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Founded in 1989 by Charles Cunningham on a beautiful site on the edge of ‘Watership Down’, Wooldings had become one of England’s most highly rated
vineyards, most notably when
its 1994 Sparkling Brut won a Bronze Medal at the prestigious International Wine Challenge.

Tragically, the 47-year-old Cunningham was murdered during a climbing holiday in Indonesia in April last year. Wooldings remains in the ownership of the Cunningham family (his mother still lives in the farmhouse) and the vineyards still grow grapes that are now processed by neighbouring producers. But as Cunningham died unmarried and none of his immediate family was prepared to take over the wine-making duties, all the remaining stocks of wine and the equipment used to make it were offered for sale on the premises by the Berkshire auctioneers Dreweatt Neate (10% buyer’s premium) on May 19.

The sale, comprising some 800 lots of bulk and bottled wine (with and without labels) and agricultural equipment, took a total of £69,000. The opening 200 lots of Wooldings wines in cased and labelled bottles predictably provided most of the interest for the 600 bidders who registered for the sale, the vast majority of whom were local and private. Wooldings’ 12-acre vineyard,
containing 15 varieties of grape, produced a full range of white, red, rosé and sparkling wines.

Clearly it is not just the Queen who is a fan of the 1994 Dry White. Made with 55 per cent Madelaine Angevine, 25 per cent Reichensteiner, and 20 per cent Seyval Blanc, and characterised in the auctioneers’ tasting notes as having “hints of orange and sweet oak”, this proved to be the most popular of the still wines. The 31 two-case lots sold for between £85 and £140 (plus VAT on the full price and premium). The 1995, 1997 and 2000 vintages were less highly rated at £40-70, £35-40 and £40-50 per two cases. However, one wonders whether it was the superiority of the vintage, or the auctioneers’ publication
of a letter from a British
Embassy member of staff telling Charles Cunningham about Her Majesty’s enjoyment of his wine, that lay behind this discrepancy in price. “It was a little bit of both,” suggested Dreweatt’s wine specialist, David Greatwood. “We sent flyers with that letter to all of Wooldings’ clients as well as our own and it probably did make a difference.

But they also liked the wine.” The Sparkling Brut (82 per cent Pinot Noir, 10 per cent Chardonnay, eight per cent Pinot Meunier) from the same 1994 vintage was also in demand, selling for £100-150, while the 1992 vintage reached an even more respectable £160.

But overall, apart from the 1994 Dry and the fizz, these Wooldings wines were selling for an average price of just £40-50 for two cases. There were plenty of bargains to be had for the hundreds of people who wanted to buy a memory of this much-respected, much-liked but tragically short-lived English wine maker.