You’ll find Gusbourne’s main vineyard and tasting room just a few miles from the village of Rye – said to be England’s best-preserved medieval town. Just an hour’s high-speed train journey from St. Pancras, the experience of wandering Rye’s cobble-stoned streets, stooping under the doorway of a haunted 14th century pub, and rummaging for a bargain in one of its many bric-a-brac shops, is quintessentially British.
While in Rye, it can be hard to imagine that just a few miles away, there’s a world-class vineyard growing grapes that would put many a Champagne to shame. Yet Gusbourne is England’s most award-winning winery – more than 40 in the world’s most prestigious competitions. Its wines aren’t just exported to English wine fans like the Nordic markets and the USA, but to France itself.
Perhaps there’s a generation of future drinkers for whom the idea of an English vineyard producing some of the world’s best wines will be regarded as completely unexceptional. They’ll think of southern England as being a natural grape growing region like Burgundy or northern Italy. It will seem obvious in the way that it seems obvious that Scotland would produce great whisky.
But me? I have to keep pinching myself.
Gusbourne’s Rye-neighbouring Appledore vineyard is one of two the estate owns – the clay of the Kent soil you find here complimenting the pure chalk slopes of its other vineyard near Goodwood in West Sussex. The wines these two sites produce – either offered as single vineyard bottlings, or blended to create stunning complexity, are a must-have for any English wine lover’s cellar.
Gusbourne was founded by Andrew Weeber – a surgeon of world-renown with surgical techniques named after him. So it is perhaps no surprise that his wine estate has such a rigorous, precise focus to its winemaking.
Yet Gusbourne is no one-man-band. Until recently, Gusbourne’s CEO was Charlie Holland – widely considered one of England’s best winemakers. While Charlie left in 2023 to take up a post at a significant new operation in Essex, head winemaking has been taken over by an internal promotion.
In fact, you might say internal promotions – Charlie’s role has been split between new head winemaker Mary Bridges and operational winemaker AJ Benham. “Mary’s more focused on creative decisions and the science behind the winemaking.” AJ tells me. “I’m more about the logistics and making sure we can do what Mary wants! So for example May will liaise with Jon in the vineyard to see what fruit is coming from where, while I’ll work out the logistics of what fruit goes into which press.”
The Jon mentioned by AJ is Jon Pollard – with the estate from day one in 2004. His sustainable, low-intervention approach is one that can make life more difficult – after all it always easier to spray away a vineyard issue.
Yet as one of the founding members of Sustainable Wines of Great Britain, it is clearly an issue that is central to the way that Gusbourne do things. AJ tells us that all winery meetings have sustainability as part of the agenda for discussion, and they are constantly making incremental strides towards improving their approach. “We’re embedded in the local community and want to be sustainable for ourselves and the people around us.”
It is also clear that this approach is resulting in brilliantly healthy vineyards – something that you can’t help but notice, with clover in between the rows of vines helping to fix nitrogen in the soil, and wildflowers providing a habitat for pollinating insects. This thriving bio-diversity is in contrast to many sparkling wine estates elsewhere in the world where, besides the vines, the environment can be a near-desert. “We have to keep quality in mind as well.” Mary tells us. “There’s a balance we have to find between moving forwards and maintaining the quality reputation we’ve built.”
We built MARASBY to be a trusted place where you can find helpful and interesting content about British-grown food and wine.
Our content is written by humans who love local, sustainable and delicious UK wines. We make every effort to check our content, but as humans, we occasionally make mistakes. If you spot anything wrong with the site, we’d always rather you told us. Don’t be shy!