Billingshurst Wine Circle celebrates its 40th year

The AGM last Friday of the Billingshurst & District Wine & Beer Circle marked the start of their 40th anniversary celebrations. The outgoing Chairman, Julie Gumbrell, reported on the past year’s events- a mix of talks, quizzes and events, all accompanied by wine tastings (and one beer evening). But despite a very successful year, it was stressed that unless someone volunteers to be Vice-Chairman, the club will not be able to continue after 2019. Gifts were presented to Monica Entiknap and Hilary Nulty who kindly provide refreshments for every meeting.

The incoming Chairman, Eddie Stevenson, re-emphasised the need for a Vice-Chairman, but meanwhile was hoping for a great celebratory year, kicking off with the annual Christmas dinner. This year, the Scout Active Support Unit is not only serving the dinner, but is also cooking it, and to make the Ruby anniversary dinner a bit more special, the dinner will consist of three courses, with tastings of two wines per course. The Committee is always particularly grateful to SASU for providing such an excellent service, as it means they get to enjoy the meal as much as the members.

Once the business part of the meeting was concluded, five members led a tasting of their favourite wines – a Vouvray, Pinot Gris, Picpoul de Pinet, Cotes du Rhone and an Argentinean Malbec, the last being voted the clear favourite.

Tony Bishop, a founder member of the club in 1977, gave an amusing talk on how the Circle was formed. Ian Catlin moved from Horsham to Billingshurst in the 1970’s and ran an evening class at the Weald School on his favourite subject, home wine making. The class wished to continue their ‘studies’ and by the time the group grew to 24 members, they could no longer meet at members’ house, so they used the Women’s Hall in Billingshurst for their meetings. In 1985, it was agreed to move to St Gabriel’s Hall where the circle still meets. The steepness of the path to the Women’s Hall was cited as one of the reasons for this decision- apparently this was not so much of a problem at the beginning of meetings, but it was when members went home! During the ’80s an upsurge in wine production saw various wine producing nations’ embassies happy to come out and give talks promoting their country’s product – South Africa, Bulgaria, Germany and Italy were named as examples. Sainsbury’s and Tesco were also happy in those days to similarly promote their wine sales. Gradually, however, commercial wine production/drinking overtook the home made brews.

There are now only two members (out of the current membership of 55) who are still home wine makers.

But the circle continues to thrive and one of its assets is the number of knowledgeable in-house speakers it has, which keep meeting costs down. If you are interested in joining the Circle, which is always looking to welcome new members, please contact the secretary, Marilyn Ambrose, on 01403 786284. For more information, please visit:

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