Vintage Cuckfield Going Strong

CVE Logo June postcardWhen asked to say ‘what makes the perfect vintage fair’ there is, unfortunately, no simple answer. For starters you have to know who is asking the question – the visitors, the stallholders, the organiser, the venue owner, the caterer etc.

They need not all have divergent viewpoints of course and it may be possible to achieve a consensus; that can sometimes be difficult, but not impossible.  One such case was last week’s Cuckfield Vintage Emporium, held in The Queen’s Hall, which is curated by Darcy Shepherd.

Darcy is a well-known figure in the world of Sussex vintage and country fairs with a growing reputation nationally too; her Cuckfield Vintage Emporium (CVE) is still in its infancy having only got off the ground, as it were, in March this year. For the past 3 months she has been attracting around 25 vintage traders to set-up shop in The Queen’s Hall in Cuckfield High Street where she aims to establish a permanent home for her events.

“We always knew May was going to be problematic,” Darcy explained, “because of a very big fair taking place not far away in Surrey at the Nonsuch Mansion just the day before ours.” This meant that a number of regular CVE traders were tied up and inevitably some vintage devotees were ‘all shopped-out’ which, it was predicted, would impact on the CVE attendance.

Darcy Shepherd: the driving force behind Cuckfield Vintage Emporium

Darcy Shepherd: the driving force behind Cuckfield Vintage Emporium

“However we decided to press ahead,” said Darcy, “for a number of reasons, including in order to establish continuity and so as not to let down our loyal stallholders and visitors.”

In the event it proved to be exactly the right decision because, whilst visitor numbers were slightly down, the new stallholders who filled the gap proved to be exceptional, plus the whole ambience was really friendly and upbeat.

As Darcy said, “At the end of the day, it’s the stallholders who create the atmosphere through their enthusiasm, the exceptional quality of their goods and the attractiveness of their stands, and once again they have delivered, which is fantastic.”

An outstanding example came from two CVE debutants, Kate Richards and Heather Lynn,  both stallholders sharing a pitch for the first time at The Queen’s Hall.

Kate is a florist and trades as Iris & Arlo, with a shop in Lombard Street, Petworth. And Heather, having made her earlier career in catering has recently launched Courtown Crafts, selling hand-painted vintage furniture and decorative pieces from her base in Slinfold, near Horsham.

Kate Richards (left) of Iris & Arlo with Heather Lynn of Courtown Crafts at the Cuckfield Vintage Emporium on 10th May

Kate Richards (left) of Iris & Arlo with Heather Lynn of Courtown Crafts at the Cuckfield Vintage Emporium on 10th May

Heather’s interest in painted furniture grew from her own experiments at home which soon began to attract admiring comments, and the impetus to branch out on her own, and set up Courtown Crafts, came when an antiques dealer colleague gave that extra bit of encouragement.

That was about 6-months ago and like many a DIY painter (myself included) Heather started with the Farrow & Ball range of paints, attracted by their beautiful subtle colours and quality. Now she is also using the highly regarded Annie Sloan chalk paints and waxes as favoured by the cognoscenti with some stunning results.

“The Annie Sloan method is a bit of a departure and working with her paints is very different from conventional paint, but the finished product is spectacular, so it is well worth persevering” says Heather.

Kate Richards has loved flowers as long as she can remember, “For me, when it comes to flowers, the more natural the presentation the better” says Kate, who completed her training at Brinsbury college five years ago.

She says that creating a ‘vintage look’ is not always as simple as it might first appear, “Selecting the right flowers is the first step – Peonies, Sweet peas, Poppies and Lupins are amongst my favourites –  and if you can get close to an arrangement that looks like an English summer meadow, you’re pretty much there”.

But business being business Kate has her feet firmly ‘planted’ on the floor and that means in order to make her Petworth based business succeed she calls on her formal training to supply flowers for weddings, birthdays, corporate functions and all forms of celebrations.

Judging by the buzz that hummed around The Queen’s Hall, both Kate and Heather (and the many other exhibitors, too many to mention here unfortunately) proved to be a great hit with the CVE’s vintage shoppers whose support once again ensured that the event continues to go from strength to strength. See you next on 21st June!


