Jan and Anthea Mirkowski are those admirable sorts of people who have a passion that they didn’t just talk about at dinner parties as pie in the sky dreams that never come to fruition. They made it happen. Anyone with more than a casual interest in wine will have dreamt about working in the wine industry in some form whilst knowing deep down we are never going to actually do anything about it. After a particularly dreary and wearisome few weeks at work many of us have announced ‘No seriously, I’m actually going to bloody well do it. I’m going to start a vineyard/Independent Wine Merchants etc’. I once stumbled across a German vineyard for sale on Right Move and in my mind it was 100% going to happen, no doubts. Ten minutes later the obvious and innumerous barriers were pointed out and the idea shelved for another rainy day in the future. Jan and Anthea, however, made it happen. Their dream now a reality, they own a beautiful vineyard that is small in size and age but big in quality; anyone lucky enough to have tasted their wares should be grateful for Jan and Anthea’s determination and adventurous spirit.
My first encounter with Fairmile was in the early Summer of 2022 when my birthday present from my wife was a vineyard tour and picnic with friends. Whether you are a wine buff or not, I cannot recommend it highly enough. For £10 a head Jan gave us a tour of the vines which was pitched perfectly – relaxed and informative with enough detail to interest a budding connoisseur but not so much that it bores the tee-totaller in the group! A guided tasting of their two sparkling wines followed before we were left to crack open the picnic and a few more bottles whilst the vines were ours to explore and enjoy for as long as we wanted. It really was a middle aged, middle class dream – the sun was shining on the beautiful country views around Henley-on-Thames, eating and drinking with great friends whilst ensconced in a vineyard that was all ours for the afternoon!
If you are not local enough to make a visit to Fairmile then you simply must get hold of some of their wines to try as they are truly exceptional. I must admit that sparkling wine is not really my go-to and I often feel that the cost to enjoyment ratio is worse than for good still wines. However, Fairmile has changed my mind! Their Classic Cuvee is really dry, crisp and has a wonderful purity and concision to it, whilst the Rosé is the one that stole all of our hearts. It’s colour is utterly enchanting and the taste just wonderful, distinct notes of English strawberry. It manages to offer both depth and complexity alongside incredible precision and clarity, full of clean lines but also creative swooshes and flourishes - a genuinely interesting and beguiling bottle. So much so that when we continued the evening into Henley town centre and had some more English Sparkling Wine by some very well renowned producers they tasted really rather disappointing!
Following our visit I got in touch with Jan to do a brief Q&A:
- Why did you decide to start making wine? Wine-making had been a hobby after attending those student parties where someone would invariably bring their concoction of terrible home-brew. I wondered how hard it would be to make a decent wine from fresh ingredients and started once I bought my first house.
-Why did you decide to make ESW rather than still wines? The English climate is now well-suited to growing sparkling wine varieties of grapes. The cooler nights enable fruit to hold on to the extra acidity essential for sparkling wine – but which would make still wine somewhat tart.
-What has been the biggest challenge since starting the vineyard? Getting the dosage right! I think we managed it in the end – but please be our judge.
-What would be your advice to anyone thinking about starting a vineyard? Location, location, location!
-What do you enjoy most about owning a vineyard? Meeting our customers, seeing their delight when they taste the wine, and fielding their intelligent questions.
-Apart from Fairmile, what are your three favourite ESWs? Unfair!!! I went to a tasting of a dozen well-known ESW’s. All were amazing, yet all tasted different despite being made from essentially the same three grape varieties. That’s the joy of exploring wine.
-What is your favourite wine style (grape, region etc)? Apart from ESW? Every year I buy one or more wooden cases of Bordeaux en primeur - i.e. whilst still in the barrel. Once bottled, the wine is delivered to a UK bonded store where it lies in carefully climate-controlled conditions, and continues to mellow and mature over a long time. It’s a way of enjoying top château wines at affordable prices.
-What are your go-to weekly wines and where do you buy from? People ask whether we drink much of our own wine – but it would be like eating your favourite meal every day. We only open bottles of our wine on special occasions with family & friends. For everyday consumption we love wine merchants who will often tell you the story of a vineyard, recommend wines to pair with certain foods, and are adept at making those rare finds that you don’t see in supermarkets.
-I'm doing a tasting where each bottle represents one of the people involved in the tasting (funnily enough, all bar one, of the group who visited you!) - what bottle should I pick to represent you? Our Classic Cuvée is refined, complex, and leaves a lingering impression. Like us, of course!
-What famous person(s), for whatever reason that comes to mind, most reminds you of your own wine? Any battling Brit underdog that punches way above its weight.
For more information on Fairmile visit their website - https://www.fairmilevineyard.co.uk/