The first time I met Oastbrook Wine Estate’s owner, America Brewer, was at a consumer tasting in central London. As more and more people gathered around the Oastbrook table, myself among them, with glass held aloft in the position to receive a taste, America handed me an unopened bottle, saying, ‘Please, can you open this and pour?’ As she continued battling with the other flank of the tasting table.
I poured for all the people around and then sampled the unknown sparkler myself. Greeted with a burst of ripe fruit and softer than usual acidity for English wine, the blend of Pinot Noir and Auxerrois was both attractive and more-ish.
Before moving on, I handed over my contact info and one way or another we met again last week on Zoom.
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A Brazilian winemaker in East Sussex?
Although America exudes energy when talking about her wines and the business she has been building up on the East Sussex/Kent border, the true test of enthusiasm is in what is achieved behind the scenes.
Finally settling in southern England after much globetrotting with her husband for a number of years, as well having her daughter in the throes of full-time education, America spied a neighbour's vines and was inspired to start asking questions. It was her husband, Nick, who first suggested a WSET course to learn more and, with Plumpton College being not so far away, the allure of viticulture and winemaking was too much to resist.
America collaborated with other winemakers prior to planting her own vineyard and decided from day one that the quality had to be high even if this means waiting for several years before releasing the wines.
First vines planted in 2018
America brewer: “Everything in 2018 was starting. Vineyard tourists started coming around, I started selling wine. I was running around introducing myself and saying, “Hello, my name is America, please try my wine?” And from this I started to grow because people started to get to know me, they would call and then come and visit the vineyard.
I used to sell more when people came into the site, visiting the vineyard and taking a tour. Then we opened the Hobbit House where people could come and stay and not just have a 5-minute wine tasting but they could actually enjoy the place and stay and be part of it. They could see what work in the vineyard is like.
So all of this cost a lot of money to set-up but it was bringing an income too. I wasn’t selling much online through the website, probably 5%, and that is nothing because people don’t know me.”
The Hobbit House - Oastbrook's on-site accommodation - currently closed due to the COVID19 lockdown
The severe impact of the virus
“The Hobbit House was a success but all this income just stopped because I can’t have people here. I still have people calling me saying ‘Oh, but you are in the middle of the countryside so I can come?’ And I said ‘No, it is not only your life you put at risk but it is mine and my people!’ So, no, stay safe! But, again, it is a huge impact because I don’t have income from there. We lost the tastings, the visits, everything.
Now I am trying to find out how I can build it up in some way via my website. I have a website and I can take orders from there.”
You know, on the other hand, I am a very religious person, and I hope that this crisis will make people closer. You know, when I call people now, instead of being like ‘Hello, what do you want?’, they say, ‘Hello, how are you? Are you okay? I hope your family are fine… how can I help?’
So, if this world can change a little bit and we see people as a human being beside them and not only that I am calling you to sell my wine, or that you need something. No, you are calling me because you care, I think that could change the world!”
Oastbrook’s 4 wines of the estate
“The first wine is a limited edition made from Pinot Noir and Auxerrois. Auxerrois is from the same family as Chardonnay. It is very low in acidity, very mild but it is very fruity. We had a very limited edition for this wine.
The second wine that I have is from 2014 and has been released after 38 months. All my wines I try to keep for 3-4 years because it is sparkling and I want it to get the quality that I want to serve people.
The 2015, the wine that I sent to you, is actually 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Meunier. Again, I tried to get the same colour, full-bodied wine, more like masculine wine and vivid colour with a lot of flavour and more fruity.
Again this wine has had 40 months on lees, it was disgorged last September and launched in December but I have not had time yet to promote this wine. It is only for sale here, online and in a couple of restaurants.
My 2018 is Pinot Gris, a 100% Alsatian Pinot Gris. It is being picked a little bit later to get more fruity and more sweetness. It has that little bit of viscosity that you get from Alsace, more full-bodied wine, very rich, very fruity, more like stone fruit.
Finally, I am about to release my first Cuvée, it is Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, it is a white sparkling. It is still on lees since 2014.”
Pink takes precedence?
“I have been asked before why I released the rosé instead of the Cuvée, and it is because I like pink, I love the colour.
I think it is very associated with the summer, very summery, very parties, very nice! I like the pink. I am trying to make a very high-quality rosé… the best I can make it!”
English Pinot Noir in Balmy Vintages
“The Pinot Noir that I have, I have different clones. I have 777 from Burgundy, as well as the clone from Champagne. I want to make a very good Pinot Noir but it is very difficult to make good Pinot Noir here because of the weather.
I think eventually if the weather is like 2018, that was massively hot, every 4 or 5 years we will be able to make an outstanding Pinot Noir.”
How many bottles are currently produced at Oastbrook?
“I am aiming for 50-60 thousand bottles. I started with 1,500 in 2014 and that was a bit bigger in 2015. In 2021 I already have around 10 thousand to be released. I am doing it slowly, gradually, to get to know the public and find out what people want.
I also want to start a club, just a club that you can be part of. Come along with your family and do something cool in the vineyard. I am going to release 500-1000 bottles only and invite everyone to come here for a big party with lots of dancing and fun!”