16th May 2013

CVE Newcomers’ Gallery 10th May

Sandy & Steph of The Giggleberry Tree

Sandy & Steph of The Giggleberry Tree

Ellice in the CVE Tearoom

Ellice in the CVE Tearoom

Annabelle with her beautiful framed prints

Annabelle with her beautiful framed prints

Paula Giuld of ... along came Polly with her lovely hats.

Paula Guild of … along came Polly with her lovely hats.

Iwona of Gift Horse Collectables

Iwona of Gift Horse Collectables

Sarah of Pocket & Pin - vintage haberdashary

Sarah of Pocket & Pin – vintage haberdashery

Annette of Annie B's Vintage

Annette of Annie B’s Vintage

Gayle of The Tea Party Style

Gayle of The Tea Party Style

Jessica Glover of By The Way Crafts

Jessica Glover of By The Way Crafts

Amy of

Amy of

Simone's table aka Ayres & Grace: horse figures and other animals

Simone’s table aka Ayres & Grace: horse figures and other animals

Ruth, Antiques and Vintage Collector

Ruth, Antiques and Vintage Collector

Maggie of Moss Vintage

Maggie of Moss Vintage

Samantha of The Tea Party Company

Samantha of The Tea Party Company

Janet Somers - collector of Kitchenalia

Janet Somers – collector of Kitchenalia

Vintage at Home by Nicky West

Vintage at Home by Nicky West


Two unmissable dates for your diary

Hello again, hope you’re keeping well.

First Date: 10th May 2013

CVE Flyer

It is just 10 short days before the next Cuckfield Vintage Emporium (CVE) event on 10th May at The Queen’s Hall, Cuckfield High Street. Doors open at 11.00 with £1 admission charge.

All your old favourites will be there, including beautiful painted furniture, wonderful antique fabrics and old textiles, vintage homeware, the clothes rails and those lovely scented gifts. But also lookout for some fabulous new additions such as, Sarah Howe of ‘Pocket & Pin’ with her haberdashery items, the girls from ‘Giggleberrytree’ selling decorative garden-ware and potted plants plus Kate Richards of ‘Iris & Arlo’ with a marvellous array of vintage goodies.

CVE is proud to sponsor CHICKS the charity that provides respite country holidays for Britain’s disadvantaged children. The way it works is simple, for every pound our visitors give to CHICKS, CVE will match it with a pound of our own, that means doubling the donation to this great cause. So, if you can, please give generously.


There will also be the ever popular Tea Room selling Fairtrade teas and coffees and piles of gorgeous homemade cakes, savouries and soft drinks for children. So after all the searching, tracking down and finding that special something from our brilliant stallholders, pop in and have a nice cuppa – you’ll have earned it!

We would love to see you again in Cuckfield, so hope you can make it.

Second Date: 31st May/ 1st June 2013

Village Vintage Stand

Our sister event on 31st May and 1st June is the huge 2-day Village Vintage Country Fair at Plumpton Racecourse from 10.00 in the morning; £4 on the gate. Whatever else you are doing this spring, make sure you are there if the country and vintage lifestyle is your thing – THIS IS THE BIG ONE!

But don’t take my word for it, Etc. Magazine (widely read throughout Sussex) has describe the event as the ‘Vintage Fair of the Year’ in an article on page 138 of its just published May edition.

And what about Country Homes & Interiors magazine naming Village Vintage as No. 1 in this month’s  ‘3 of the best’ vintage fairs survey!!!! (No online version available yet unfortunately.)

All this comes in addition to the praise heaped on Village Vintage by Homes & Antiques magazine (the vintage community’s bible) in April when it was placed in the top 3 in a nationwide survey of vintage fairs.

The common thread with Village Vintage is, of course, Darcy who, together with her business partner and best friend, Lucy Haywood, launched Village Vintage as a start-up 4 years ago at the King Edward Hall, Lindfield. Since then the girls have gone from strength to strength.

