|Receiving my WSET Diploma from Steven Spurrier|
So, while in the UK, my fellow traveler and Diploma recipient Melanie and I, and my husband, took advantage of the opportunity to experience a couple of wineries in County Kent, which we reached via a half-hour fast-train ride out of St. Pancras station, London. Sitting just south and southeast of London, Kent and Sussex counties now boast approximately 450 wineries, and the number is growing. Production among all producers is 4.5-5 million bottles per year.
Both counties sit on soil that is not that different from the soils in the Champagne and Burgundy regions of France. This chalky soil with clay and sand subsoils is suitable for growing the same grapes as in Champagne and Burgundy -- Chardonnay (the most planted grape in the UK), Pinot Noir (second most planted), and Pinot Meunier (fourth) -- as well as many hybrids like Bacchus (third), Seyval Blanc (fifth) and Rondo (seventh). The UK climate is rather cool but grape ripening has been coaxed along the last few summers by warmer-than-usual temperatures which are attributed to global climate change. As an added safety, vineyards in the U.K. are planted on south-facing slopes to make the most of the warming sun during the day.
Two-thirds of the U.K.'s annual production is now sparkling wine produced in the traditional, or bottle-fermented method, as in Champagne.
The two wineries we visited are the small Gusbourne estate and the larger and more widely known Chapel Down. Following is a little more about Gusbourne; my follow-on post will focus on Chapel Down.
Gusbourne Estate: Artisan-Made Vintage Sparkling Wines
|Gusbourne's current coat of arms|
|Goosbourne's coat of arms|
The current Gusbourne Estate has about 90 acres of vines in Kent and another 50 in Sussex. All grapes used for winemaking at Gusbourne are estate-grown. The three classic Champagne grapes are grown, and there's a 50-50 split between Champagne and Burgundian clones. The latter produce lower-yielding, but flavorful grapes, per the winery. Vineyard acreage is 60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier.
|An ancient burial mound sits in vineyard land of Gusbourne Estate|
|Our wardrobe gives an idea of how cold U.K. vineyards can get in the middle of January.|
|Fellow WSET Diploma graduate Melanie Webber and I enjoying wines at The Nest at Gusbourne|
|Dan, our excellent and knowledgeable tour and tasting guide at Gusbourne|
|Gusbourne's gyropalette rotates hundreds of bottles at a time|
Gusbourne produces between 100,00 and 200,000 bottles per year, depending on vintage, of which 95% is sparkling. English weather can be very wet, as was 2012, so producers are often at the mercy of the seasons, but this is true of most Old World wine regions.
|Gusbourne's flagship Blanc de Blanc|
Gusbourne's flagship product is its Blanc de Blanc sparkling (photo left), which is aged 36 months on the lees and then another three months on cork after disgorgement. The wine is lovely, with notes of green apple, cirtus and white fruit, mineral notes, and buttered toast from lees aging, and the crisp acidity that is the hallmark of English sparkling. This wine retails in the U.S. at around $65 (45 pounds).
In addition to vintage sparkling, Gusbourne also produces still wines, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are light-bodied and very tasty.
For more information on Gusbourne and its wines, visit www.Gusbourne.com.
For availability of Gusbourne wines locally, check www.winesearcher.com.
For more information on the English wine industry, visit www.englishwineproducers.co.uk/.
And to learn more about the WSET program, visit www.wsetglobal.com.
Until next time,