Blanc-Buster: UK-sourced Sauvignon Blanc sweetens the senses

By Neil Dolby
Mar 21, 2023

Upon returning to the UK from Hong Kong, Fiona Shiner surprised many by opting out of her legal career in favour of a risky winemaking venture in the Cotswolds, a picturesque part of southwest England. More boldly still, she later opted to nurture Sauvignon Blanc, a grape varietal with little or no record of being successfully grown in the area.

Sauvignon Blanc

It was a gamble that paid off. Indeed, her 2021 Sauvignon Blanc took both the highest score and the highest award in the Unoaked category at the most recent Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters event.

“News of the award triggered an amazing amount of interest in the wine. After two of the busiest weeks in our history, we have sold out of the 2021 vintage entirely,” says Shiner.

After leaving Hong Kong, she and her family settled in Woodchester Valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty set on steep limestone slopes. As a wine lover, she was more than aware that England was surprising many with its world-class sparkling wines and Bacchus was beginning to make a reputation for producing quality still-white wines. She wondered if the local land – poor grade arable – would support her own oenophile aspirations.

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Sauvignon Blanc

After conducting research into the area’s wine-making heritage, she discovered it had been home to vineyards as far back as the time of the Domesday Book (circa 1085 AD). As a result, the temptation for her to create a new vineyard far outweighed the lure of a return to the law and, so, she planted her first acre in 2007.

On the basis of her initial plantings in 2007- 2013, she quickly established that her vineyards were capable of producing good quality wine. In 2015, she then took the big plunge and planted 2,000 Sauvignon Blanc vines, a grape variety she was a particular fan of.

“The risk was that England is a very cool climate in viticulture terms and Sauvignon Blanc ripens later than a number of varietals, such as Bacchus, that we use for our still wines, so would it ripen fully in England?” says Shiner.

Sauvignon Blanc

As it turned out, 2021 brought particular challenges. While the summer temperature was more or less average for England, heavy rain was widespread although Woodchester Valley vineyard escaped the worst. A warm, sunny spell throughout September and October, however, pretty much saved the day.

Sauvignon Blanc

Outlining what she sees as underpinning her success, she says: “Sauvignon Blanc is an expressive variety which manifests itself in different ways. Our wine expresses classic cool climate Sauvignon Blanc aromas and flavours. I also believe the limestone soils bring a vibrancy to the wine and add a bright acidity.”

For the 2021 vintage, the best description almost certainly came courtesy of the Global Sauvignon Blanc Masters judges. Summing up the wine, they concluded: “It starts with an intense gooseberry nose, building up to reveal undertones of ripe lemon. On the palate, there is a bright, taut acidity and a juicy mouthfeel. Very well-balanced, there’s just a hint of sweetness on the finish, which is long and textured. A very engaging wine and perfect for matching with asparagus or goat’s cheese.”

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(Text: Neil Dolby)