Don’t forget, get these dates in your diary now: 10th May, Cuckfield Vintage Emporium, The Queen’s Hall, Cuckfield and Village Vintage Country Fair, Plumpton Racecourse over 2 days, 31st May & 1st June 2013.

If you are interested in exhibiting at either event please contact Darcy direct by email on

You can follow us on Twitter @DarcyVintage or on Facebook at


1st May 2013

Young women lead the way in Cuckfield

Darcy CVE 12_4_13Glorious Sussex is rightly famed for its beautiful landscapes – rolling hills, ancient forests, sunny beaches and of course its pretty villages such as Cuckfield which are so rich in history. In many ways Cuckfield epitomises exactly what makes Sussex such an attractive place to live and raise a family.

But behind all the chocolate-box charm there is a hard working village community, as seen by the array of independent village shops selling anything from designer fashions to traditional haberdashery supplies, a trendy gastro-pub, some fabulous restaurants, including a top class hotel.

There’s great architecture too – Elizabethan, Georgian and Victorian – such as the Holy Trinity Parish Church, the stunning Ockenden Manor Hotel and Mill Hall However, don’t be deceived in to thinking of Cuckfield in the past tense – the reality is so very different.

Cuckfield was once famed for its iron-working, glove-making and saddlery whereas today it is tourism, retailing and hospitality that are the backbone of the local economy.

Perhaps most remarkable is how often these and other activities are led by enterprising and hard-working young women. Take for example Rebecca Musik at Edit selling second-hand designer clothing, and Helene Morris, who owns and runs Neilson Boutique, specialising in high-end designer fashions – there’s little doubt that both Rebecca and Helene have brought added flare and style to the Cuckfield as a shopping destination.

Then in a completely different field there is Ajitha Rahim who runs the go-ahead Gallery Dental Surgery which she took over 3 years ago and has now expanded into the old Reform Church building and totally modernised the practice, as well as being one of the few NHS dentists in the area.

Also growing in prominence is Sarah Brehaut from Pepperbox selling beautiful painted French furniture. Newcomer Caroline Bailey-Hawes at Flaneur is in the final stages of completing a huge refurb of her restaurant and adjoining decorative furnishings shop – her previous experience as a buyer for the Laura Ashley Group no doubt standing her in good stead.  And not forgetting the eponymous Nicky C’s ‘lifestyle’ shop focusing on soft furnishings, jewellery and cloths which is also making a mark.

These successful women have now been joined by 34 year-old Darcy Shepherd who, with roots in the village going back to her school-days, has established the Cuckfield Vintage Emporium, based at The Queen’s Hall in the High Street.

Darcy, when not running a home and family, is no stranger to the increasingly popular world of vintage and French country-style fairs; as a founding partner in Village Vintage – recently named as one of Britain’s top 3 vintage events by Homes & Antiques magazine – she has her hands firmly on the detail and organisation that lie behind any successful business.

Asked what her ambitions for Cuckfield Vintage Emporium were Darcy told us, “First, we wanted to establish a permanent and regular home for vintage and country-lifestyle shoppers and second I am aiming to bring really creative ideas, originality and value to my customers.”

Cuckfield Vintage Emporium events are held once a month at The Queen’s Hall, on Fridays between 11.00 – 16.00 and an admission fee of £1 is charged.

Darcy’s next Cuckfield Vintage Emporium (CVE) events are on 10th May, 21st June and 26th July and will again feature the ever popular ‘pop-up’ tearooms and, as previously will sponsor CHICKS, the charity that provides respite holidays for Britain’s disadvantaged children.

We asked Darcy, who is expecting her second baby in August, about the thinking behind sponsoring CHICKS, she said, “We chose CHICKS because most of us have had a childhood holiday we love to remember; but it’s not like that for all kids – some have real tragedy in their lives. So, for every £1 our visitors give to CHICKS, we will match it with a pound from Cuckfield Vintage Emporium.”

If there is a secret to the appeal of Cuckfield Vintage Emporium it lies perhaps in the genuinely eclectic mix of specialist vintage and country lifestyle traders that Darcy has been able to assemble and hold together.

