I’ve been impressed over the past few months about how often English and Welsh wine are in the headlines. Sparkling wine from these shores are scooping up countless international taste awards, and are now being exported round the world. It’s a huge success story in a UK that doesn’t always seem to be moving in the right direction. But up until last week, I’d never been to visit one. How bad is that?
Well luckily a fine lady called Bryony came to my aide there. She’s been working closely with Hambledon Winery in Hampshire. Hambledon are right up there as one of the champions of English sparkling wine, with their booze being sold countrywide through, amoungst others, Waitrose. That’s where I’d got to taste their wines from, so when Bryony set up a day for a few wine-o’s down there, seemed like a cracking place to start.
An hour on the train for central London and you’re down in rural Hampshire. It’s a bit of a tourist’s dream round here, with sleepy villages and country lanes all over the place. Luckily, powered by Bryony’s and Helena’s (aka the WineBird) sat nav skills, we made it to the winery in plenty of time to meet the team, play with one of the team’s dogs (Mango, the superstar Jack Russell) and, for me at least, admire the snooker table that doubles up as a tasting table. How cool would this place be to work???
We toured the grounds with vineyard manager Peter Crabtree. Managing vines in the gentle slopes of Hampshire is all about finding which pockets of land has which micro climate, which basically means a mini climate of their own. Some patches are a bit windier than others, some a bit more frosty in the spring. Just got to keep your eye out. Peter’s a really knowlegable and likable guy to talk to, and that’s even before you get him onto his chosen specialist subject…his vinyl collection!
We also had the guided tour of the winery from the recently anointed resident winemaker, Felix Gabillet. Originally from the Loire valley, he’s taken the modern route for many young winemakers, trying his hand in different areas of the world before establishing himself in southern England. Great thing here is that you can tell he’s proud as punch that he’s been given this opportunity at Hambledon. Good guy, learning fast, good luck to him.
I was having a great time, and all this was before we’d even heard a cork popped!