South Africans prospecting international terroirs

Thursday, 16 May, 2024, Malu Lambert
A couple of weeks ago while visiting the UK, I found myself in East Sussex.

Being early spring, yellow daffodils punctuated mossy woodland at the edges of the narrow, sunken roads. Gary and Kathy Jordan collected me from the train station to take me to their English winery and distillery, Mousehall, which they run with daughter Christy. The property dates back to 1086.

Gary is a trained geologist, which has served him well at their Stellenbosch property, Jordan Wine Estate – which they remain wholly committed to. It was this same soil-savvy that led them to Sussex, the terrain a mix of Tunbridge Wells, sandstone, clay, chalk and iron deposits. The soils are so iron-rich that in the 1500s the area was the centre for iron mining and consequently cannon production.

We have a stop to make, the Jordans need to rack some barrels at Hidden Spring Vineyard. In addition to Mousehall, Kathy explains, they rented the cellar and made wine there the previous vintage. The vineyard also happens to be owned by fellow South Africans, Richard and Sara Asman. Before we head to the cellar, Richard takes us through a tasting, the range of English sparkling being particularly good.

The light starts to bend towards dusk as we bump up the track to Mousehall. It’s every bit as magical as expected. The main house is the original brickwork propped up with oak beams. Scratched into the wood are circles and symbols, witch marks to deter evil spirits.

“We bought it knowing it was going to be a lot of work,” says Kathy. “It was neglected and overgrown, but we knew how to turn it around, after all we did the same with Jordan.”

Since purchasing the property in 2017, they have done just that. On its 12-acres find the restored Oast House, with the emblematic mouse on its cowl, which now offers accommodation. Add to this 18 Dorper sheep employed for vineyard work, nine beehives, ducks, and two very energetic dogs. In the vineyard they have planted chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier. The maiden release of Tidebrook Wines is this May, named for a stream running through the farm. For both the wines and spirits everything is done with an emphasis on sustainability, from the farming to the packaging

Before heading inside for dinner, Gary shows me the distillery, winery and tasting area. A converted barn, the most modern bit of the whole enterprise. “We knew the gin would pay for the vineyard,” laughs Gary.

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