A few weeks ago I was contacted, through twitter, by Bryony Wright from Proven Communications who runs the PR for Hambledon Vineyards (ENGLAND) to attend a unique event for food and wine writers/bloggers at Hambledon vineyard.
Of course I jumped at the chance!
Hambledon Vineyard is the oldest commercial vineyard in England, based on the South Downs in Hampshire.
Brief History: (from Hambledons Website)
During the summer of 1951 Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones was looking out of the dining room window of Mill Down House with his stepson John thinking about what to do with the field directly below them. As Sir Guy was a keen wine lover and Francophile, having spent time as a diplomat in Paris, John suggested he might consider planting a vineyard?
The seed had been sown and Sir Guy began researching the feasibility of planting vines on the south-facing chalky slopes surrounding the house in Hambledon on the South Downs. After careful deliberation, and with the help and advice from friends at the renowned Champagne House Pol Roger, he planted a number of different grape varieties in 1952 and went on to release the first commercial range of English wines.
I have attached an old British Pathe television clip below showing the Hambledon harvest of 1961 at the end of this blog. How TV has changed!
Winemaker Bill Carcary joined the Hambledon team in 1966 and the wines soon drew a strong following, winning a number of awards and even a Gold Medal at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 1984. The wines were served on the QE2, in British Embassies around the world, in the Houses of Parliament and in export markets around the world including the USA and Japan. On one occasion during a visit to Paris, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2nd served Hambledon wine to President Pompadour during a reception at the British embassy in Paris.
In the mid 1990’s following a change of ownership the winemaking was reduced to only 4 acres and the grapes were sold to other wineries.
Now starts the really exciting part… The vineyard was bought in 1999 by a passionate winelover Ian Kellett. Ian realised the future potential of vineyard and began studying oenology at Plumpton College in Sussex with a view to restoring Hambledon to its former glory, but with one big difference. Sparkling wines and not still wines
Which now brings me on to my day June 27th at Hambledon. We were the first to arrive (thanks Bryony for driving) and we were welcomed by the team with coffee and Danish pastries…always a great start.
Everyone arrived and we sat in the tasting room, walls adorned with awards since their English sparkling wine revolution started only a few short years ago. Their first award was when 4 English Sparkling wines and 8 Champagnes were tasted blindly for Nobel Rot magazine by some of the worlds great tasters of wine and of course you guessed it Hambledon Classic Cuvee was No1.! They now have many awards and ALL rightly deserved.
The presentation & tasting was from Ian and also Joe Wadsack – http://www.joewadsack.com/resume – they make a really great tag team for presentations! Joe has an amazing personality and its a pure joy to have Joe as your lead taster, he has the most extraordinary tasting palate! Joe you are a LEGEND
Ian started the presentation showing us the topography of the vineyard and also that of Champagne. Hambledon is on the same chalk, with the same Belemnite content, that is found in the best Chardonnay areas of the Côtes des Blancs in Champagne and is thought to be a key factor in the quality of the wines. So a huge tick in the box for TERROIR!
In 2005 the first 10 Acre “test bed of vines” was initially planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from 27 combinations of rootstock and clones. Today they use 12 combinations across more than 50 acres, currently producing 120,000 bottles per year.
Ian and his team have big plans, currently looking to expand to another 100-150 Acres of vines. They have installed the UK’s first fully gravity fed winery which in basic terms means minimal intervention of the grapes through the whole winemaking process. Coquard PAI grape presses ensure the best care possible of the fruit. These guys are very serious about making seriously fabulous wines and have invested hugely (More than £10m to date) into their future. Their aim is 1million bottle production per year from their own vines, it wont be long! Another very big tick in the box.
But its not all about the best equipment, and grapes. You also have to be good at wine making! So their head winemaker is Hervé Jestin who was chef des caves at Champagne Duval Leroy for over 20 years. Hervé was originally recommended to Ian by Hubert de Billy, a director of Pol Roger, and is widely considered to be one of the best winemakers in the Champagne region. In 2015 Felix Gabillet joined the team and is full time winemaker on site. Felix manages the winery on a day-to-day basis under Hervé’s watchful eye. Hervé continues to attend in person to direct all the crucial stages such as pressing, fermentation, bottling and most importantly the final assemblage. Seems like another huge tick in the box there too!
So brief recap.
- Best chalk Terroir for growing Champagne varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. In fact all of there Vineyard is the best Chalk (unlike Champagne)
- State of the art Gravity Fed Winery & Top end presses
- A-Team of sparkling winemakers!
Look out world! The English sparkling wine revolution has started.
We then had the most amazing tasting which bizarrely started with Prosecco, Cava & LP Champagne. Actually this was with done with good reason to understand different sparkling wines in the market place but more crucially they are rarely tasted together, its a really great thing to taste side by side and I recommend that you try it. Then came the Hambledon Classic Cuvee which just blew all the others out of the equation instantly….BOOM BOOM BOOM! I almost have to pinch myself that I am writing about English Sparkling Wine that is on another level! Large Applause please!
We then followed the 3 wines below (in review) by a brilliant lesson on sugar “Dosage” in sparkling wines. Starting with 0mg/l Sugar then, 4 , 6, and 10mg/l. Now the extradinary thing about this is we are literally talking about a few more grains of sugar per bottle but the difference is unbelievable. What is soon very obvious is that 0mg/l sugar suffers no fools because there is nothing that can be done with the sugar to make the wine better! So it has to be incredible from the start and believe me it really was. 0mg for me is so good, what is interesting is that most winemakers like it the best as its a pure expression of their ability to make stunning wines, however for general Sparkling wine drinkers it is of course so different.
