Wine on the line

Armed only with a copy of an 1848 copy of the famous Bradshaw’s railway guide, former Government minister and political commentator Michael Portillo took to the rails last summer and autumn to travel around Britain by train to produce a second series of BBC 2’s Great British Railway Journeys.

Taking a journey from London Bridge to Hastings via the scenic route, Portillo managed to find time to pitch up at Frazer Thompson’s Chapel Down vineyard on his way from Westenhanger to Hastings via New Romney.
Describing his visit to “Champagne country,” Portillo’s visit to the vineyard at Tenterden saw him enjoy the wine and visit the grapes under the care of Frazer, all the time marvelling that English production could match French sparkling efforts. Given his Spanish parentage, Portillo was a hard palette to please and the short segment in would have given a great boost to domestic English production.


Lights, camera, action

ukvine caught up with Frazer after the programme was transmitted to look behind the scenes at how his segment was filmed to end in the programme.
He says: “We heard from the producers in the summer several weeks before the filming to set the date. They wanted to study ‘Champagne country’ and set a date for the interview.”
Unfortunately, that date was cancelled but another was arranged.
Given the short time of the segment in the finished 30 minute programme, Portillo and the crew spent a surprisingly long time at the vineyard, reveals Frazer.
Frazer recalls the day in August: “Portillo and the crew of four arrived at around 10 am and stayed until 4.00 pm. They were no trouble at all. We chatted about the vineyard and I was able to enjoy chatting with Portillo.”
Frazer found the former transport minister and politician once touted for the position of prime minister, to be very knowledgeable about wine, quite charming and of great intellect.
Not only were Portillo and the TV crew pleasant company, Frazer can reveal that they were good customers as well. He says: “Portillo and the crew quite liked the wine. Portillo picked up a few bottles as did the crew.”


Naff said

This is not the first time that Frazer or his vineyard has appeared on television, he says. Appearances have included discussions on global warming and similar topics.
Portillo was the consummate professional but did display steely assertiveness beneath his smooth exterior.
Frazer says: “He was quite assertive. I suggested he try and open a bottle of sparkling wine with a sabre (sabrage), he refused, saying it was a completely naff thing to do but that he had no objection to me having a go.”
As for viewing figures, Frazer guaranteed at least one viewer, he reveals: “When I knew it was being broadcast, I told my mum to watch.”

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