The range of homeware, gardenalia, fabrics, painted vintage furniture and hand-crafted scented gifts is quite amazing considering that the CVE philosophy is about creating an intimate, open and relaxed feel and a welcoming atmosphere, which is great for both the visitors and the traders.

Is there a new spirit beating through the heart of business in Cuckfield? Maybe so, at any rate let’s applaud the refreshing attitude that Darcy and so many other women are bringing to the thriving business scene in Cuckfield…. and why not give them our support?


25th April 2013

CVE Logo April Event    CHICKS Logo


Cuckfield again hosts popular vintage fair

Once again supporters of Cuckfield Vintage Emporium (CVE) battled stormy weather to get to The Queen’s Hall in the village High St on 12 April – setting a new one-day attendance record. Darcy Shepherd, who organises and runs the vintage and country-lifestyle fairs said, “It’s amazing, I can hardly believe it and I’m especially pleased for all our wonderful exhibitors who travel from far and wide to help create the unique atmosphere of our events”.

Talking about CVE travelling exhibitors, one couple set what is believed to be a new record all of their own. Jill & Richard Gibbons of Rosiebud Decorative Vintage – specialising in beautiful pastel shaded soft-furnishings and vintage crockery – must take a bow as probably the widest travelled of the intrepid exhibitors and traders that flock to Cuckfield for Darcy’s fairs.

Leaving home at 4.45 in the morning to start the 402 mile round-trip from Tiverton in Devon, Jill & Richard personify the devotion and enthusiasm demonstrated by the vintage traders’ community

Jill&Richard of RosiebudDecorativeVintage 12_4_13

Jill & Richard of Rosiebud Decorative Vintage at the Cuckfield Vintage Emporium in April:

Jill & Richard hail originally from Farnborough but now, semi-retired, they travel far and wide to join-in the growing trend for all things vintage. When we suggested to Richard that a 402 mile round trip was a long way to go to enjoy yourself he said, “The friendship and atmosphere are what we come for more than anything else. We always meet new people with a shared interest in beautiful furniture, textiles and kitchen ware and although CVE is fairly newly established, it’s rapidly becoming one of our favourite destinations.”

The next Cuckfield Vintage Emporium is scheduled for 10th May, once again at The Queen’s Hall; Darcy is hoping that spring will have arrived by then so she can give her supporters some decent weather to enjoy her fair.


15th April 2013

Crab & Lobster … and a lot more

It is perfectly possible that all there is to be said about the Crab & Lobster at Sidlesham, West Sussex has already been said – if so I’ll make my apology at the start. However for those unfamiliar with the unspoiled Pagham Harbour location of this 350 year old converted pub/restaurant with rooms and its exquisite seafood, you are in for a treat.

Not all reviewers have been uncritical as a cursory glance at Trip Adviser will confirm, but here at Cloud Howe Media we speak as we find and what we found was outstanding – it’s the whole experience that counts and that includes of course the accommodation, the food, the wine,  the service, the atmospherics and the location.

Our recent stay during that wet, windy and bitterly cold spell towards the end of March was not a first for Mrs Burns and me – we stayed at the Crab & Lobster two years previously and we have lunched there (without staying) a couple of times too. That may not make us habitués but it does give us a sense of perspective and, I hope, some balance – we have not been let down so far.

The Crab & Lobster, Slidlesham

The Crab & Lobster, Slidlesham

I should tell you that there were two things that made our most recent visit especially enjoyable. First we had been given a Crab & Lobster voucher as a Xmas present by my sister June; second we managed to get booked-in just before their generous Spring offer came to an end!

This certainly took the sting out of paying the bill – the Crab & Lobster is not cheap, but then when ever did you find top quality service and food in a superb location that was?

A deluxe room at the Crab & Lobster

A deluxe room at the Crab & Lobster

The tiny hamlet of Sidlesham lies directly south of Chichester off the B 2145 and a well signed turn-off takes you right to the edge of Pagham Harbour, a designated Nature Reserve and Sight of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

By the way, don’t expect bobbing boats and yachty-types – you’ll want Itchenor and Bosham for that – but what you do get are unspoiled mudflats, salt-marshes and sea forming a natural harbour that is an acknowledged haven for wading birds, including some over-wintering rarities. The Crab & Lobster is literally perched on the banks of the harbour.

