On a stone terrace in the county of Cornwall, overlooking rolling hills blanketed with vines and fields, Camel Valley Vineyards founder Bob Lindo beams with pride as he shows off award after award to visitors sipping on the tasty fruits of his labor.
This winery is one of England’s most decorated, at the forefront of the country’s surging wine business. Producers here are winning plenty of awards, particularly for their bubbly, which has come out ahead of Champagne on enough occasions to make a Frenchman blush.
In 2016, the UK wine industry made a collective commitment to a tenfold increase in exports over five years, and American wine lovers are starting to reap the benefits. Just under two years ago, Camel Valley wines were part of the first full shipping container of English wine ever sent to a foreign shore; they were bound for the US.
But Camel Valley is not available in Florida, and sadly, that’s not likely to change. Bob Lindo says he’s pulling back from the US market.
US Regulations Too Cumbersome
“We could sell all our wines to the US if we wanted,” he said.
But he doesn’t want that. He wants to concentrate on meeting the demands of his customers in the UK.
Perhaps more to the point, he’s fed up with the complex web of US alcohol regulations, from the three-tier system to the labyrinth of state-by-state laws.
So Lindo has decided to stop drumming up new business in the US. For the importers he’s currently working with, he’ll supply his wines on an allocated basis only.
It’s an understandable move, but a shame for anyone who’s tasted Camel Valley wines and enjoyed their elegance and finesse.
Discovering English Still Wines & 2018’s Bumper Crop
As it happens, Camel Valley’s winery and vineyards are only a half hour’s drive from my in-laws’ house. During a family trip earlier this month, I booked myself into the “Grand Tour and Tasting,” led by Bob himself. (His son Sam Lindo is the chief winemaker now.)
It seemed somehow appropriate that my visit fell on on the Fourth of July!
Bob led the group into one of his vineyards, his eyes gleaming as he showed us his fledgling grapes. These would normally still be in flower stage, he said. With this year’s warm, sunny summer he’s expecting a “fantastic crop” and an early harvest – picking is now planned for mid-September.
You can argue about global warming, he said, but you can’t argue about the fact that it’s warmer here now than it was when he and his wife Annie planted their first vines almost three decades ago.
After a look around the winery, it was back to the terrace, where I confirmed my love of Camel Valley’s acclaimed pinot noir rosé brut (which I’d first tasted at a champagne bar in New Orleans) …
… and discovered that the winery makes some lovely still wines too.
Perhaps the most interesting was an incredibly aromatic white made from the Bacchus grape. A cross of riesling, silvaner, and Müller-Thurgau, it was created by German scientists in the 1930s in an effort to find a grape that could ripen in climates where riesling struggled. It’s become a popular varietal among England’s vintners.
Camel Valley’s Bacchus comes from its Darnibole vineyard, which last year became the first – and remains the only – UK vineyard to receive Protected Designated Origin (PDO) status from the European Union.
The 2016 Bacchus has a nose of elderflower and Sweet Tarts (really!) and a beautifully floral palate with enough acid to give it great structure. The winery also makes a Bacchus-chardonnay blend called “Atlantic Dry” – still floral but with a bit more body.
We also tried a very nice still rosé of pinot noir, made in a Provencal style with just a touch more fruit on the nose and palate than its French cousins tend to have.
Camel Valley doesn’t export any of its still wines, which is too bad because they’d be absolutely perfect by the pool on one of these hot, steamy Central Florida summer days.
The tasting ended with another unusual treat – Annie’s Anniversary sparkling, made entirely from seyval blanc grapes, grown in the vineyard just below the terrace.
Seyval blanc is a hybrid grape (i.e., non-vinifera) that I discovered on my wine travels in Missouri! Never have I seen it in the Old World. Turns out, it makes a great bubbly – mouth-filling with notes of creamy lemon curd.
They don’t export that one either, sadly.
Want these wines? Visit Cornwall!
Hey Bob, I’ll call my Congressman about that annoying three-tier thing if you’ll change your mind about limiting your US exports.
Oh well, at least I brought a few bottles home.
Here’s the bottom line – Camel Valley makes some lovely, unique wines, but if you live in Florida, you’ll probably have to go to Cornwall to get them.
And that’s not such a bad thing! It’s a beautiful area. All the photos below were taken within an hour’s drive of the winery, and all these places are worth a visit.
The winery is too. Bob is a great and jovial host, the Grand Tour gives visitors an in-depth look at Camel Valley’s operations, and the tasting on the terrace is extensive and fun.
Plus, it’s much more cost effective to buy Camel Valley wines onsite than in the US. My bottles are resting from their journey now, but before too long I look forward to opening them and tasting a little bit of Cornwall here in the Sunshine State.