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Langham Wine Estate Winemaker Tommy Grimshaw

Winery Profile

Langham Estate

“Lots of people are saying that English sparkling wine is better than Champagne. There are some great English sparkling wines don’t get me wrong, but when you generalise so much you’re going to miss out on some amazing things. So yes, there’s some bang-average Champagne, but there’s some bang-average English fizz as well. There are some exceptional Champagnes and there are some exceptional English sparkling wines.”
That’s Tommy Grimshaw, head winemaker at Dorset’s Langham Wine Estate and as always, he’s great value. Not just for a straight-to-the-point quote, but for reliably hitting you with “you’re doing what?!” moments when checking out the Langham winery.

Right now, that moment is a project he’s working on to make a sparkling wine without any addition of sugar or yeast. Instead, he took one of the best barrels of his 2020 Chardonnay base wine and waited until the 2021 harvest started fermenting. Then he worked out how much partially fermented 2021 he would need to add to the 2020 to reach the 20g of sugar per litre needed to create a standard 5 bars of fizz pressure following secondary fermentation. If this is a little too wine techy for you, take it from us that this process is a little, well… weird.

But it’s also pretty cool that one of England’s most awarded producers of sparkling wines is giving it a go.

And once you know a bit more about the philosophy behind Langham Wine Estate, it all starts to make sense. This isn’t a sparkling wine producer trying to be the English answer to Bollinger. They’re trying to become… Selosse.

But let’s back up a bit.


-the estate

Justin Langham planted his first 30 acres of vines in 2009. They weren’t the first vines to be planted on family land – his father John had a few rows as a hobby – but they were the first to be planted with the idea of making a commercial wine.

As an experienced agriculturalist who had toured the world’s best vineyards and studied viticulture at Plumpton, Justin knew that he could grow exceptional quality fruit at Langham Estate. Yet by his own admission, he had no idea what he was going to do with the grapes. He wasn’t, and still isn’t, a winemaker.

That’s where the Langham Estate team comes in. Justin is an energetic and youthful-looking 59 yet what excites him most is the way his young team – most of whom are barely (if at all) into their thirties – innovate, push boundaries, and get so passionate about what they do. “Bloody marvellous” he calls it.

Working with this team has enabled the philosophy behind the estate to grow organically. It quickly became clear that the chalky soils and long growing season in this part of Dorset would give the potential to make great sparkling wines. Yet without the financial backing enjoyed by the industry’s largest players, Langham could never compete on volume.

But they could be the most interesting.

Hence the focus on single estate wines, planted, nurtured, harvested, and turned into wines by one small team, with the idea to reflect terroir rather than house style. The philosophy of the grower rather than the Maison.

Sustainability at Langham Estate

Justin Langham of Langham Wine Estate

As a generational farmer, it’s crucial to Justin that this philosophy can be continued into the future. Doing as much in-house as possible instead relying on external inputs is at the heart of his approach to sustainability – but the big concern is glass bottles. Manufacturing bottles is one of the key drivers of carbon production across the wine industry – especially with the heavier, stronger bottles required for sparkling wine.

Recycling doesn’t really solve the issue, since Justin’s research suggests that recycling a glass bottle uses almost as much energy as making a new one, so the estate is trying to pioneer reuse, finding ways to save more of the ullaged bottles in the winery and to encourage customers to return theirs. Once they achieve critical mass, the winery will invest in bottle sterilization equipment, which Justin calculates should cut energy input by 95%.

A new winery is on the cards as well, which will be built with energy consumption as a key issue, and as much power generation by rooftop solar as possible.

“As a winemaker you can make wines by numbers and make big production wines that are the same ever year, and be safe, or go the way that I lean, which is more on the creative spectrum.”
Langham Wine Estate Team

We’re back with Tommy again, tasting his homage to Selosse, which is a 2000 litre foudre containing a blend of the best Chardonnay parcels from 2017, 18, 19, 20 and now 21. To make way for the 2021, they had bottled 880 litres the day before we visited and added the best Chardonnay from 2021.

It’s deep, it’s rich, it’s complex and it’s structured. The oak softens the acidity without adding any ‘oaky’ character, and a bit of autolysis helps with the weight on the palate. It’s a wine that could conceivably come from Burgundy.

Tommy explains that “the idea behind all our base wines is create a rich, complex, structured wine.

“Every press is fermented differently. We put each one into different barrels – some are ex Champagne, some ex-Bordeaux, some ex-Burgundy. Different years as well. So even if it goes into two ex-Champagne barrels, one of them might be 10 years old, one might be 3 years old. Some might go into stainless steel. So you have different expressions of the same juice. Scale that up, this year we have 120 different base wines to play with.”

By building such rich and complex base wines, the completed sparkling wines require very little dosage, with a typical Langham sparkling wine being beautifully well-balanced with only 2-3g of sugar per litre. And they don’t need to be aged for as long.

“Some people take a really neutral base wine and put it on lees for five years. What’s the point in that? If you’re cooking a nice curry, you’re not just going to chuck all the ingredients in at the end and hope it tastes good. You build it slowly over time at the right points.”

The results speak for themselves, with the estate winning the trophy for best sparkling wine producer at 2020’s IWSC awards, as well as many other awards over multiple years at WineGB and Decanter.

Despite these awards, Langham hasn’t had the cut-through to public consciousness of some of the larger wine estates in Kent and Sussex, and you probably won’t find their wines on the shelves of your local supermarket.

But when was the last time you spotted a bottle of Selosse in Tesco anyway?