Gary and Kathy Jordan are well known for their Stellenbosch winery. But back in 2018 they began their quest for the perfect soil conditions to inspire a UK venture in partnership with their daughter Christy. Today a small vineyard, sustainable gin distillery, botanical garden, bee hives and a herd of curious livestock are all housed in the beautiful East Sussex countryside. And it’s all down to the soil. What’s more this small but perfectly formed sustainable farmstead will soon be welcoming holidaying guests. Lisse Garnett reports.
Global warming has delivered new ground to prospectors, many from overseas. The Jordan family of Jordan Wine Estate in South Africa have branched out and being experts in soil and potential, have chosen Mayfield in East Sussex to lay down roots. Undulating hills, Tunbridge Wells sandstone and clay, historical villages and pilgrim routes litter this landscape – and so do vineyards: several sit within a mile of the Jordan’s door. The family have taken a holistic approach to their ancient farmstead, not only planting vines but cultivating botanicals, farming prized meat-producing South African Dorper sheep, keeping bees, distilling gin and lovingly converting a small oast next to their home into top grade holiday accommodation. They have poured their hearts and sweat into this magical landscape, a landscape built on cannons, oak, hops and pilgrims.
Mousehall in East Sussex is a twelve acre Wealden Farm that predates the Doomsday book. An ancient footpath winds up the lane bordering the Tidebrook stream, past the old oak farmhouse door and its accompanying single Oast (once used for drying hops but long since converted to accommodation). The path then rises up into the rounded sandstone-peppered valley as it passes along an ancient drovers’ route. This is a magical spot. Wealth came to this region through ironstone in the 1500s. Cannon manufacturing brought prosperity, which is reflected in the medieval sandstone houses and ruined smelting works all about here.
If you venture up to the nearby village of Mayfield and into the church you will find something very unusual: iron graves. Appropriately the most prominent belongs to one Thomas Sands, a wine cooper. Once the site of an ecclesiastical Palace, the remains of which have been incorporated into the local public school, Mayfield village is a testament to smelting wealth. A bonfire procession, much like its sister in the town of Lewes, takes place each year. Both of these are incredible spectacles to mark a sinister past, when six martyrs were burned at the stake in 1556 for refusing to renounce their Protestant faith, four in Mayfield and two in Lewes, the hometown of Thomas Paine. This region has a history of welcoming free thinkers.
The love that Gary, Kathy and Christy Jordan have lavished upon this place since buying it in 2018 is extraordinary. The house is grade two listed, as is the Oast, which has given up its secrets and its nasty cheap pine 60s panelling to reveal witches marks (a local speciality) and oak beams for future guests to savour. Christy is an experienced hospitality professional having manned and catered yachts and safaris. Both Christy and Kathy have applied the utmost sensitivity to the restoration of this place. Every bolt has been considered and preserved where possible. Underfloor heating, beautiful bathrooms and a gorgeous kitchen will make for a superb guest experience – there isn’t a flat wall in the place but they have cleverly solved every curveball by building bespoke. When we visit the furniture has yet to arrive, but they aim to host their first guests soon.
An emphasis on sustainability is absolutely genuine and evident in their gin’s biodegradable labels, recycled glass bottles, plant based packaging and wooden glue-less stoppers. There is also solar power for the energy hungry copper still and the vineyard features row-clearing sheep. The arrival of their first employee of six affirms a commitment to local labour. Every inch of this farm plays a cohesive part in the whole farm to table operation. Christy and Kathy delivered the first of the Dorper’s lambs themselves last year with a little help from the local vet. The idea was to supply meat to High Timber, the restaurant they part own in London but one by one they fell in love with the wide faced beasts, naming them and now keeping them it seems only as long faced lawnmowers.
They have planted a small experimental vineyard with different clones of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, testing the soil and with the aim of producing their own English Wine. Two years on, their first small vintage under their belt, Gary feels they have a good idea of which clones will work.
Their impressive copper still was made by fourth generation German coppersmiths and arrived from the Black Forest last year having been commissioned but held up by the pandemic. Since its arrival they have tirelessly tested their gin recipes, growing their own botanicals and sourcing the perfect spirit mix. They have now settled on a recipe, and the result is superb.
The number of distilleries in the United Kingdom has soared to over 700 from fewer than 200 in the past five years. The industry is booming and small independents are springing up all over the country. The Jordan’s still is housed in a beautifully constructed barn, the frame of which was once the ropey looking structure pictured below. Now recycled and repurposed to form this. Here you can see a before and after shot.
This is very much a family operation. These three never stop grafting, tasting, clearing, looking after animals, baking, pickling and mowing. Gary and Kathy scoured the UK to find Mouse Hall; for them it was all about the soil and a home for their many adopted mutts and a curmudgeonly cat. As experts in their field, their choice of East Sussex is significant. This is a new business, an opportunity to begin afresh and put sustainable practices into play from the start. Environment is at the forefront of their operation and they are in the wonderful position of starting anew. The place is inspiring, a model farm to ignite our interest and bring hope for a sustainable future. We will keep you updated on their progress.