To mark the end of the year on worldoffinewine.com, we asked our writers to reflect on the bottles that meant most to them in 2021. For her contribution, Margaret Rand explains why she was inspired by the Sussex sparkling wines of Peter Hall’s Breaky Bottom.
What does it mean when you’re tired of bling? Is it the equivalent of Dr Johnson’s dictum that when you’re tired of London you’re tired of life? When you walk down New Bond Street and are amused by what you see but are never, even for a moment, tempted by it?
It might mean that what you really crave is the South Downs of England. Chalk hills, changing light, and the feeling that people have lived and died here for millennia and left their mark on the landscape, means infinitely more than than an overpriced handbag flaunting someone else’s initials.
As an aside, the last time I went to a bling launch of a bling Champagne the winemaker was impeccably on-message, but couldn’t actually remember the dosage in the wine in question. Were you there, I wondered?
The antithesis of bling
So to Breaky Bottom. This is the antithesis of bling. You approach Peter Hall’s gaff down an unmarked chalk track with potholes that make you fear for your tyres and springs, but you get there okay. So far, anyway. Peter couldn’t care less for bling—or indeed for anything else except his land, his wine, and the things that really matter, like music, words, good food, and friends. He used to produce operas in his barn—beat that, bling Champagnes.
And his wines are glorious. Yes, we’re talking about English sparkling. English sparkling with richness and tension, complexity and depth. Peter’s estate is tiny, tucked into a valley he fell in love with decades ago, and has stuck with through floods (those hills are steep, and nature is not always kind), assaults by pheasants mass-reared by the neighbors, as well as the usual problems of anyone growing grapes in a marginal climate.
If I have to pick one wine, I’ll choose Breaky Bottom Cuvée Koizumi Yakumo 2010: Seyval Blanc—Hall’s speciality grape, you could say—rich, deep, winey, saline, and beautiful. It could be any of his, in truth. They’re all different, and all reflect the personality of their maker. Wines do that. Boring people make boring wines—prove me wrong if you can. Peter is not boring.
We discovered, several hours into our last meeting, that we’d been to the same school. He was a decade and more ahead of me, I hasten to add, and by the time I got there the last two years were co-ed and the girls were housed in a pre-fab on the hill known as The Aviary—it was where the birds were. (It was the seventies, and it was like that then.) He enjoyed his time there; I didn’t.
But I always enjoy the time I spend at Breaky Bottom. It’s an antidote to box-ticking bling. It’s proper wine, made by someone who doesn’t give a damn about things that don’t matter, for people who can tell the difference. Try it.