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Coming of age

Words by Dan Warden

Welcoming wine into the fold of Cornish culinary excellence.

Uncompromising and innovative; these are perhaps the founding principles behind the growing offering available at Knightor Winery. Owner and founder, Adrian, is in the serious business of enjoyment. Having previously run a successful IT company, a career in which he spent a great deal of time bogged down in the industry’s many complexities, he now spends his days promoting the simple pleasure of wine. He aims to remove the stigmatic perception that often dissuades people from ‘getting into’ wine; that in order to fully appreciate it, you must first understand its intricacies.

Located in St Austell, just a stone’s throw from the Eden Project, and with two vineyards in Cornwall – one in Portscatho, the other in Seaton – Knightor aims to de-mystify the world of wine. Led by Adrian and Head Winemaker, David Brocklehurst, the young, energetic team work to peel back the oft-associated label of elitism and make the fruits of the vineyard accessible to all. “I would like to think that we are always hardcore, and never pretentious. Practical, not theoretical,” says Adrian.

“There is often a lot of snobbery around wine,” agrees David. “We hope to try and remove some of this at Knightor, which starts when you walk into our shop and tasting room. Forget about the typical, clinical wine shop where people only talk in the hushed tones of a library. Ours is both a shop and a place of work, so it may be that when you pop in, we are busy labelling or boxing up orders. We like to offer a warm welcome and helpful advice, if needed. After all, we know English wine often looks a bit scary, but we would like to think there is at least one or two wines that we can tempt you with.”

So, what about the wines themselves? David and Adrian explain that when trying to compare grapes grown on English soil to those from the well-known vineyards of Europe, it’s important to know that the differing climates inevitably produce significantly different results. “Every wine region has its difficulties and issues,” says David. “Some are too warm, too dry, too humid. For us in the UK, you guessed it, it can be a little wet! More specifically, we can experience rain during the times of year when it’s not wanted; when the vines are flowering in June, or on the run up to harvest in September. Yields fluctuate year on year, as does the character of the fruit. No two years are the same, so you cannot make a Chardonnay, for instance, in the same way and expect to get the same result.

“As much as possible at Knightor, we are all about the grape and vintage,” David continues, “trying to capture the aromas and flavours we see in the grapes, within the finished wine. We have a few core wines that we make each year, but then we are also given the freedom to experiment and have a bit of fun, making many small batches and trying out different styles.” He explains that they take a very hands-off approach, with minimum intervention. “We let the wine do its thing! This includes leaving the sparkling wines to age until they’re at their bready, biscuity best. We don’t like the idea of adding any strange ingredients into the wine – for us it should be as simple as fermented grape juice, so no finings are added and all are suitable for vegans.”

“The results,” says Adrian, “are often beautiful and always ephemeral, like the most unique experiences. Couple the delicate fruit with an innovative approach and you see the range one can have within the elegant lightness that is the hallmark of English wine, which some may have never tasted before. Some may have had it and know how good in can be, while others may have had a less-than-favourable experience and are coming here to give it another try. What I would say, is that the good wines are gaining real ground and are becoming very popular, both among critics and consumers.” David seconds this, saying: “Being a relative newcomer to vine-growing, England doesn’t have the restrictions that many of the old-world vine regions have to grow specific varieties, or make specific styles of wine. We can be more creative, grow whatever varieties we want – provided that they ripen! – and make whatever styles of wine that we like.”

Whilst fundamental to the Knightor experience, it is by no means what Knightor is all about. What Adrian, David and their team aim to deliver to visitors every year is an experience they could spend the entire day enjoying. From tours of the winery itself in St Austell, to feast nights and Foodie Fridays that see the popping up of incredible street-food vendors in the courtyards, with popular Cornish foodie brands making regular appearances. During the warmer months there’s even live music to be enjoyed, with the opportunity to set out blankets and spend the afternoon enjoying the location and everything the grounds have to offer.

Image by Chris Tuff

So popular have these foodie gatherings become that Knightor recently decided to extend its culinary reach, redeveloping the Portscatho Vineyard into an all-round foodie destination (open April to September). The result, is The Vine, which has made both a home, and a name for itself, on those southerly seaward slopes. Away from the crowds in a private vineyard with sea views, Executive Chef at the Vine, Gavin, explains: “It’s a place where people can chill in large open spaces, drink nice drinks and eat quirky plates of food, where everything is different, from the plates to the furniture. It’s meant to be a space for a good old bit of ‘R&R’, mixed with a gin and tonic or, preferably, a glass of our wine. It’s a place where people can try dishes they might not find elsewhere on the Roseland, or even in Cornwall.”

As a visitor to Knightor, The Vine rounds off the experience. A sharing-style menu delivers larger plates, with smaller dishes in between to fill up the table. “Flatbreads are cooked in our wood-fired oven, topped with ingredients like ox heart, fried shrimp and chilli sauce, or spiced Cornish crab meat with Szechuan pepper mayo and black garlic. Or, what I think will become our signature dish: KWFC. Served with raw slaw and salmon roe, Knightor Winery Fried Chicken is just one of the many plates that make the menu so tempting. There is plenty to choose from for everybody, from meat lovers, to vegetarians and vegans, and of course, those who come to sample what makes Cornwall such a culinary powerhouse – its seafood.”

In fact, while it’s a term that he hates to use for his food, he says: “I call it mongrel food – mixing up flavours and styles, and seeing them merge into something that people love.” On wine pairings, he recommends the Trevannion 2019, which he says “goes well with spicy food, with its citrus notes really complementing the chilli.”

To be fair though, a lot of Knightor’s wines have those hallmarks that make English wines so special; a lightness and a delicacy of touch that lends them perfectly to seaside dining. Wine that, in Adrian’s words, “lets the fruit express itself through short runs and light-touch, low-intervention wine making”. But the wines, as we’ve discovered, are but one piece in a much-larger puzzle. This is a business that emphasises – champions, even - the creativity of its young and passionate team, who are continually looking to create a community around the Knightor brand, introducing people to wine and removing the snobbery that can be so off-putting to so many. With plans in the future to promote more events, including private talks and tours, all whilst retaining a commitment to a no-nonsense, sustainable approach to the timeless pairing of food and drink, I’m sure you’ll join us in welcoming Knightor to the table of culinary Cornwall.


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