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ThirtyFifty - Hens

Grape Britain, A Tour of Britain's Vineyards by David Harvey
80 out of 100

Published 29 June 2008


David Harvey is the first person to release a new book on English and Welsh wine for a number of years. Until now the only book that lists the vineyards of England and Wales is Steven Skeleton's very thick reference book, Wines of Britain and Ireland, first published in 2001, but due for a second edition in 2008.

So it was with great excitement that I opened the book and flicked through. It initially looked good, the layout was good, and the colour pictures helped give a feel for the vineyards. But I was a bit disappointed to see that on release the book was almost a year out of date. For example Dermot Sugrue, who was interviewed and attributed as the winemaker at Nyetimber has not been working there for over a year!
But what David Harvey is trying to do is create an impression of the wines of Britain and give readers an insight on what English and Welsh wines are all about. To this end he has done very well. Initially I could not decide if it was a coffee table book or a reference book, and in the end I have decided it is a book to take on a journey, that is a book you can pick up and put down reading snippets at a time. David’s style is fun and you don’t feel you are wading through large amounts of text. The pictures break the sections up well and give the reader a feel for the wines and grapes of Britain.

The book is divided in to two parts. Part 1 gives an overview of grapes and the life cycle of a British vineyard. While Part 2 explores the main counties and grape growing regions around Britain.

In Part 1, David starts the book off by with an overview of the Grape varieties of Britain, this is important as many varieties grown in Britain are not common, and the paragraph or so dedicated to each varieties gives a good overview. He then discusses a typical year in the life of a vine, and while it does not differ significantly from any Northern Hemisphere wine region, it helps create a sense of place with pictures and background information. I am a bit perplexed why he chooses to include quite so many references to different hunting seasons. Perhaps it is to add some colour to what would normally be a very standard year in the life of a vineyard cycle. David’s vintage guide lacks depth, only giving a brief account of the season, indicating wet or dry years and if in general the wine was good or bad. There is no real information on what was best, when to drink the wines, or even a breakdown between red and white wines.

Part 2 is where most of the book is focused and where the real meat of the book is. David groups the wineries by region such as the Weald and Downland, which according to David is formed from the counties of Kent East and West Sussex, Surrey and Middlesex. You clearly need to have an idea of British Geography and counties as there are no maps to assist if not. The lack of maps is a real failing of the book, and while I would have liked all sorts of maps I would also have liked more information on the vineyards he has chosen, things such as how big they are and what they make would be great. But I think what David is trying to do is select a range of vineyards that reflect the overall industry, in which case he has managed to do that and included some great producers.

All in all, the book is very readable and enjoyable. It is probably best enjoyed on a train journey or some other place where you can dip in and out as the mood takes you.

I rate the book 80 out of 100.

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