2022 marks a truly significant year for the quaint, Hampshire village of Hambledon. Not only does it mark Hambledon Vineyard's 70th anniversary as England's Oldest Commercial Vineyard, but a historic milestone for a small, unassuming cricket ground just beyond the hill...
This year, Broadhalfpenny Down celebrates 250 years(!) since the first first-class match was played at the grounds - widely accepted as the first game of modern cricket. There have been more than 60,000 first-class cricket matches since then.
And although the grounds might not attract the almost 20,000 strong crowds of 1772, we at Hambledon Vineyard still feel a strong connection to the original bon viveurs of the Hambledon cricket team and their very apt motto "Wine, cricket and song".
Today, our good friend and guest writer, Don Barclay, explores that very English sense of summer and our connection with one of England's great sports.
Hambledon Vineyard & Cricket, How Can it Get More English Than Us?
In England, summer is truly a season for all the senses: the smell of freshly-cut grass, the sight of people in cricket whites contrasting starkly with a background of emerald green, the feel of the woollen picnic blanket on your bare, SPF 20 protected arms and feet, the sound of the wicker hamper lid as it creaks open to reveal its treasures, coupled with the distinctive sound of a leather ball against a willow bat in the distance. Plus, of course, the taste of cool, bubbly, refreshing Hambledon Classic Rosé Cuvée on your palate. This is just about as English as it gets. It goes without saying that 30 minutes later you'll hear the rumble of thunder in the distance, feel cool spots of rain on your warm skin and witness a synchronised display of umbrellas opening all around you. However that merely enhances the Englishness of the occasion.
Hambledon in Hampshire is certainly unique in this regard, boasting not only the right to be called the 'cradle of cricket', dating back to 1750, but also the birthplace of Hambledon English wine, where a vineyard has stood since 1952. Potential visitors please note - our village is not to be confused with the identically-named Hambledon in the county of Surrey, which is exactly what a touring cricket team did in 1908. Just across the road from the original Broadhalfpenny Down cricket ground is the historic village pub, The Bat & Ball Inn, into which the cricket teams would retire and where, these days, you can purchase a nicely chilled bottle of Hambledon Classic Cuvée.
In the late 18th century, Hambledon was the most powerful cricket club in the country, developing and overseeing laws for the modern-day game for over a quarter of a century, until this responsibility passed onto the newly-formed Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), where it has resided ever since. Incidentally, the celebrated cricketer, Thomas Lord, was a member of Hambledon Cricket Club before founding Lords cricket ground, home of the MCC, and is indeed buried where he grew up in the neighbouring village of West Meon. The popularity of cricket, or creckett to give it its old English derivation, has seen it rise to become the world's second most popular sport, after soccer, with its English roots spreading to all parts of the globe, from Australia to Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, in the late 20th century, Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, a keen wine-lover and Francophile, took advice from the Champagne House Pol Roger and planted several varieties of grape in the south-facing, 10 acre grounds of Mill Down House in the South Downs. Geological mapping has since proved that this chalky sub-strata is identical to the best Chardonnay vineyards in the Champagne region. Sir Guy went on to make history by producing the first ever commercial range of English wines just a few years later, in the process making Hambledon the oldest commercial vineyard in England. In the 1980s, these award-winning wines were served on the QE2, in British Embassies around the world, in the Houses of Parliament and in export markets including the USA and Japan.
Now, seventy years on from those halcyon days, the vineyard has seen some major changes: a passionate new owner, vital funding from both third party shareholders and the government and a renowned 'chef de cave' from Champagne as the new director of winemaking. The Hambledon estate now comprises over 200 acres of vineyards, plus a Tasting Room and Visitor Centre to be completed in 2023. However, some things will always remain the same: our desire to make the Finest English Fizz, our commitment to innovation and improvement and our recognition of the importance of lazy, summer Sundays on the cricket green, enjoying quality time with family and friends.