I feel very emotional writing this for several reasons: first of all this is my first report in English and after years of writing in my mother tongue this is my first attempt so please forgive me...secondly because it will be published on the website of the company I have recently joined and thirdly because, guess what, this is an article not on Italian wines but, surprisingly, on an English estate making English wines.
I have written many articles in Italian on English sparkling wines but never had the chance to actually visit a winery. Yesterday, finally thanks to the brilliant organisational skills of my colleague Lucy, a group from Armit Wines, colleagues and customers, went to pay a visit to the estate we proudly represent: Gusbourne and spent there the whole afternoon picking their grapes.
The day started with a train journey from London and I was expecting hours of travelling in the middle of the countryside, instead we arrived after nearly one hour at the station of the small town of Ashford in Kent. Here a driver promptly took all of us to the estate. We were all very excited about this day trip especially because the majority of us were Italian and we were looking for a day totally immersed in the peaceful nature, far from the madding daily London crowd.
We were greeted by Ben Walgate, the smiling and knowledgeable chief executive and the ironic, witty and friendly Andrew Weeber, the owner of the company comprising 20 ha of vineyards in Kent and nearly another 20 ha in West Sussex. Surprisingly but understandably the company only plants, in single and double Guyot system, international grape varieties, Chardonnay (50%), Pinot Noir (35%) and a considerable quantity of Pinot Meunier (3ha), leaving aside the local varieties that, to me, are still in the ‘work in progress’ stage. They believe strongly in the qualities of Pinot Meunier, the flavoursome and resistant to frost variety, to the extent that they produce a 100% Pinot Meunier sparkling wine, with delicate aromas of flowers.
After a refreshing glass of champagne, oops English sparkling wine, all of us jumped on the jeep driven by Andrew who took us for a tour of the vineyards and I have to say I was perhaps annoying him with all the technical questions about the vines and his wines. The vineyards are masterly managed by Jon Pollard and are subject to a minimal use of fertilizers to adjust the mineral deficiencies to the soil that is made of clay and constantly checked throughout the year. The only danger to the vines are the badgers and that is why the plants are protected with electric wires.
The first vintage was 2006 and in fact during a lunch break in the quaint town of Rye, that was just awesome, we had the chance to taste that vintage, disgorged in 2011. A sparkling wine of such complexity that I understand why they decided to keep it for themselves!
During the trip to the winery, a young, energetic winemaker, Charlie Holland, explained to us all the aspects of the winemaking progress at the winery. It is important to say that all the grapes are hand- picked and checked in order to avoid contamination from botryitis and all the grapes processed separately, cool fermented, using selected non-aromatic yeasts, and all of them undergoing malolactic fermentation before blending.
When the secondary fermentation starts in the bottles, the wines stay at least 22 months on the lees, which reveal the structure of the Brut Reserve 2008 and the austerity of the Blanc de Blancs 2009. During lunch, we were also offered a fruity, delicious Sparkling Rosé 2010 which we all thoroughly enjoyed. The second part of the day was the most entertaining as we all were given buckets and scissors to pick the Chardonnay grapes. I think I ate so many bunches that were absolutely sweet and juicy! A sign that this vintage, although a bit slow at the flowering stage, has produced healthy and lovely grapes.
Andrew patiently explained to us how to do the job in the vineyard and it was great to work side by side with the workers who regularly help and who know the vines very well. I think this is a remarkable aspect in the winery and something not to underestimate.
It was great fun for all of us and a nice discovery for me especially after I tasted their Pinot Noir which is one of the best I have ever tasted from the UK. Last night my back was a little bit aching but as we say in Italy ‘you only appreciate things bourne out of sacrifice’.- Giusy Andreacchio