We checked-in late-afternoon and after dumping our bags made straight for the bar and the welcoming open-fire – just what was needed to take the chill off that biting wind. We were helped to the wine menu by the attentive lunch-time waitress who thoughtfully pointed us to the 37cl carafe options.

It did not take long to spot the Camillo de Lellis Biferno Reserva – this wine had recently been the subject of a blog from yours truly under the title ‘A Warming Bargain from Italy’ and it would, as they say, have been churlish not to order some. It was one of those available in a 37cl carafe, which was perfect and exactly the kind of hearty red that the occasion called for.

We passed a very pleasant hour chatting to our young waitress, flicking through the wide range of up-to-date magazines and travel books whilst sipping our wine.

Outside, the howling wind was swinging the traditional pub-sign with the creak of old ships’ timbers, which certainly added to the atmosphere – we almost expected Long John Silver to come lurching through the door!

As Mrs Burns prefers not to eat too late we booked our table in the restaurant for 19.30 and we arrived more or less on time; the fact that we did not sit down to order until almost 20.45 was not entirely our fault. The truth is we were befriended by a loquacious couple already seated at the bar when we presented ourselves for pre-prandials – I put it down to Mrs B’s youthful good-looks and charm. It rarely if ever happens when I’m on my own!

Our new friends – Edwin and Dawn – were not eating, at least not at the C&L and unsurprisingly were in no hurry to get to their table – but they were good company and generous too, which meant we had a couple of drinks before dinner rather than ‘just the one’.

A corner of the dinning room

A corner of the dinning room

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking he must have been half-cut by the time he ate his dinner, no wonder he enjoyed it so much – and I did. But that would not be fair and I’m not denying that the happy state ‘twixt sobriety and inebriation makes for a warm sense of contentment and well-being. But having enjoyed a long and successful career at the bar I can, as they say, hold my own. And so it proved.

We had made a careful study of the ‘specials’ earlier in the day, so it did not take long for us to make up our minds. Mrs Burns opted for the potted shrimps and whole plaice stuffed with crayfish; I also went for the potted shrimps followed by poached bream on a bed of wild mushroom risotto with accompanying green salad.

It has been unkindly suggested in the past that I choose the wine on the basis of price, i.e. the most expensive. That is simply not true and to prove it, to accompany our fish-supper I ordered  a young, light white wine from northern Spain, the Vall Major, Granaxta Blanc, which happened to be the house white and the least expensive on the menu.

It was exactly what was required; should there be any surprise at that – none whatever! House wine is often mistakenly underrated, but you have to ask, why would a specialist restaurant with a reputation to maintain serve its customers with cheap and nasty house wine? Clearly it doesn’t make sense and consequently there are some real bargains to be had amongst house wines – give it a go, you can spend what you save on a nice desert or digestive!

So what of the food? Well, we are talking about a very good standard of cooking using fresh, local ingredients in an imaginative and ambitious way that demonstrates high technical skill together with balanced flavours. In my experience you have to go a long way to achieve that combination.

A salmon parcel from the Crab & Lobster kitchen

A salmon parcel from the Crab & Lobster kitchen

Personally I think the ‘3’ awarded by the Good Food Guide is on the mean side and fails to do justice to Malcolm Goble and his team in the kitchen nor does it give adequate recognition to the always helpful, friendly and unfussy service in the restaurant led by Sophie.

All of which meant we had a lovely meal served by unhurried but always professional staff in a warm and smart dining room where we were made to feel just that little bit special.

And it did not stop there; we rolled down at a leisurely hour for breakfast the next morning; as you would expect freshly squeezed orange juice, toast, croissant, jams, yoghurt and cereals were all waiting for us to make our choice. Tea and coffee arrived promptly and we both ordered the smoked haddock and poached eggs for the cooked breakfast.

