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Tillingham, East Sussex. Fermenting biodynamic wine underground and regenerating the soil

The production of natural and biodynamic wines as part of a project of regenerative agriculture, zero-kilometre dining and industrial design

Tillingham estate – Wealden Land

Tillingham takes its name from the river that runs across the land and down to the East Sussex coast With 13 rooms, a restaurant, and a bar «hospitality was always going to have a place at the heart of the business». «In order to put to good use the livestock, vegetables and other crops grown at the farm» – Ben Walgate. Tillingham’s mouth is in Rye, a fortified town that was one of England’s Cinque Ports.

Fusing Old Farm Structures

Tillingham occupies the plot of the farm in use since the 1300s, and the rest original structures remain in situ. In conceiving of Tillingham is also a hotel and restaurant. It was necessary for Walgate to develop new structures to accommodate these functions. «It was key that the history and various phases of architecture and agricultural occupation were championed through the design». In order to do so, he enlisted RX Architects whose industrial design aesthetic incorporates materials including concrete. Metal and exposed brick that complement the existing farm buildings.

«Retaining and renewing what was there was also a more sensitive and inherently more sustainable approach which is one of the core values of the business».

Navigating the dialogue between the old and new structures, Marian Boswell Landscape Architects planted perennials and grasses in square beds to emulate the vineyard plots in a design that incorporates repurposed farm and winemaking materials. The plants are growing freely in respect for Tillingham’s non-invasive agricultural approach as well as attracting insects for cross-pollination. 

Tillingham Industrial Design

In the interior spaces of Tillingham there are furniture coming from a variety of antiques curated by local interior designer, Marcus Crane. Locally foraged foliage used for decoration changes with the seasons. Artworks reflect the connection to nature and its cycles. Such as the Japanese paper moon produced by Italian light designer Davide Groppi which serves the lunar cycle’s role in agriculture. Cementing this interplay between wine and creativity is the initiative ‘Art at Tillingham’ sees a regularly changing exhibitions of artists. They are specifically for producing work that engages with Tillingham’s ethos and the broader practice of winemaking.

Biodynamic Vineyards 

The founding mission of Walgate was to produce wines that are biodynamic and natural.  «With over twenty years of experience, it was early encounters with Biodynamic wines that led me down this path.

The belief being that wines from a living healthy soil are more alive, compelling to the place that they are made». Key to this approach in the vineyard itself is a respect for the entire ecosystem and letting biodiversity flourish.

«The use of herbicides, and cultivation for example, have all been eschewed for the last five years».Walgate has planted some 40,000 vines over 20 grape varieties, ranging from both globally resilientvarietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Those more suited to cooler climates such as Rondo, Bacchus, Madeline Angevine and Regent. All vines are tended by hand with tasks undertaken throughout the year. They include pruning, frost protection, trimming and harvesting with the inaugural Tillingham harvest taking place in 2020. 

Natural Wines

Biodynamic viticulture fuses with an experimental approach in the winery. To such ends, Walgate employs a variety of fermentation practices and vessels. Regularly mixes varieties in order to produce an ever-changing range of cuvées. For instance, the ‘Endgrain’ 2020 vintage was comprised of a blend of 5 grapes. Some fermented in barrel, others in stainless steel and one in concrete tank, with the blending taking place just prior to bottling. Bottling, labelling and boxing takes place on site, with exports made globally.

One of Walgate’s most innovative moves on the English wine scene has been the introduction of qvevri from Georgia where these vessels have been used to ferment wine underground for millenia. These are buried in the nineteenth century oast house adjacent to the hotel rooms. These methods follow a policy of low intervention which means no filtering and avoiding the addition of sulphur. Tillingham believes that visitors should understand their entire winemaking procedure including the environmental philosophy and achieves this through tours and tastings that operate up to three times a day.

Lampoon, Tillingham
Dining spaces Tillingham, photography Andrew Hayes Watkins

Regenerative agriculture at Tillingham

The same attention to terroir that underscores Tilllingham’s wines is followed in its agriculture. For a vineyard to be certified biodynamic, grapes must be grown as part of a holistic ecosystem that incorporates other plants as well as livestock. This aligns particularly well with Walgate’s farming heritage, but he moved away from conventional methods in favour of a more environmental approach. At Tillingham, Walgate rears cattle, sheep, mangalitza pigs and a flock of chicken acquired from another local biodynamic farm. Free-grazing of the sheep among the vines acts as a natural form of fertiliser and weed control. As well as ensuring healthy livestock. 

A dedication to regenerative agriculture and a no-dig policy is applied in a similar way in the recently established walled garden. Vegetables are planted in accordance with the lunar calendar and the seasons. Nurturing polyculture is a means of work towards a self-sufficient community. A relatively novel concept in the hospitality industry. Compost is produced from kitchen waste to keep work towards zero wastage.  

Seasonality and Locality

Fruits of this labour is the food served to Tillingham’s guests. The restaurant, overseen by Tom Ryalls, serves dishes which are based on produce from the Tillingham estate. Depending on the season, options can range from braised Tillingham grazed lamb shoulder. Going to locally harvested mussels steamed in the cider that Walgate also produces. These dishes are accompanied by a selection of estate and international wines.  

«There are currently around 150 such wines on the list, with plans to expand significantly this spring». Focus is placed on eliminating single use plastics in the kitchen as well as across the property.

In recognition of this commitment to ecological awareness, the restaurant was recently awarded a Green Michelin Star. With all of the dining spaces overlooking the vineyards, it serves as a constant reminder of the holistic nature of Tillingham and the value of this interconnectedness to ecological viticulture, agriculture and hospitality. 

Tillingham

Peasmarsh, East Sussex, England 

Tillingham incorporates a hotel, restaurant, pizza oven and bar set on a biodynamic vineyard. The produce is harvested with minimal impact on the environment and the emphasis is on regenerating the surrounding farmland.

Genevieve Verdigel

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us

check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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