South Africa in England: we taste the inaugural gold medal winning vintage of Tidebrook Wines, from medieval Mousehall, the Jordan winery and distillery in Mayfield, East Sussex

Gary and Kathy Jordan are well known for their Stellenbosch winery. 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 is now welcoming holidaying guests and producing gold medal winning, 94 point wines.

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.

Christy summed up the her adventures so far;

‘We love being part of this exciting new wine industry.  Although still in its young stage it is developing and improving at a rate that is mind-blowing, even for those in the industry.  Already there are over 900 grape growers in England with the total coverage of vines being the same size as Stellenbosch, South Africa and poised to be much larger! The industry is becoming even more enticing, so much so that there are many foreign investors putting their toes into English wine. 

Surprisingly, we didn’t need to make any u-turns! Our original plan was to start with producing Mousehall spirits and then expand into our English, Tidebrook wines and so far everything has gone according to plan!

Things are already much better than we ever imagined they could be.  There is much more awareness about the English wine industry and more interest from consumers in seeking out and trying English wines. I feel we are only at the start of a big English wine wave  – we are preparing for a wild ride! Hold onto your hats!’ 

Mousehall Oast is now open for guests; take a look at the before and after shots…

‘East Sussex is now my permanent home, together with my partner Nick, who has recently joined the business and our energetic Irish Setter pup, Charlie. It is also home for Gary & Kathy. The geographical position of the UK acts as a great central hub to reach many of our Jordan & Mousehall wine and spirit markets on the other continents such as Europe & Canada. It is also very easy to travel to South Africa as we are on a similar time zone.  

Our hope for the future: to be able to consistently produce quality still wines in England – Chardonnay & Pinot Noir , on a regular basis, not only in the occasional good year. We also plan to produce sparkling wines, but producing high quality still English wines is our goal!’

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. The most prominent of these 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 was built off the back of a profitable iron smelting trade.

Each year a bonfire procession takes place to mark the 1556 burning of six martyrs at the stake for refusing to renounce their Protestant faith.

Both Christy and Kathy have applied the utmost sensitivity to the restoration of this Mousehall. 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.

Sustainability is paramount in everything this family do. The labels on Mousehall gin are biodegradable, the bottles recycled, The packaging plant-based and the wooden stoppers are glue-less. There is also solar power for the energy-hungry copper still, and the vineyard features row-clearing sheep. Christy and Kathy delivered the first of the Dorper’s lambs themselves in 2020 with a little help from the local vet. The idea was to supply meat for their Thameside restaurant High Timber, but one by one, they fell in love with the wide-faced beasts who are now named pets.

The small vineyard they planted (pictured in 2021) with different clones of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier is now producing the fruit for their own English wines.

Their impressive copper still was made by fourth-generation German coppersmiths and arrived from the Black Forest in 2021, having been commissioned but held up by the pandemic. Mousehall gin was awarded a gold medal by Wine GB and has a whole host of plaudits to its name.

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.

Mousehall has always been very much a family operation. These three now four dedicated individuals 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.

The Wines

Mousehall Estate Tidebrook Staddle Stone Chardonnay 2022 12% Alcohol. Crystalline and creamy all at once. Lime, candied lemon, grapefruit, and a delicate golden toast laced with a hint of lemon verbena. Linear and fresh with a sapid mouth-filling texture and a hint of saline. Delicious. This wine scored top marks when tasted by both Decanter and WineGB. Well done Jordans!

Mousehall Estate Tibrook The Tipping Point Pinot Noir 12% Alcohol. Crunchy fresh and sapid with summer strawberry, cranberry, blackberries and pomegranate. The best of English Summer suspended in glass. There is a hint of moreish toast, too, from 12 months in second-use Burgundian oak. Delicious!

Mousehall Estate Tibrook Six Petals Rosé 2022 11% Alcohol. Subtle notes of white peach, wild strawberry, blossom and apricot. Lively, fresh and delicately creamy with a hint of broiche from the lees. Eminently quaffable.