Made in Suffolk: Grape expectations

PUBLISHED: 11:05 30 September 2013 | UPDATED: 11:16 02 October 2013

Wissett Wines janet Craft

Wissett Wines janet Craft

Copyright of Paul Dixon

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis talks to Janet Craft of Wissett Wines

It was husband Jonathan’s first mid-life crisis that brought Janet Craft to the East of England and a job tending an eight-acre vineyard.

His day job as a geo technical engineer had taken him through the great wine-growing regions of the world, from sprawling estates in France, to Australia and California, and his love of wine left him yearning to produce his own wine with every passing trip.

“He decided it would be far too easy to go to an established area to grow grapes,” Janet laughs, “so 28 years ago we decided to come to East Anglia. The area is well known for being one of the driest and sunniest parts of the country.”

They found a suitable property in Wissett and, despite people thinking it was rather strange to be growing grapes in Suffolk, Janet and Jonathan planted vines then waited four years to see if they would be worth doing anything with.

They planted Pinot Gris, Madeleine Angevine, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, of which the Madeleine Angevine was a particular success. The basis of their rosé sparkling wine Gloriana, the grape variety has won the couple an international bronze medal and a gold medal in the UK.

“It’s a variety that was specially developed for the British climate,” Janet says. “All the other grapes came from the Alsace in France. We chose that area because it is similar climatically to where we are here.”

The couple’s first bottles were produced in 1990 but, says Janet, they realised there was more to making wine than they realised.

“You learn by experience. When we first started growing the grapes we were so astonished that we could grow them at all we picked all the grapes. But as the years have gone by, we’ve learned to select and use only the finer grapes. In different years different varieties do better.

“Jonathan has to test them very regularly at harvest time and it’s a question of the correct sugar level with the correct acid level. “English wines have a particularly acidic level which is why they are so good for sparkling wines. Often there’s very little warning of when to harvest. It can change within a week.”

Apart from Gloriana, Janet and Jonathan try to change their wine offering every year according to how the grapes are fruiting. They have a rather romantic way of naming each new variety of wine.

“Whenever we have a grandchild, that grandchild gets a wine named after them. We have two new granddaughters so we now have Chloe’s First which is a still white and Rose’s First which is a pink still. They are both very dry. Our strapline at Wissett is ‘Drink Wissett Dry’.”

Another bottle to sample is Noah’s Flood, which might sound like an unusual choice, but if you look closely at a bottle from Wissett Wines, you’ll see their logo bears an image of Noah tending vines. The picture is a replica of a boss on the ceiling of Norwich Cathedral, which they were permitted to commission for use.

If you’d like to try a little Wissett wine there are free tours and tastings every day by appointment with wine available from the farm gate.

The wines are also on sale at Middleton Farm Shop and Friday Street Farm Shop as well as at local eateries including the Fox and Goose at Fressingfield and The Castle in Bungay.

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