As English Wine Week draws to a close, I feel compelled to write about my visit to the fabulous Flint Vineyard a few weeks ago. If you’re a VG podcast ‘fan’, you may already have listened in disbelief as Jake and I attempted to work out (badly!) on a recent episode whether the vineyard is in Suffolk or Norfolk. I can now definitely say that Flint is in Norfolk. Whilst it’s not far from the town of Bungay (Suffolk), it’s closest to the village of Earsham (Norfolk). In our defence, the border is very wiggly due to the River Waveney.
I was invited to the winery, as part of a small trade group, to walk through the vines including the new plantings and to taste the recently released 2022 vintage of Flint wines.
Flint is owned and run by Ben Witchell. Ben studied at Plumpton, graduating in 2012 with a first class degree then spent two years in Beaujolais where he learnt his craft. In 2015, Flint was born. Ben looked for land in South Norfolk or Suffolk due to the area being one of the driest and sunniest regions in the UK with the right soil for growing vines. I love the fact that these guys are doing such great things with English wines, pretty much on our doorstep.
Walking through the vineyard on an (about to be) sunny day was a very welcome break from the office. We started with the more established vines before moving onto the newly planted ones.
In all honesty, there wasn’t yet a huge amount to see of the new vines but what was super impressive was the scale of the plantings. It was also great to be able to get close up and see how each vine had been grafted onto the rootstock. Flint currently have over 26,000 vines covering 6 hectares and use grapes from these and other specially selected vineyards to produce their wines.
Having meandered through the vineyard with Ben and Dan, we made our way to the state of the art winery to learn more about how their wines are made. And let’s be honest, the volume of work that goes into this is massive. There’s an impressive lab. There are the (expected) stainless steel tanks and barrels but also a beautifully crafted amphora vessel from Firenze (Florence). Having not seen one in the flesh before, I was quite fascinated by this. We were lucky enough to sample a little of the juice that will become the 2022 Silex (not on release yet, you’ll have to wait until September) from tank and also from amphora. Silex is French for flint. When the time is right, the team will taste both and blend together what they feel is the best expression of Silex for the 2022 vintage. So not just the best blend of grapes but the best blend from the different fermentation methods too. As I said, lots going on. If you can’t wait for September, we have a solitary bottle of the 2021 Silex (60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Blanc if you’re interested) left on the VG shelf at the time of typing so get in fast.
From there, we headed to taste and sat in the (now fabulous) sunshine listening to Dan as we tasted our way through the new releases. Those of you who came to our recent ‘Explore Flint Vineyard’ shop floor tasting and heard Dan wax lyrical about malolactic fermentation will know that this was no hardship at all.
I’ve only become a Bacchus fan in the last couple of years. Although sometimes likened to Sauvignon Blanc, the Bacchus grape is actually related to Riesling. Anyway, great things are now happening with Bacchus and especially at Flint. If you like Bacchus but want a bit more oomph in your glass then the 2022 Bacchus Fumé is the one for you. Translated from French, fumé means smoke and it absolutely has a lovely smoky finish. The grapes are whole bunch pressed then go straight into oak barrels to ferment and the 2022 vintage was left to do this for longer than 2021 – a big tick in my book.
Towards the end of the tasting, platters of Flint’s 15 mile lunch arrived. Delicious charcuterie (including salami made with the stunning Flint Pinot Noir Précoce), award winning Baron Bigod cheese, locally made bread (I won’t go on as it’s nearly lunchtime and I’m making myself hungry as I type).
For those who know and love the beautiful pink fizz that Flint make (and which has graced our shelves since the very early days of the lockdown shop at The One Bull), it’s worth a mention that Flint were the first UK producers to make a fizz using the charmat method (think second fermentation in tank rather than in bottle). They did this deliberately to enable them to make a super fruity, fresh fizz. In their own words, the 2022 Charmat is ‘fruity, vibrant, sassy and fun’ and they’re not wrong. It’s not a simple wine though – 2022 has 11 grape varieties in it, most of which Dan can reel off instantly!
The observant among you may notice that all the 2022 Flint Wines have a cork seal with a naked bottle top. Dan explained this in detail and it was fascinating – I’m not going to attempt to explain the science here but Ben has written a blog post which explains it perfectly.
A small disclaimer – it’s been a busy few weeks since I visited Flint and whilst I’ve worked from my scribbled notes, it’s entirely possible, I may have made a mistake or two with the technical details. No doubt Jake or Dan will enjoy putting me straight if that’s the case (no pun intended).