We both love smoked haddock – the proper un-dyed kind of course – but what clinched it was the poached eggs. I mean, when was the last time you made a poached egg at home, more to the point, when was the last time you made an edible one – round in shape, cooked on the outside with a hot runny yolk on the inside? In my case the answer is never! (I don’t count those done in the silly little ‘frying-pans’ with the lid that steams the eggs, that’s cheating!)

After our wholesome breakfast we were ready to brave the Siberian wind and venture out along the footpath that borders the west side of Pagham Harbour. This was not a first; we’ve trodden this easy but often very muddy route more than once so we knew what we were looking for – essentially, wading birds. But they were in short supply; sensibly the birds were keeping out of the cold.

It was not until we got to the RSPB hide at Ferry Pool that we got to enjoy the rich wildlife that defines this landscape and natural bird reserve – and boy, were we rewarded. First of all we were lucky enough to be joined in the hide by Peter and Barbara who were on holiday from Derby. They were serious bird watchers – you can tell straight-away when they come armed with one of those tripod telescopes wrapped in camouflage padding!

Not only did they have impressive kit, but they knew a thing or two about the wading birds of Pagham Harbour, Derby or no Derby. It wasn’t long before Peter was pointing out Pintails, Avocets, Shovelers (pictured above), Tufted Ducks plus Lapwings and Wigeons and we were oohing and ahhing.

Despite the biting cold we lingered much longer than anticipated but like all good things it had to come to an end …. as does this blog, so if you have been, thanks for staying with it this far.

Pintails in flight

Pintails in flightAvocetAvocetThe aptly named Shoveler: its wide flat beak is used for 'shoveling' up food.The aptly named Shoveler: its wide flat beak is used for ‘shoveling’ up food.


28th March 2013

Great start for Cuckfield Emporium

The new Cuckfield Vintage Emporium (CVE) was launched last week on 8th March. Sometimes a long anticipated event – one that has been subject to weeks of preparation and careful planning, can be a disappointing anti-climax. Fortunately for Darcy Shepherd – the driving force behind the Cuckfield based regular monthly vintage and country-style fairs – this was not the case.

In fact it was quite the opposite. Despite the weather doing its worst to throw a damper on things with a relentless downpour from dawn ’til dusk, all expectations were exceeded. Throughout the day there was a steady flow of visitors keen to be part of the unique shopping experience that only a well organised vintage fair with a good range of choice artefacts, clothes and object d’art can offer.

Twenty-five enthusiastic stallholders transformed The Queen’s Hall in to a glittering Aladdin’s cave brimming with decorative homeware, beautiful painted furniture, lovely linens and other fabrics plus an array of vintage and ‘pre-loved’ fashions.

“We love coming to Darcy’s events” said one exhibitor, “you can always rely on the organisation being right and there are always lots of vintage shoppers looking for lovely gifts and pieces to add that finishing touch to their homes or wardrobes.”

Whether it was the shocking weather, or more likely, the culinary delights on offer, one of the highlights of the event judging by the constant throng was ‘Tory’s Tearooms’ which kept everyone refreshed and replenished throughout the day with wonderful cakes and savouries – Tory’s jumbo sausage-rolls deserve a special mention in their own right, they are not only scrumptious but they’re fast assuming cult-status!

Just for fun a free prize-draw was organised which meant every visitor through the door who gave an email address got their name entered in the raffle for a delicious bottle of English sparkling wine from the internationally acclaimed Bluebell Vineyard Estates of Furners Green, East Sussex. The lucky winner was Jenny Williams who lives in Haywards Heath. The wine was Bluebell’s Hindleap Brut Rose, a Silver medal winner in the 2012 International Wine Challenge – you can find out more at

One of Darcy’s objectives for CVE is to support and sponsor CHICKS, a charity that organises week-long respite adventure holidays for Britain’s disadvantaged children. The idea is to encourage CVE visitors to donate to the charity and then at least match those donations with a contribution from CVE. The idea is just taking off and there are plans to raise the profile of this venture and Darcy is sure that as her visitors become familiar with the aims it will win strong support.

Speaking to several vintage shoppers on the day, the most frequently heard comment was ‘how friendly, informative and helpful’ the stallholders were. And the feedback from stallholders was equally complimentary with most commenting on the fact that so many visitors were clearly there to have fun and to buy something special.

