Different Bubbles

Camel Valley Vineyard Bodmin, Cornwall Photo: PK Read

Camel Valley Vineyard
Bodmin, Cornwall
Photo: PK Read

I took the family to visit Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall last week, where we tried out every type of sparkling wine they had on offer. I stand by my first assessment – my favorites are the CV Rosè and the CV Cornwall Brut. The others – including an oddly satisfying pinot noir sparkling wine – were all good, just not quite my coupe de champagne. I like them as well as some of my regular champagnes, which is saying something, and it’s nice to know I can buy tasty sparkling wine in the UK while supporting local producers.

Also, the drive down ever-narrowing roads and through the Cornish countryside, over the Camel River and up to the vineyards, is a small adventure in discovery. After we left the winery, we headed out to our hotel for the evening, the lovely Lewinnick Lodge. A friend (a very good friend!) had made sure that a bottle of chilled Champagne (a Deutz brut) was waiting for us in our room, so we were able to do our own direct comparison – the Deutz had that unique chalky dryness of French Champagne, while the CV brut had a mellow roundess that was very enjoyable.

Twenty minutes from Camel Valley - the sea Photo: PK Read

Thirty minutes from Camel Valley – the sea
Photo: PK Read

Overall, sparkling wines are doing very well globally – for many, they have the pop of Champagne from France without the price. Italian prosecco is expanding in sales, and other countries (notably the United States, Australia and New Zealand) have produced solid sparkling wines for years. The name Champagne is only protected if the product comes from Europe – many other regions outside Europe use the word champagne as synonymous with sparkling wine.

Since English-produced bubbly currently only accounts for around 1% of sparkling wine sales in the UK, I guess you could say it’s a sector with a lot of growth potential. Variety being the spice of life, I know that when I am visiting the UK, I will be trying out some of the other local sparkling products, as well.

Good Mood Restored

Camel Valley Wines Image via: English Wines

Camel Valley Wines
Image via: English Wines

I am generally a happy driver, by which I mean, I like driving a car. Especially through beautiful countryside. I grew up on the coast of northern California, which has some pretty nice roads for driving, and I guess I just got into the habit of being happy behind the wheel, most of the time.

So the way from Bristol to the Eden Project, a drive which runs through the SouthWest of England, should have been a great experience. And parts of it were: The long stretch on the A30 roadway that leads from Exeter (where we had stopped off for a couple of days) to St. Austell is stunning, rangy open country. And on the divided roadway, I could almost forget that I’m driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But then the signage to the Eden Project, where we were headed, turned out to be intermittent and a bit misleading, the roads got narrow and then narrower, and after a couple of hours of my passenger (my intrepid father) white-knuckling every close encounter with a stone wall, hedgerow or side mirror of a parked car, I was ready to throw in the towel.

We had planned to drive down to the westernmost tip of Cornwall after visiting the large biomes of the Eden Project, but that would have meant another couple of hours on the road, and neither of us could face that.

Lucky us.

Because what we ended up finding, purely by chance, was a lovely cliff-side hotel. Besides having fantastic sea views from our rooms, and being served local mussels in local cider and cream, if we hadn’t stopped just outside St. Austell I doubt I would have gotten the chance to try a genuine surprise, the locally produced Camel Valley sparkling wine. Tracy, our friendly waitress at the Carlyon Bay Hotel, recommended the Cornish wine when I told her about my rattled nerves and my hankering for some champagne. She brought me two kinds to try, the brut and the rosé.

Well. My good mood was instantly restored. Because as it turns out, Camel Valley is turning out some excellent bubbly. In fact, the winery has been awarded a number of international prizes, winning out more than once against major champagne producers. The brut was light, chalky, dry and delicate, finely pearled – a delight. The rosé had a lovely tawny blush, and a slight berry taste I haven’t often experienced. image

The funny thing is, while we were making the decision to stay in St. Austell, I had been noodling around on the rental car GPS system and had seen ‘wineries’ listed. When I clicked on those listings, I was given helpful driving instructions on how to get to the champagne wineries – on the other side of the Channel. After all, they are only around 100 miles away, if you have an amphibious vehicle. Couldn’t be much more difficult than the country lanes we’d been on already.

But Camel Valley itself was only twenty minutes away, in Bodmin. Sparkling wine in England actually predates champagne, partly due to British glassmaking techniques. While Cornwall has been producing wine since the 1600s, Camel Valley is a family-run winery that’s only been in business since 1989. But if they keep turning out the kind of wine I tasted, maybe the French GPS systems will start listing them as a destination from the French coastline, as well.

Need I mention that I managed to return the car, a brand-new white VW, without a single scratch or mark, in spite of all the near misses? Now that, indeed, makes for a happy driver.


Camel Valley Wines website

Good English Wine article on Camel Valley Wines

Telegraph article on Camel Valley Wines

The Independent article on Camel Valley and other good British wines

Also, the music that helped calm our nerves: