Blackdown Ridge Vineyard
Blackdown is the highest hill in Sussex and the highest point of the South Downs National Park at an altitude of 280 metres. This elevation, combined with its gently rolling slopes, provides the perfect site for vine growing.
Professor Martin Cook has lived on the Blackdown Ridge estate for over 20 years. He continues an incredibly successful career in the medical sector, specialising in researching melanomas. Alongside achieving international acclaim for his work, he has cultivated a love of wine. When an Italian family friend visited the estate and exclaimed that it would be perfectly suited for viticulture, Martin took heed and planted the vineyard in 2010.
Professor Martin Cook is a hands-on owner and delights in the opportunity to oversee production, but his busy medical schedule necessitates hiring an estate manager and winemaker. Marius Baidoc has managed the estate for many years, joining prior to the vineyard being planted. Winemaker Josh Hammond was born in Marlborough, New Zealand and has travelled the world, completing vintages in California and France before settling in the UK. The day-to-day running of the business, promotional activities and just about everything else is undertaken by Business Development and Marketing Manager, Lucinda Colucci. Lucinda also came from a medical background and spent several years organising after school clubs for young children. These experiences and expertise afford Lucinda with brilliant organisational skills and a fantastic manner for giving tours, conveying information in a relatable fashion.
The four hectare site is planted with still and sparkling varieties: Bacchus, Sauvignon Blanc and Triomphe d’Alsace, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These varieties were chosen with careful consideration and consultancy. The rootstocks and clones were all scrutinised prior to planting to realise the land’s true potential. An element which I’m impressed with is that originally there were some plantings of Rondo too, but after reflection and analysis, the team decided this variety wasn’t working effectively for them or contributing the desired flavours in the finished wine so they grubbed up the vines. It takes a lot of courage to constantly re-evaluate your decisions and to admit when something isn’t working.
The team at Blackdown Ridge take a minimal intervention approach to the vineyard, reducing the amount of spraying and mowing. Every task is completed by hand from pruning and bud-rubbing to harvesting the grapes.
The Blackdown area is situated predominantly on clay with pockets of sandstone. The south-facing rolling hillsides create natural air-flow through the vineyard and help to prevent the risk of frost settling.
The estate’s first two vintages of sparkling wine were contract-made at Hattingley Valley. With a few years’ experience and indepth knowledge of their vines, the team at Blackdown Ridge will soon be undertaking all aspects of winemaking themselves. Everything was vinified on site for the 2014 vintage and the still wines were the first release of their own winemaking. The winery is already prepared with a press, tanks and barrels, whilst disgorging equipment and a bottling line for the sparkling wine will be installed over the summer. This exciting development, (and no small investment) will mean that Blackdown Ridge gain complete control over all aspects of viticulture and oenology.
Blackdown Ridge currently produce white, rosé and red still wines alongside a white sparkling wine. A sparkling rosé is being aged as I type.
With Professor Martin Cook’s background in the medical industry, the wines’ names are all references to various medical terms. These are a bit tricky to pronounce and do not reflect the vineyard itself so Blackdown Ridge are in the process of rebranding and this will be addressed. Again, they constantly review and re-evaluate, striving to better themselves.
Primordia Brut – Primordia are cells in their earliest recognisable stage of development.
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier
Chiaro – means bright, shiny and clear.
Eosinia – a cell readily stained by eosins causing a pinkness to the area
Rondo and Triomphe d’Alsace
Carmine – a diagnostic stain used in laboratories
Blackdown Ridge may come across as understated, but their elegance and sincerity will shine through. Although a fairly small player within the industry, their wines should not be overlooked or underestimated. The wines offer fantastic value for money and are not priced out of reach.