Rock star, film director or actor - you haven't really made it to the top unless you own a vineyard. If you want to be up there with Aykroyd, Banderas or Coppola making your own wine is now an even better status symbol than a private jet. In the case of Barbara Laithwaite I suspect the motivation was different. Like her husband Tony, the co-owner of the UK's biggest wine company has stayed away from the limelight, and I'd be surprised if she'd own a jet. She also resisted the urge to buy an existing winery in California or Provence and instead planted vines in the Chilterns to make sparkling wine.
Fast forward a few years to find the Wine Rambler sitting down with a glass of 2009 Wyfold Vineyard brut.
As you will note from the label there is no prominent mention of the name "Laithwaite". Wyfold Vineyard is in fact a cooperation with a friend of Barbara's, Cherry Thompson, who owns the vineyard. In 2003 they planted the traditional Champagne varieties and were able to bring in their first harvest in 2006. It took a few more years to work on the vineyard and the good summer of 2009 until the first commercially released vintage ripened on the vines (available for £24.99 from Laithwaite's Wines). For the winemaking itself they brought in external expertise from Ridgeview, one of the premier English sparkling wine makers. For a first vintage the Wyfold did extremely well and came out top in a blind tasting of some 80 English sparking wines and a few Champagnes earlier this year.
At Wine Rambler HQ we sadly lacked a few dozen other sparkling wines to go with our sample bottle but even so it was a very pleasant experience. "Lemon" is the word that features most in my tastings notes, from the subtle lemon gold in the colour of the wine to citrus aromas and lime and citrus freshness on the tongue. The Wyfold makes for a very elegant and fresh drinking experience that blends classic Champagne elements such as yeasty flavours and slightly burned brioche with lovely fruit (add green apple on the nose and citrussy kumquats on the tongue), good structure, complexity and juicy moments; I particularly liked the subtle touch of smoke on the bouquet. The Wyfold may not rank in the absolute top of sparkling wines we have tasted - English or otherwise - but that does not stop it from being a refreshing delight that's absolutely worth the price and made me very curious to see how the vineyard will develop - something I cannot say about the vineyard ventures of Brangelina and co.