We spoke to Jean Askew of Chelwood Gate and her daughter Katherine, who had travelled from Hampton near Richmond, as they were leaving with arms full of bargains. “I am especially thrilled with my beautiful vintage mirror” said Jean, “I know exactly where it is going to go – in the alcove above our antique wine rack – it will look perfect.”

Katherine, who was struggling with a just-purchased full-sized handmade quilt, as well as a 3-month old baby, said, “I’m really delighted with this and I know my husband is going to love it too – I can’t wait to get it home.”

That was the reaction of couple of pretty satisfied customers who, it is probably fair to say, summed up the experience of the whole event. The next CVE is again at The Queen’s Hall, Cuckfield on 12th April – hope to see you then.


11th March 2013.

Calm before the storm

Calm before the storm

CVE QH 23 2013-03-08 10.56.39

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Cake anyone?

Cake anyone?

A warming bargain from Italy

What is it about simple suppers around a blazing log fire that evoke such heightened appreciation of wine?

We had a pretty busy day on Saturday; without burdening you with the minutiae I’ll simply say that we ended up getting back from Maidstone about seven on another bitterly cold evening to find that our troublesome boiler had let us down – again. So I set about trying to coax it back in to action whilst Mrs Burns got the fire going and headed for the kitchen.

Half-an-hour later with the first signs that the radiators were warming up and the fire crackling away the supper appeared on a tray in the lounge – sliced, succulent, cold chicken breast and homemade chips – an all too infrequent speciality from Mrs Burns’ range of gastronomic delicacies –  how mouth-watering is that? On the side was a plate of Stilton and Gruyère cheeses.

Unusually, and without prior consultation, Mrs Burns had selected the wine – a 2007 Camillo de Lellis Biferno Reserva from the Wine Society – a rather aristocratic sounding red wine for such a modest meal, I thought – but not for the first time I was wide of the mark!

None the less, as soon as it was in the glass those brick-red and garnet tones caught the eye and already I was intrigued -18 months in oak barrels and then tank-aging had certainly worked their magic.

We are talking here about a ‘rustic’ wine (winespeak for traditional and a bit old fashioned), hailing from Molise, an obscure winegrowing region in Italy’s deep-south on the Adriatic coast. It is made from 70% Montepulciano and 15% each of Aglianico and Trebbiano Toscano grapes. Now, it has to be said that these are not grapes, neither individually nor collectively, to stir the heart of your average wine buff – and the Trebbiano, being a white grape, is especially frowned upon.

But for me there was something about the velvety texture on the palate and the warming elderberry and blackberry flavours that marked it out as a winner – thank goodness there was plenty left over for the cheese. And so our makeshift supper was transformed into a lovely treat.

It was not until the next morning that I thought I go to my Wine Society list to check on what we had been drinking and how I had acquired such a gem – and here perhaps is the best bit – we had been drinking and thoroughly enjoying a £6.95 bottle of wine! Please, don’t let it ever be said that the Wine Society does not cater for every taste and every budget.

I had felt sure Mrs Burns had allowed her hand to drift over to the right-hand side of our modest ‘cellar’ where I keep ‘the good stuff’, but no, this was clearly from the everyday-drinking side!

I guess I must have ordered it in early January when, by custom and after the indulgences of Xmas I stock-up with, shall we say, the more modest offerings of the wine trade. But what a bonus to find in these straightened-times that there are bargains out there that can bring real pleasure and surprise.

If you are not a member of the Wine Society, you can by the wine from Great Western Wine based in Bath or through their web site. Apparently the estimable Butler’s Wine Cellar of Brighton did stock it at one time, but it appears, no longer.


After writing this blog I checked on the internet to see what others may have written about the wine; here’s what the saintly Jancis Robinson had to say about Camillo de Lellis – very scholarly, as you would expect. If you manage to get hold of a bottle or two, I hope it lives up to Jancis’ recommendation – I’m sure it will.


4th March 2013.

Biferno Rosso Reserva 2007

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