As the founders and winemakers at Fox & Fox, Jonica and Gerard have been at the heart of the English wine scene since 2004, renowned for their innovative approach for creating sparkling wines with an English twist.  We met up with Jonica to explore her vineyard in East Sussex and find out how her exceptional cuvées consistently scoop awards, year after year.

WWC:  When was your first ‘ah-ha’ wine moment?

I distinctly remember sneaking sips of champagne from an unguarded parental glass at a wedding when I was about nine, but my first sense of wonder was tasting a glass of vintage Gevrey Chambertin overlooking a vineyard in Burgundy when I was 22.  It was revelatory. I can still remember the taste.

WWC:  What made you decide to become a winemaker?

Gerard came back from a reception in 2003, inspired by a glass of English sparkling wine and filled with contagious enthusiasm.  Within weeks I was enrolled at Plumpton College, and we planted our first vines in 2004.  It’s been non-stop since. We’ve continually experimented, studied, and developed our craft and loved every minute of it.

WWC:  Fox & Fox is known for its single grape variety sparkling wines, one being Pinot Gris which is quite unique – what makes your Blanc de Gris so special?

We called our Pinot Gris-based fizz Inspiration because we were inspired by the flavour and quality of the grapes.  We wanted to make a sparkling wine that would be a great partner to contemporary flavours, like fragrant and spicy dishes of Asia, and thought that the honey, lemongrass, and ginger notes of ripe Pinot Gris would be a good fit.  I think the variety will increasingly be used in sparkling wines, it’s a great grape to work with.  We won a Pinot Gris Global Masters Gold Medal for Inspiration last year.  It’s just delicious, with a pretty aroma and so refreshing to enjoy on its own or with food.

WWC:  Every one of your wines has won impressive awards, how do you do it?

Hard work, good luck, and great attention to detail.  We make our wines in small batches, allowing the full flavours and purity of the grapes to shine through.  We want you to pour a glass of our sparkling and be confident that all your guests will enjoy it.

WWC:  You mention that your wines are created to reflect the conditions in which they are grown, what do you mean by this? 

Our vineyards are on the East Sussex edge of Kent’s “Garden of England”, so think apples or blackcurrants.  We have a mix of clay, clay-loam, and greensand soils, which produce highly flavoured grapes with an enticing balance of acid and sweetness.  We work with nature as much as we can to adapt to our growing conditions and reduce the impact of spring frosts in cold-start years, and even though our growing season and harvests start slightly later than on more open soils, we think the flavours are worth the challenges.

 

WWC:  2018 is regarded as the best vintage in England to date, your current sparkling wines are a little older than this, which vintage is your favourite? 

In 2011 we produced some exceptional Chardonnay and the Essence Pure Chardonnay Brut we made was awarded (our first) 97 points from Decanter.  2014 had many of the same characteristics as 2018.  Our Tradition Blanc de Noirs Brut 2014 also received 97 points.

WWC:  You have been producing wine since 2009, over the last 12 years what have you noticed as the biggest changes in the UK wine industry?

More and more vineyards and an expansion of their ranges to include some good still wines.  It is great to be part of such a dynamic renaissance.  I love the excitement of it.

WWC:  Your wines are all notably vegan, would you say they are natural wines?

 We are close to natural winemaking, but it’s a tricky question as there doesn’t seem to be an established set of criteria for natural wine yet.  We use a commercial yeast to ensure the fruit flavours shine through, so I think that precludes us from being completely “natural”.  We believe in minimal manipulation in our winemaking and want everyone to be comfortable when enjoying our wines, so the Vegan Society certification means a lot to us.

WWC: Can we visit your vineyards? 

Yes, we welcome visitors by appointment for tastings.  It’s a rare chance to try different grape varieties from the same vintage, the same vineyards, or we can do a “vertical tasting” of the same wine from different vintages.  Guests can choose what they want to taste, it’s their private tasting.  We include canapés or a classic English afternoon tea for food and wine pairings too. https://www.foxandfox.wine/vines/vineyard-visits/

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WWC: If we wanted to stay amongst the vineyards in the UK, where do you suggest we go?

A great source for the best vineyards to stay in is the WineCellarDoor app. It is constantly updated and has all the info in one place. https://www.winecellardoor.co.uk/

WWC: We love a picnic, which of your wines would you suggest we pair with charcuterie and cheese to enjoy in the sunshine?

I love Gerard’s personal blend: our Chairman’s Vat 2014, sparkling blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, with cured hams and fennel salamis or a pork terrine served with fresh apple slices. Or our newly released rosé: Expression Saignée Rosé 2014 with its five years on lees, it’s a great companion to smoked chicken or duck, hams, salami, and a friendly companion to many of the UK’s wonderful cheeses.

www.foxandfox.wine