December Newsletter

What a terrible year this has been. Only three club meetings have taken place in 2020. We have missed out on so many events that we normally enjoy, such as the annual dinner, the French trip and our December Christmas party. Let’s hope 2021 brings us a little more cheer.


The Imperial tavern at the foot of Quarry Hill, Tonbridge, in the 1890’s. The landlady, Mrs Mary Manser, is seen with her daughter Elsie, who became Mrs Sparrowhawk.

At this time of year we bring to mind the ghosts of Christmas past...

The Imperial Tavern is the subject of our ghost story. It only had a licence to sell beer. The landlord was William Cheal (1823 – 1901) formerly of Edenbridge. William had a daughter, Mary, who was born in 1864. Mary Cheal married William Manser (1865 – 1906). This was in the years before 1894 when daughter Elsie was born. In the late 19th century there was a profoundly influential temperance movement – and pubs had to struggle hard to keep their licences. There was a policeman called Sgt Eaglen who, with almost messianic devotion to duty, was called upon to give evidence at many licence hearings. He stated that “this house is situated at the bottom of Quarry Hill, and only St Margaret’s Place divided it from the Forester’s Arms”. I managed to discover that St Margaret’s Place was where George Street is now. That’s where a Shell petrol station is now located. However, at times, some say that when the temperature drops, and the pale sun declines towards the distant horizon, and the wind howls and whistles around the spire of nearby St Stephen’s Church, the faint and ghostly outline of the old Imperial, with Mary and Elsie on the doorstep, can still be seen in the gathering gloom... As a Phoenix rising indignantly above the ashes of its ill-deserved fate... What a story! I think Geoff was telling some porkies when he wrote this article – or maybe not!


Take a break from winemaking this month and use some of your homemade wine for this Christmas drink.

Christmas Mulled Wine, TV Times - Make your own Wine

¼ pint water                       Rind of 1 lemon

1 tsp grated nutmeg            Rind of 1 orange

½ tsp ground cinnamon       2 bottles red wine

4 tbs Demerara sugar          6 tbs liqueur (optional)

Simmer the water with the spices, sugar and rinds to extract the flavours. Pour in the wine and liqueur, if used. Heat gently, but do not boil. Strain and serve hot.


Stones Ginger Vs Homemade Ginger Wine

Last weekend Geoff and I compared my ginger wine with Stones Green Ginger.

Colour: Stones a darker gold.

Bouquet: Stones much more intense and gingery, homemade slight notes of ginger.

Flavour and balance: Stones the sweeter of the two, but we preferred the flavour of the homemade, which was fiery, in a pleasant way, with a hint of sweetness.

Both excellent Christmas wines.


A magical combination of ingredients. Perfect for serving as a pre-Christmas lunch cocktail.

Christmas Thyme Royale

40 ml gin

20 ml lime cordial

3 sprigs of thyme

75 ml cava

Add gin, lime cordial and 2 sprigs of thyme to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and double strain into a flute. Top up with cava and garnish with the final sprig of thyme.


A dessert using seasonal fruit.

Russian Cranberry & Apple Pie, Waitrose Weekend

185g butter, at room temperature

180g pack soft cream cheese

Pinch salt

50g caster sugar

¼ tsp vanilla extract

325g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

400g eating apples (about 3 small apples)

300g fresh or frozen cranberries

100g light brown soft sugar

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

⅛ tsp freshly ground nutmeg

50g breadcrumbs (from brioche, rye or pumpernickel)

1 medium egg + ½ tbsp water

Icing or caster sugar, for dusting

1. To make the pastry, put the butter and cream cheese into a food processor with the salt, sugar and vanilla and whizz until the mixture is creamy. Add the flour and whizz again until the mixture comes together. Scrape this out onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes, bringing the pastry into a ball. Flatten into a disc, wrap and put in the fridge for an hour.

2. Take almost two-thirds of the pastry and roll it out to fit into a pie dish 23cm across and 5cm deep. Press the pastry into the dish, cut off the excess, then put the pie base into the fridge with the rest of the pastry.

3. Peel and core the apples. Cut them into thin slices and toss with the cranberries, sugar and spices. Remove the pie base from the fridge and sprinkle the breadcrumbs into it, followed by the fruit. The fruit will be quite high in the dish, but it will shrink a lot.

4. Roll out the rest of the pastry on a floured surface, making it big enough to cover the pie. Wet the rim of the pastry on the base. Carefully lay the pastry over the fruit. Firmly press the pastry down all the way around. Trim off any excess and crimp the edges. Use remaining pastry to make decorations for the top of the pie. Return to the fridge for 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 200C, gas mark 6 and put a baking sheet in to warm up.

5. Brush the pie with the beaten egg and water mixture. Make four vents in the top with the tip of a sharp knife and slide the pie onto the hot baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180C, gas mark 4 and cook for another 30 minutes. The pie should be golden and the fruit inside completely tender. Leave to cool a little. Sift a light dusting of icing sugar over the top before serving, alternatively caster sugar can be used.


CUTTINGS (Two success stories for English Pinot Noir)

British Beaujolais from the Midlands

Daily Telegraph: Sixteen Ridges estate near Ledbury, Herefordshire started selling their own English Nouveau wine last month. The wine appeared on the shelves at Waitrose on the 3rd Thursday in November, traditionally Beaujolais Nouveau day and is priced at £11.99 a bottle. Simon Day, the production director at Sixteen Ridges, said: “It’s a fantastic pinot noir which has all the fresh bright fruit flavours you would expect from a Beaujolais Nouveau, but with an added elegance, thanks to our beautiful terroir here in Herefordshire.” Nouveau wines differ from normal wines as they have a faster fermentation process which creates a drink that’s lighter in both body and colour, with a sweeter flavour.

A Record Batch of Grapes from an Essex Vineyard

Daily Telegraph: Lyme Bay Winery, which grows its grapes in the Crouch Valley, Maldon, says that this year’s harvest could produce alcohol levels of 14.7%. This would be a record for pinot noir from the UK, where the previous level had been 13.4%, again from grapes grown in the Crouch Valley. This successful harvest has been attributed to the hot summer, followed by heavy rain at the start of autumn, which created the perfect environment for the grapes. Experts say the company is likely to make “world-class” wine, ready for tasting in 2021 and 2022. James Lambert, managing director of Lyme Bay Winery, based in Axminster, Devon, told WineGB: “We are jubilant about this incredible news. For grapes to achieve this level of ripeness in the UK is unheard of. It means we can really go to town on the extraction of flavours and colour.” Throughout this year’s harvest teams have been working 12-hour shifts to ensure the grapes come directly from the field to be immediately processed, even in the middle of the night.


Recently I came across this amusing little ditty and thought of Tonbridge Winemakers:

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas #1

 “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,

Just like the ones I used to know”

But if I should run out of the white

I will gladly drink the red though.

Paul Curtis, Country Living


Merry Christmas everyone!

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Latest comments

05.10 | 15:57

Just to let you know we are up and running again. Our next meeting is on Thursday 7 Oct, a commercial wine tasting. Pls let me know if you would like to come.

05.10 | 15:53

Thank you for visiting our website. We will ask our members at our meeting on Thursday and let you know if anyone is interested.

05.10 | 15:00

Good afternoon. We have a lot of black grapes ready for harvesting. Just wondered whether anyone would like them?
We’re based in Sevenoaks

09.09 | 18:31

Looks yummy! You list garlic in the ingredients list, but I don’t see where you add it to the recipe. I would guess that you add it to the partially sautéed oni

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