HAMBLEDON CLASSIC CUVEE
Released in May 2014 the Hambledon Classic Cuvée is an assemblage from the 2014 harvest blended with reserve wines from 2010.
Blend: Chardonnay (40%), Pinot Meunier (31%) and Pinot Noir (29%)
This is a beautifully crafted wine, light golden yellow in the glass, fine vibrant bubbles blast super fresh flavours of apples, green plums with a toasty brioche note too. Long creamy finish that seemed to go on and on …… 1ST Class winemaking!
HAMBLEDON CLASSIC CUVEE ROSE
Released in November 2016
Blend: The blend of Chardonnay (90%) and Pinot Noir (10%)
This wine is a pure joy. Its English summer in a glass… OK NOT THE RAINY DAYS! This Rose is quite a bright pink, yet when it settles in the glass looks divine. The taste is rich and creamy filling your mouth with wild strawberry and zesty notes. Clean crisp finish… A real delight!
HAMBLEDON PREMIERE CUVEE
Blend: The blend of Chardonnay (58%), Pinot Meunier (18%) & Pinot Noir (24%)
Sometimes you just know that you have something really special in your glass when you put the glass to your nose and BOOM! Wow this is extradinary and its ENGLISH!!! The nose is rich brioche, sweet oranges, dried flowers with nutty notes too. When you taste its rich & racy! with capital “R’s” but so so soft! instant mouth watering acidity with citrus & dried fruit, then the caramel and vanilla notes shine through. Its dry and delicious and frankly I have tasted lots of vintage Champagne that nowhere near hits the mark of this Flagship wine from Hambledon. Ladies and Gentleman of Hambledon Vineyard I salute you for this GREAT winemaking.
People of the world before you die please get/try/drink a bottle (minimum 1) of Hambledon Premiere Cuvee.
What’s more folks is that I also tasted a new Rose Premiere Cuvee….. lets save that for another day as its Currently not released. I Hope it is soon.
After the tasting we had a Braai, which is a South African BBQ which was amazingly cooked by Steve. Best BBQ (sorry Braai Steve) EVER!
After the amazing lunch & a few more stunning glasses of Hambledon I had the state of the art winery tour and then it was time to do it myself… to disgorge my own bottle add dosage, cork & label.
Felix chose my bottle then asked what dosage I would like…. Instant answer “0” then cork, crown and labels
Finally my result of 0mg/l Hambledon Classic Cuvee! I wrote on the bottle 0mg it says it all OMG! Zero Dosage.
What is great about my experience is that you can do it too. Hambledon have the following tastings as well as the ultimate experience.
Thank you Ian and the team for a very memorable day.
Tours and Wine Experiences
Scheduled tours for the public take place every weekend during the summer until the end of September and cost £15 per head. They last two hours (unless your tour host is Ian or Phil, in which case it’s usually longer!!) – This is a minimum must do!https://www.hambledonvineyard.co.uk/visits-and-events/wine-tours
There are three ‘wine experiences’ also on offer – see https://www.hambledonvineyard.co.uk/visits-and-events/wine-experiences
Every Wednesday afternoon they are offering a Hambledon Classic Cuvée Rosé experience, including a tour, tasting and cream tea for £60 per couple from 1.30pm.
The Classic Cuvée Experience is a full educational ‘how wine is made’ experience, including tour, tasting and charcuterie board lunch (showcasing local produce. This must be booked in advance.
The Première Cuvée Experience is the all singing, all dancing option, similar to my experience last week, hosted by Joe and Ian at a cost of £200 per head, including disgorging your own bottle to take home.
Hambledon is hosting its first ever Hambledon Wine Fair on 6th August, which is likely to become an annual event. For this they’ve joined forces with other local wine merchants to showcase wines from around the world – and Joe and Katrina will be running Masterclasses during the day. It’s a day out for the whole family with lots of food stalls (Oyster Bar, Steve’s Braai!, Boozy Cupcakes, pork pies etc) as well as a jazz band. Tickets are £10. See https://www.hambledonvineyard.co.uk/product/016hambledon-wine-festival
There re a host of other events – from Christmas activities, to Masterclasses and themed wine tastings with Katrina – all of which can be found here https://www.hambledonvineyard.co.uk/the-wine-shop/events
Hambledon is also available to hire as a wedding venue for a limited number of times during the year, and they offer corporate venue hire and can usually accommodate all sorts of unusual event requests!
This is a absolute watch video from 1961 Hambledon… Oh Boy TV has changed!
Before I go what a great bunch of people on the tasting too.
@TheWinebird – Helen Nicklin
@vinesack – Joe Wadsack
@winewomansong – Juel Mahoney
@jessicalmead – Jess Mead (Hambledon)
@eatlikeagirl – Niamh Shields
@darrennsmith – Darren Smith
@drinksmaven – Jessica
@SmallwoodC – appetiteforitaly.com Christine Smallwood
@katehawkings – Kate Hawkings
@pbmmw – Mike Turner PleaseBringMeMyWine. Actually he wasn’t there but I have since found out he put me forward for the event as he couldn’t make it! Mike you are a superstar! His blog is very good too! Legend thanks mate
2 Replies to “My Visit to Hambledon, Englands Oldest Vineyard”
My utter pleasure pal, so glad you had a great time, that braai is indeed IMMENSE!!!
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Looks like a great time. I need to get my hands on some English bubbles!
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