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Raimes English Sparkling Augusta with Simon Huntington

Winery Profile

Raimes English Sparkling

At Raimes English Sparkling, it’s good to get personal
There’s no dirt under the fingernails of Bernard Arnault.

Visit a grand Maison de Champagne in Rheims or Epernay and you won’t see the owner troubling themselves with physical vineyard work. There’s no dirt under the fingernails of Bernard Arnault.

Perhaps that’s why many of the most distinctive and delicious wines to come out of Champagne in the last twenty years have come from the ‘Recoltants-Manipulants’.

These are typically smaller, often family-run producers, which grow their own fruit and make their own wines. Large Champagne houses typically seek to iron out vintage and vineyard variation to create a consistent brand. Growers more often make wine to mark, rather than mask, their vineyard’s unique terroir.

At Hampshire’s Raimes English Sparkling, it doesn’t take long with owner Augusta Raimes to understand that for her, it’s extremely personal. I’ve been walking the vineyard with Augusta for just a few minutes before she suddenly turns to face me and exclaims “It’s emotional! The whole thing’s emotional!

“Nobody else is managing these wines – it’s just me and my family. We’re up at 3am, 2am sometimes. It’s our dedication and passion and total commitment. I’m not saying to anyone else ‘go and do it!’”

The English Growers

With this ‘grower’ approach, it is perhaps no wonder that one of England’s leading sparkling winemakers recently said that Raimes’ 2022 Chardonnay was some of the best fruit they’ve ever seen.

But before we get too excited about Raimes’ 2022s, which won’t be released for several years anyway, let’s take a trip back 13 or 14 years. Augusta, like the rest of her family, was a cereal farmer on 2000 acres of Hampshire’s chalky South Downs. The farm was looking to diversify, and wine was something the family enjoyed drinking. But they hadn’t ever considered wine grapes as being a potential crop.

Yet in the space of just a few months, Augusta was twice approached by land agents working on behalf of people wanting to plant vineyards. One was an English buyer, and the other, a well-known Champagne house. The family had no interest in selling. As Augusta put it, “we’d been here donkey’s years and were growers to our core.” But it did get them thinking.

Modern cereal farming is a solitary business. Just a few decades ago, the Raimes family farm had 15 people working the land. Yet, with tasks now organised by software linked via APIs to weather forecasting, and tractors controlled by GPS, today the farm is run by Augusta’s agronomist husband and just one full-time employee.

Vineyards are a very different proposition. To get top quality fruit like Raimes’ 2022 Chardonnay, everything in the vineyard must be done by hand. As well as work in the vineyard, there’s the winemaking itself. Then there’s the design of the product, the sales and marketing, and the potential to offer tours and tastings. A vineyard planted on the Raimes farm could offer work and a future to multiple people – not just one lucky individual who might inherit the cereal farm.

Augusta Raimes in Chardonnay vineyard

Cautious Beginnings

Flint and chalk in Raimes English Sparkling vineyard

The family knew they had the right soil – other people with expertise in vineyards had wanted to buy their land after all. They knew they could grow things – they’d been at it for generations. Grapes are fundamentally, just another crop. If you grow potatoes, then you know about disease management. If you grow tomatoes, you know about canopy management.

Even so, a vineyard was still an expensive risk back in 2010. Planting on a chalky slope in Hampshire might seem obvious today. In 2010, the world hadn’t fully accepted that England could be one the world’s greatest climates for sparkling wine. So, Augusta went off to Plumpton to learn viticulture, and began by planting just three acres of vines in an outlying field.

The field is “south-facing,” Augusta tells us. “But it’s an unusual shape, and a bit outlying from the farm. So, I never took land out of sensible production!”

Today this field, planted wholly to Chardonnay, is the source of that record-breaking fruit we mentioned earlier. “It’s a gorgeous little site,” Augusta continues. “It is really protected, and the buds are always a little ahead of anywhere else. It’s also a joyously manageable size!

A few years later, this field was joined a short distance away by another 7 acres of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Last year there were further plantings. Cautious, sensible, organic growth. The whole operation is still relatively small – but sufficiently large to be commercial. With a contract to supply Hattingley with a proportion of their fruit in return for winemaking services, it’s a properly sustainable operation.

Yet it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Raimes’ first full vintage of the three varieties was a terrible year for Chardonnay. It flowered a little earlier than the Pinots and, as a result, got decimated by frost. Raimes was forced by circumstance to make just a Blanc de Noirs.
Raimes English Sparkling Blanc de Noirs 2018

Yet the quality was so good that this became a signature cuvée for the estate, and they’ve made it every year since. It’s one of Marasby’s favourite ESWs. Ironic since the family’s go-to Champagne is Chardonnay-rich Pol Roger, and they planted 60% of their vineyards with the variety with the idea to make something similar in England.

Regardless of blend, Raimes’ wines are certainly at the delicate, elegant end of the sparkling wine spectrum. This is no English take on Bollinger or Krug, but if you love the brilliant richness and nervy balance of a Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill, then Raimes should be your English go-to.

Talking of Pol Roger, Konstantin Baum – Germany’s youngest MW – recently posted a brilliant video on YouTube, in which he blind-tastes two English sparkling wines and two Champagnes, attempting to guess their origin.

He identifies one of the wines as most likely from England, because it has the lightest palate and the freshest acidity of the four. Clearly a cooler-climate wine, he tells us. At the end, it is revealed that this wine was in fact Pol Roger – but Konstantin excuses himself by saying that with Pol Roger’s long association with the UK, it’s practically British anyway. Great stuff, Konstantin!

I tell Augusta the story, and she wonders if this is representative of “a fashion in Champagne to create fresher, nervier styles. It’s how they used to make wines 30 or 40 years ago. I’m sure there’s a move back towards keeping things fresher and more vibrant – perhaps based on what they’ve seen is coming out of England.”

Our time with Augusta is coming to an end, and we return from her gorgeous little Chardonnay vineyard to the family’s super-stylish, brand-new tasting room. It launched at the start of May this year and will be open from Thursday to Saturday all summer. Anyone can drop by anytime to enjoy a glass of Raimes sparkling, look out over their most newly-planted vineyard, and nibble on a plate of cheese or charcuterie.


“Growing wheat or barley, it’s quite impersonal,” August explains, while showing us around the tasting room. “You grow the crop, ship it off, and there’s no connection with the end customer. One of the appeals of the vineyard is that it’s the opposite. One of the great things about English wine is that people can build a personal relationship with the person who makes it – it’s like a magnified version of the traditional farmers’ market, where you can get much closer to the source of what you consume.

“From our point of view, it’s so nice to be able to grow something, and see the enjoyment on the faces of the people consuming it.”

Like I said, at Raimes, it’s good to get personal.

Augusta Raimes at the tasting bar

Featured Wine: Raimes Blanc de Noirs 2018

For a producer that, in homage to Pol Roger, planted their vineyards predominantly with Chardonnay, it is ironic that this cuvée made solely from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier has become a signature for the estate.

Raimes’ sparkling wines are concentrated and complex, yet elegant and delicately sophisticated, across the range. This Blanc de Noirs from the golden vintage of 2018 is no exception. It is just at the beginning of its drinking window, and boasts aromas of crunchy red apple skin and freshly baked almond croissant. In the mouth it is bone dry, and beautifully well-balanced between red berry fruit and those rich pastry impressions, superbly fine bubbles, and moreishly saline acidity.

With its divinely elegant label, this is a seriously fine English Sparkling Wine that would impress the crowd at even the most exclusive party.