There was an ancient vine that crept up the side of the old stucco house I lived in when I was a girl growing up in a small town in Bahia, in the North East of Brazil. The vine had twisted itself around the wrought iron balcony on the first floor of the building and pushed the bars to one side. I used to squeeze myself through those bars and climb onto the vine and hold myself there draped in the leaves and gorge myself on fresh grapes.
Perhaps that is where I had my first passion for vines, but it would be some time before grapes and I renewed our relationship. After travelling the world in search of my diverse roots I found out I am in fact a little bit English by descent and I settled in the heart of the English countryside in East Sussex, on a beautiful farm by the banks of the River Rother, a stone’s throw from Bodiam Castle. To me, the Oast house we moved into looked like a princess’ castle, but it was once a key part of the economy of the valley that had been owned by Guinness for the farming of hops; the Oast houses themselves were used for drying the hops.
Remembering my childhood, I planted some vines that climbed up the walls of the Oast; the south facing aspect and the temperate climate ensured that I got a bountiful crop even in my second year and I decided to make some wine from the grapes. I had heard of quiet revolution occurring in England with some sparkling wines starting to challenge established Champagne brands. I started to visit local vineyards and meet the people who were to become my friends and who encouraged me to study wine production at Plumpton College.
While I studied, I started to look at the terroir in our valley and its history. There is a sandstone ridge running alongside the banks of the Rother, with a mix of clay and silt from the river, that once spread more widely across the valley and was navigable from the sea. Iron was smelted here in roman times from the ironstone that lies about on the surface of our fields and is responsible for creating the natural spring that fills our pond. There are many natural brooks around the farm – Gypsy brook, Channel brook and the most poetic to me, Oastbrook, which was the original name of the farm. I decided that should be the name of my wine.
While I studied, we planted our first vines. Walking through my vineyard for the first time I closed my eyes, listened to the breeze and remembered home. I like to think that perhaps that Englishman who had travelled to the small town in Bahia saw that same vine growing up the side of the house where I was born, maybe he even planted it. Maybe he too came back home dreaming of those grapes so I’m tending those vines and making the wine for us both.