The English Wine industry has undoubtedly thrived over the past decade, capturing the attention of wine enthusiasts, and becoming a fascinating addition to cellars, a delightful conversation starter at parties, and a genuine passion for many. However, it's important to acknowledge that cultivating wine in England comes with its fair share of challenges. With a regional average temperature of 14.7˚ C (according to the Met Office), unpredictable rainfall, the constant risk of frost, and various other factors, producing high-quality wines in such a marginal climate requires determination, expertise, and a steadfast spirit.
Growing the Finest Fruit in an English Vineyard
At Hambledon Vineyard, we are fortunate to be located on Belemnite chalk, a serendipitous geological formation dating back 65 million years to the seabed of the Paris Basin. Our subsoil shares the same chalk content as some of the finest chardonnay areas in the Côtes des Blancs region of Champagne. In 1999, after acquiring the vineyard, Ian Kellett conducted geological tests on the land to determine the most suitable rootstocks for our terroir. The results indicated that the three traditional Champagne grapes—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier—were ideal for cultivation in our chalk soil. Chalk is an ideal viticultural soil as it retains water when necessary but also ensures proper drainage during rainy periods.
The viticultural year at Hambledon Vineyard begins in winter when all 300,000 of our vines are meticulously hand-pruned. Last year's wood is removed, and the canes are tied down by hand. We then eagerly await budburst, a critical period when the vines become susceptible to frost, which poses a significant risk in the English springtime. Following budburst, we patiently anticipate flowering and fruit set. Once the fruit set occurs, we await the harvest- regularly testing grapes for sugar and acidity, as well as tasting the fruit, to judge readiness- and select exactly the right moment for harvest.
Making the Finest English Fizz
To create our English Sparkling Wine, we use the traditional method. This process starts with the production of a still base wine known as vins clairs. The vins clairs are carefully blended with precision (down to 0.1% accuracy) to create various cuvées. These cuvées are then bottled for a second fermentation. Just moments before bottling, a liqueur containing sugar and a yeast culture is added to the wine, allowing fermentation to take place. The bottles are sealed with a bidule and stored horizontally, sur lattes. As the yeast consumes the sugar, it produces alcohol and CO2, thus creating the characteristic bubbles in the wine.
By law, English Sparkling Wine must be aged on the lees for a minimum of 9 months. However, at Hambledon Vineyard, we age our wines for a minimum of 35 months, sometimes up to six years. This extended aging process imparts delightful aromas of bread and pastries while making the wine rounder and more full-bodied. Following the aging process, comes disgorging. After spending time on the lees, the yeast cells collect in the neck of the bottle through a gradual turning and tilting process known as riddling or remuage. At Hambledon Vineyard, we employ both large riddling machines and the traditional hand method using pupitre. The bottles' necks are then placed upside down in a neck freezer, cooling the tips to at least -25˚ C and freezing a small portion of the wine. When the bottles are opened, the yeast is expelled, with very little wine lost.
Just before corking, dosage is added to the wine using a liqueur d'expedition. This mixture is typically made in a 1:1 ratio using cane sugar and the wine being disgorged. While sugar is added, the intention is not to sweeten the wine, but rather to achieve balance and harmony in terms of fruit, acidity, and the expression of our unique terroir.
The Finest Visitor experience
After our wines are produced, our dedicated team are committed to providing the best experience possible, for English Wine enthusiasts and novices alike. Through our tours and tastings, our guides give an insight into the meticulous process behind our wines- each passionate about the product that we produce. Our Wine Club creates a space for like minded individuals to join together and taste Hambledon Vineyard's award-winning wines alongside tailored pairings, additional to unique tasting evenings; from learning about Balkan wines, to whisky. And, our long anticipated restaurant shares a vision of pairing the Finest English Fizz with the Finest Cuisine, directed by our Head Chef, Nick Edgar, with seasonally changing menus.
The journey from grape to glass at Hambledon Vineyard is truly a labor of love, often taking a minimum of three to four years to produce our remarkable wines. From the challenges posed by the English climate to the meticulous winemaking process, every step is undertaken with dedication and a commitment to excellence.
Discover the Finest English Fizz