The premium cuvée sparkling wine being produced at Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire has the potential to be among the best in the world, renowned Champagne chef de caves and Hambledon consultant Hervé Jestin told Imbibe at the official opening of the vineyard on Tuesday 9 July.
Due for release in 18–24 months – ‘when it tastes right’ – unusually for England, the flagship blend will be a multi-vintage cuvée. The first release, Mill Down 2010, a sprightly Chardonnay-dominant, peach-infused sparkler with youthful depth, is currently available.
In her capacity as President of the UK Vineyard Association, HRH Duchess of Cornwall performed the opening ceremony, taking a tour of the facilities – the only gravity-fed winery in England – and tasting a few of the base sparkling wines due to go into the Hambledon cuvée.
What’s in a name?
Commenting that her role ‘was like landing the perfect job’, the Duchess triggered a media frenzy when she called on the industry to come up with a ‘new name’ for English sparkling wine. It should be something with much more depth,’ she said, before adding that she planned to ‘find a new word for it’.
Hambledon Vineyard sees the rebirth of the site of the first commercial English vineyard, originally planted by wine-loving Francophile, Major General Sir Guy Salisbury, over 60 years ago. Beginning a long association with his friends at Pol Roger, Sir Guy took advice and planted half a dozen varietals, producing the first commercial range of English still wines. With winemaker Bill Carcary at the helm from the mid-60s, the vineyard’s reputation grew as did its acreage, and its wines were served on the QE2, in UK embassies and around the world.
However subsequent owners didn’t share Sir Guy’s passion. By the time current owner, Ian Kellett (pictured, left, with Hervé Jestin), bought the property in 1999, the vineyards had dwindled to two acres. Realising the potential of his south-facing chalky slopes, Kellett consulted Carcary, raised millions through private investors, formed a company whose directors include John Armit, and set about resurrecting the area. Today there are 50 acres, planted with a mix of clones of the three Champagne varietals.
The French connection
‘The team visited Pol Roger, and Hubert de Billy [son of the chairman]said to me “I know who should make your wine,”‘ said Kellett, explaining how Jestin came on board. Perhaps best known for his 20 years at Duval-Leroy, Jestin works with resident winemaker Antoine Arnault, a University of Reims graduate.
While long-term distribution arrangements are being finalised, the Mill Down 2010 is available direct from the vineyard, which is now open for cellar-door sales, and pre-arranged group tours.
Mill Down 2010, Hambledon Vineyard, RRP: £21.99
Story and images by Susanna Forbes. Get the full story at DrinkBritain.com