer viable. After some deliberation, it was decided that they would plant a vineyard and Jonica subsequently attended Plumpton College to learn about viticulture.
Fox and Fox’s vineyard area is spread over two distinctly different sites: Hobdens and Lakestreet.
Hobdens vineyard is located at the back of Gerard and Jonica’s house and was their first planting. In 2004, they planted a range of varietals of varying clones and on differing rootstocks to establish what thrives best in this microclimate. Today, there are five varieties planted: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Hobdens is situated at 78-83 metres altitude, has a gentle 5% slope and faces south-south-east. This one and a half hectare plot has a warm, sheltered microclimate and rests on clay over sandstone soils with some shale. Interestingly, prior to 1914 the land was used for growing hops for the local brewery.
Once Hobdens vineyard was established, Gerard and Jonica required more land to expand. A short trip up the road brings you to their Lakestreet vineyard. Falling just off the ridge line of the High Weald, Lakestreet starts higher at 120 metres, rolling down hill to 85 metres. These undulating slopes provide distinct microclimates within the vineyard and cover a range of soil types. Clay-loam and silty-sandy clay are perfect for Chardonnay whilst the Pinots prefer the greensand and sandstone areas. Having gained experience with planting Hobdens, the varieties, clones and rootstocks were all predetermined when it came to planting Lakestreet in 2010.
Fox and Fox emblemises the co-existence of viticulture and biodiversity.
There is a third field, Great Gale, which is named after the Great Storm of 1703 which felled the woodland three centuries ago. Currently, it is unplanted.
Fox and Fox hold firm beliefs in minimal intervention in the vineyards and in the winery. All of the viticultural work is done by hand from pruning, (in the Double Guyot system) to bud-rubbing and harvesting. Gerard is their top tractor-driver!
Flora and Fauna
Vines are a mono-culture, meaning that by their very nature they don’t encourage diversity. All mono-culture crops are susceptible to specific diseases and ailments, but these can be tempered by the development of a diverse range of plants and environments. Fox and Fox is the best vineyard I’ve visited in this aspect – Gerard and Jonica are devoted to promoting biodiversity, encouraging plants and animals into the vineyard.
They have invested time and money into looking after the hedgerows and field margins, ponds and copses. The two ponds and nature reserves dividing Lakestreet are carefully monitored and only the bare minimum of bramble cutting and maintenance is undertaken. This attention to detail has proved fruitful. The rare Coralroot (Cardamine bubifera) has been known to grow amongst the coppice, a pink flowering plant which is only found in Scandinavia and the High Weald area of Kent and Sussex.
Standing in the vineyard, you can feel that the environment is thriving. You’re surrounded by lush habitats, scuffling animals and soaring birds. The hedgerows are underplanted with primroses, bluebells, orchids and many more. Owls – barny, tawny and short-eared – frequent the vineyards at night whilst during the day you’ll see falcons, herons and partridge. Woodpeckers, finches and starlings…
Jonica has an incredible knowledge of all the flora and fauna found amongst the vines and an enthusiasm for all which showcases their importance.
There are 24 species of bumble bee in England, at least 11 can be found at Fox and Fox. Jonica’s counted. Shamefully, I don’t know one specie from another, but this is where viticulture links beautifully with other aspects of the environment. You may not even drink wine, but you can still be amazed by the abundance of life and diversity found in a field like this.
At Lakestreet, one pond is surrounded by trees, creating its own micro-habitat. It was planted by the family who owned the land previously and as Jonica says “it’s a reminder of timeless stewardship.” Next to this, Gerard and Jonica have planted a young woodland, named Rob’s Wood. Not only does this provide shelter, it becomes a natural windbreak to protect the vines.
Pig’s Pond is a brilliantly named smaller pond which is left completely wild.
For more information of the fascinating environmental aspects of Fox and Fox, please visit their website: www.sussexvineyards.com
Fox and Fox’s wine is made with Will Davenport at Davenport Vineyards in Rotherfield. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t involved. Jonica and Gerard liaise with Will throughout the growing season, determining what yields they will have at harvest, which varieties are doing particularly well and ultimately what blends they want to make. It also takes considerable communication to harvest your grapes at the optimum point and then transport them to the winery at a time when they can take delivery!
One aspect I particularly like is that they wait and release their wines after at least six months under cork. When the wine has completed its secondary fermentation in bottle, you remove the yeast and add any desired sweetness, (known as disgorging and adding dosage). Once this stage is complete, your wine is ready for release, but it takes time for the wine to mellow and get over the shock of having the bottle opened. This time could be anything from a few weeks to several months and the wine will taste slightly different depending how soon you try it.
There are plans in place for the winemaking to come in-house in the future.
The wines originally began life under the “Mayfield” brand name. However, due to increased interest in designating Sussex as a Protected Designation of Origin, (PDO) and a wish to link the brand more closely to their story, Gerard and Jonica rebranded in 2013 and became known as Fox and Fox. The name Mayfield is still written on the foil to give a sense of location and to integrate the product with its area.
Midnight Winter Rosé
In exceptional vintages, a Blanc de Blancs is made under the Essence label.
Fox and Fox is a name to remember. Their wines convey a brilliant sense of place, often showcasing a rich red berry tone across the range. Their ethos is outstanding and the dedication to the wider environment commendable.