Plantings of English vineyards have boomed over the last decade. 70% of all English vineyards have been planted during this period, and with this boom in plantings has come a new type of vineyard owner. In comparison with the have-a-go heroes of early British winemaking, these newer owners are more often people with significant resources, ambition, and expertise. The quality of English wines has improved accordingly.
The launch of Louis Pommery’s first wines made wholly from fruit grown at their Pinglestone Estate in Hampshire marks another significant watershed in the development of the UK wine industry. For the first time, an historic Champagne house with global distribution reach (and the resources to match) has started producing and selling English Wines.
This is exciting stuff. Yet what is truly exciting about Louis Pommery England and the Pinglestone Estate is how different their approach has been versus that taken in Champagne. Of course, there is the supreme commitment to quality, and there is the same philosophy of making wines of exquisite elegance and finesse. Yet unlike in Champagne, where production is dictated by the historic traditions of the region, in Hampshire the vineyard is free to be one of the world’s most future-orientated, planted with a mission of sustainable agro-ecology at its absolute heart.
The cuveés that come from this Hampshire estate – ‘England Brut’ and ‘England Brut Rosé’ have been released so far – are world-class. Yet this will not come at the expense of the wider environment at Pinglestone, or the plants, insects and birds that make their homes alongside the vines.
It is a lesson that we hope this innovative French producer, via England, can teach the world.
We joined Louis Pommery England’s head winemaker Will Perkins to visit the 100-acre vineyard at Pinglestone Estate in Hampshire. This is one of the most spectacular and ambitious new vineyards in England, planted on Hampshire’s pure chalk soil slopes. And it is a model of sustainable thinking.
Will doesn’t like the term ‘regenerative farming’ when discussing Pinglestone – the idea can too easily be abused by those wishing to green-wash questionable practices. So ‘eco-agriculture’ is his chosen term – and it means farming with as much thought for the flora and fauna that live in the vineyard as for the vines.
Will shows us around Pommery’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris vines, planted in almost 360 degrees around the slopes of a copse-topped hill. Will is keen to describe the qualities of the vineyard – the care taken in selecting the most appropriate training methods and vine varieties. Also, to tell us about Pommery’s ambitions to build a world-class winery at its foot (currently wines are made under his supervision at Hattingley).
Yet he spends just as much time talking about the environment around the vines as he does about the grapes and the estate’s sparkling wines. Next to the copse at the top of the vineyard are hives full of honey-making bees that thrive on the wildflowers planted between the vines. There are five rare, red-line bird species that nest at Pinglestone, and a flowering plant that grows only on pristine south-facing chalky slopes. In a different vineyard, it might have been sprayed away with glyphosate.
Here it is found in abundance.
If you prefer a drier, more delicate, and mineral style of Champagne that emphasises finesse and elegance – try Louis Pommery England’s Brut Rosé.
Featuring wonderfully pure red apple-skin character, with fine, creamy bubbles and a crisp, precisely mineral finish, this is a classic expression of Hampshire’s chalky terroir, and proof that world class sparkling wines can be made with compromising the biodiversity of the vineyard.
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