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Meophams Vineyard Surinder Bassi

Winery Profile

Meophams Vineyard

“It’s all about attracting a new and untapped clientele to English wine.”
In an England where sparkling wines produced Champagne-style from the three noble varieties get most of the headlines, Meophams bucks the trend.

Not because this up-and-coming Kent producer doesn’t make this kind of wine, but because the style is part of a diverse portfolio that includes a best-selling red blended from four lesser-known grapes, and a Signature Sparkling made from 100% Reichensteiner.

It’s all about attracting a new and untapped clientele to English wine, explains owner Surinder Bassi: “there’s a huge demographic of 18- to 30-year-old drinkers who don’t care about production methods, or grape varieties, but who want something that’s accessible, that tastes good and that they can enjoy drinking.”

That’s where Meophams comes in.

“It’s about being more open,” says Surinder. “I think I’m lucky that I didn’t have a background in wine. In fact, until I owned a vineyard, I didn’t really drink wine! So, I’m coming at this with a different mind-set, trying to think of ways to get younger people interested. They drink Prosecco and they drink Champagne, so we need to get the message out to them that we can produce amazing things in this country as well.”

It all makes sense so far, but how did someone who didn’t drink wine end up owning a vineyard in the first place?

It’s a great story.

Meophams Vineyard... The Backstory

Long before Surinder became involved, Meophams was a vineyard planted by David and Pauline Grey, who bought 25 acres of land in Kent’s Meopham Valley in 1991, planting 5 acres of it with seven different grape varieties.

At the time, Surinder’s mum and dad ran a business supplying contract agricultural workers to farms in the area. They had no experience of viticulture, but when David got in touch needing assistance in his vineyard, they were intrigued. So intrigued in fact that instead of supplying workers, they offered to help him themselves.

This kicked off a relationship that lasted 25 years. In a pre-Plumpton era, they had to learn on the job. But through experimentation and experience, they came to understand the needs of the vineyard just as well as could have been achieved via formal education.

Surinder’s role in the story didn’t begin until 2015, by which time he was developing a career in the city, living a typical work-hard, play-hard life. But he wasn’t drinking wine: “I could have told you anything you’d want to know about Jack Daniels and Coke, but wine wasn’t my thing.”

One evening Surinder came over to see his parents for dinner and, as he sat tucking into a jacket potato, noticed that his normally confident and gregarious dad was acting strangely quiet and nervous. He asked if there was a problem, to which his Dad said:

“Surinder, instead of fart-arsing around Ibiza painted like a Tiger, why don’t do something constructive with your life, why don’t you invest in your future? David is looking to retire and has approached us about buying the vineyard. What do you think?”

Meophams Vineyard Surinder in Ibiza

Surinder Steps In

meophams vineyard union red

To say that Surinder was sceptical would be an understatement. But when he drove down to look at the vineyard and he was able to see the beauty of the region and understand how little of the available land had yet been planted, his reaction was immediate: “you should have just brought me here at the beginning Dad! You’re telling me we could own this? One hundred percent we have to do it!”

From then on, Surinder made it his mission to learn everything he could about viticulture – applying the same passion and attention to detail he brought to his job at JP Morgan into learning about wine.

To begin with he focussed on getting the basics right. For the first couple of years Meophams made just still wines. Surinder was very conservative, looking at competitors and trying to copy what they were doing, but not attempting to innovate.

Yet as he grew in confidence and experience, he began to realise that what was unique about Meophams was its diversity of grape varieties, such as being one of just six vineyards in the UK with Leon Millot grapes planted. Others might need to produce single varietal Chardonnay and Pinot Noir because that was all they had planted. Meophams could be much more experimental, do what no one else was doing, and attract a different kind of customer to English wine.  A customer who might be more comfortable in an Ibiza club than a London wine merchant.

Unlike at most English vineyards, at Meophams their still red wines are their most popular. They’re light bodied, but they’re juicy, full of flavour and highly aromatic. Surinder explains that “a lot of people want that – not just full-bodied, 13% or 14% reds – and that’s what we’ve picked up on. Our red blend Union Red is our best seller. It’s an accessible price and not that many people are doing it.”

As 2019 rolled around, Surinder felt that he created had a strong enough base from which to diversify and started looking for a winemaker to help with sparkling wines. When he met Henry and Nick at Defined Wines, he loved that they combined industry-leading experience with a willingness to push boundaries. A new partnership was born.
meophams vineyard suinder bassi with talya roberson

Traditional method sparkling wines from noble varieties were a focus, but so too was a sparkling wine made from early ripening and lower acid Reichensteiner. Rather than needing three or four years’ ageing, the wine could be released much more quickly, would be lighter and easier to drink, and could hit a more accessible price point. Plus David Grey had made a similar wine in 2009 and 2010 with Dermot Sugrue, and these had been Meophams’ most acclaimed wines under his ownership.

The Future at Meophams Vineyard

As befits the energy and ambition of this focused and confident young man, Surinder isn’t sitting still; he’s got big plans for Meophams beyond the 5 acres of vineyard planted by David. He’d like to add to existing varieties and has plans to construct a winery and tasting room, of which more than 50% will be built underground. Surinder explains that “there’s only one foot of topsoil in the vineyard before you hit chalk bedrock, and this means that the winery can be largely self-cooling via earth tubes.”

The plans for the winery are part of an ethos of sustainability that includes regenerating the whole 25 acres of land, with new tree plantings chosen to encourage biodiversity as well as act as a wind break for the vines. The varieties already in the vineyard will be retained and added to, and Surinder is particularly interested in PIWI* varieties as these typically require less intervention than the more delicate noble varieties, with easier ripening and less spraying against disease.

Meophams won’t try to compete against the “big boys” of Kent – they’ll never have the acreage and, besides which, the project is too personal. While Surinder has only been on the scene since 2015, for his parents, it’s been half a lifetime of work, and something they’ve continued with into their retirement. As Surinder puts it: “it’s not about the money, it’s about building a legacy. One day I want my children to look at what I’ve built and be proud. But also, I want them to think that they can do even better!”

Despite a long history by English wine standards, it’s still early days at Meophams. But as the English wine industry continues to develop, this is a producer we’ll be keeping an eye on for sure.

*PIWI is an abbreviation for pilzwiderstandsfähig, which is a German term meaning ‘fungus resistant’. It’s a special class of grape varieties that could have an important role in a more sustainable wine industry.

So, what are you doing with your life? Stop fart-arsing about and check out Meophams.