The special edition English Sparkling Wine released earlier this year in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee sold out rapidly, weeks before the nation’s four-day fête in June honoring Her Majesty’s seven-decade reign, which sadly came to an end September 8, 2022. Retailed through the Royal Collection Trust (the charitable arm of the Royal Household), the traditional method sparkling—a style now synonymous with Britain’s rapidly growing wine industry—was made by Kent winery Gusbourne from the classic Champagne varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The Platinum Jubilee bubbly bottling wasn’t the first time the Queen had dipped her royal toes into the wine industry. In fact, you can now toast Her Majesty’s memory with bubbles made from a vineyard a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle, at Windsor Great Park in Berkshire.
It’s the same place William the Conqueror hunted deer in the 11th century; King Edward III bred horses for the Hundred Years’ War; And Queen Victoria retreated after the death of her beloved Albert.
The park saw a vineyard cultivated by Henry II in the 12th century. It would take over 800 years for another to be planted there. And that’s all because UK-based wine retailer Laithwaite’s stuffed up an order for a very important customer: Windsor Castle.
Laithwaite’s profuse apologies led to an invite to tour the park’s grounds, which led to the retailer suggesting that a particularly sunny hill could make an excellent site for a vineyard. A phone call and a few meetings later with company cofounder Tony Laithwaite (a Windsor local himself), and 3 hectares of densely planted vines went into the royal ground in 2011.
When the first vintage of Windsor Great Park was released in late 2016, all 2000 bottles swiftly sold out. Today Laithwaite’s releases an annual average of 15,000 bottles of two cuveés, a blanc de blancs and a rosé, through their websites in the U.K, Australia and the U.S. The latter currently sells the 2015 and 2016 vintages of the blanc for $69.99 each.
“The vineyard in Windsor Great Park is a great site, planted on a gentle slope rolling down to the lake, with good frost protection in most years,” says Simon Roberts, Ridgeview’s second-generation head winemaker who, with his late father Mike, made the Windsor Great Park wines from 2013–2021. “All sites have their challenges, but Windsor’s was more unusual.”
The vineyard’s biggest adversary? Parakeets. Once pets, the captive birds escaped (or were released) in the 1970s and have been breeding in the wilds of Southeast London ever since. Their appetite for grapes is particularly voracious. “Picking dates had to be brought forward to avoid losing the crop to them,” says Roberts.
Despite the parakeet problem, Roberts says the private slope at Windsor Great Park is “a fairly consistent site producing good quality, fruitful juice and good acidity; balanced with freshness and an expressive flavor profile.” Apparently fit for a queen.
This article originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!