Gerard And Jonica Fox, Winemakers

Gerard And Jonica Fox, Winemakers

by Peter d’Aguilar

Sussex wine continues to be big news with growing conditions rivalling those in Champagne. Wine lovers, Gerard and Jonica Fox, shared their enthusiasm with Peter d’Aguilar.

It would be an understatement to say that Gerard and Jonica Fox are passionate about sparkling wine. After pursuing careers in finance and marketing, they moved to a house called Hobdens on the southern outskirts of Mayfield which came with a five acre, south facing, gently-sloping plot of land that had previously been used for growing hops and grazing sheep. They had both always loved champagne, so it seemed only logical to plant their own vineyard. “Jonica has always had a special talent for growing things,” says Gerard. “She also has an exceptional palate.”

They planted their first vines in 2004 and harvested their first vintage in 2009. “We use a combination of lower-yielding Burgundy clones and Champagne clones for structure to create wines with enticing fruit flavours, aroma and complexity,” says Jonica. “With our limited-edition cuveés, we mix traditional winemaking skills with contemporary innovation to make limited quantities of top quality English Fizz. We like to reflect our High Weald surroundings – its soils, topography and microclimates. Our emphasis is on thoughtful, highly skilled work in the vineyard and minimal, light manipulation in the winery.”

A new plot planted out next to the winery is showing the first signs of early growth. Looking after the surrounding environment to offset the monoculture of the vines is also important to the Foxes. They use sympathetic non- invasive management of the field margins, hedgerows, ponds and copses to encourage flora and fauna. In the springtime, the vineyard is flanked by a carpet of bluebells.

“Sussex is blessed with a similar climate and soil types to Champagne, in our case the clays mixed with Sussex greensands,” explains Gerard. “The rest is up to us. Producing top quality grapes is a labour-intensive process. Attention to detail is essential. We do most of the work by hand. Grapes are probably the most complex and misunderstood fruit, and good wine depends on good grapes – so it’s essential to get the fruit right. Through constant monitoring, we can ameliorate some of the destructive effects of bad weather.”

Sparkling wine will always be associated with celebration but the Foxes see it as becoming more democratised. They are not fans of exclusivity and are on a crusade to take the mystery and hyperbole out of wine- speak. Matching the right wine with the right food is another of their goals, as it can make a huge difference to people’s enjoyment. They also welcome the resurgence of local produce, as an alternative to homogenised supermarket fare.

Together the Foxes make a powerful team. While Jonica is the creative force and Gerard the numbers man, their roles overlap and complement each other – Gerard drives the tractor, but it is Jonica that mends it when it breaks down. Above all else, they are genuine wine lovers; evangelical in their shared enthusiasm and quest for perfection and innovation.

“Our aim is to make delicious, life- enhancing bubbly,” says Jonica, bubbling over with enthusiasm. “I just want people to go ‘whoa, this is lovely!”